What is the context? The use of online technology, including social media, has grown at great speed. Teachers, parents, policy makers and children do not always fully understand the implications of this for young people’s relationships, safety, mental health and wellbeing. Neither do we know how the vast amounts of data being gathered on young people may be accessed and used, now or in the future. ASCL members want government and technology companies to do more to protect young people and to help them to develop and maintain good digital health.
ASCL position: Schools and colleges have a central role in teaching children and young people about positive digital health. We believe there is a need for a clear strategy to mitigate against the negative impacts of digital content and social media. These effects can be around wellbeing, mental health, safeguarding and privacy, both now and in the longer term.
ASCL members believe that technology companies should be subject to minimum standards of age-appropriate design, with a mandatory code backed by an independent regulator.
Why are we saying this? ASCL surveyed 460 secondary school headteachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in state and independent schools in January 2018. They were asked about the impact on pupils of social media use over the past 12 months. The results were stark and unequivocal, and included the following statistics:
- 95% felt that the mental health and wellbeing of a proportion of their pupils had suffered as a result of social media use.
- Almost all (459/460) had received reports of pupils being bullied on social media.
- Almost all (457/460) had received reports of pupils encountering upsetting material on social media, such as sexual content, self-harm, bullying, or hate speech.
- 89% had received reports of pupils being approached by strangers on social media sites.
- 93% had received reports of pupils experiencing low self-esteem as a result of seeing idealised images and experiences on social media.
- 96% had received reports of pupils missing out on sleep as a result of social media use.
- 93% said that new laws and regulation should be introduced to ensure social media sites keep children safe