Social Media and Mental Health

Summer is in full swing. The sun is out. Well, kind of.

Now is the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with the family, particularly our children. By the time the new school term starts they’ll have grown a fair bit. Uniforms will need lengthening or replacing. Blink and we’ll miss them growing up.

It’s very easy to fall back on the TV and the games console to keep them entertained. And they’re great in moderation. But too much screen time can be damaging. Previous generations will instantly recognise the sentence: “You’ve been watching the television for long enough”. Now of course it’s: “You’ve been on the games console, iPhone, tablet, for far too long”.

The impact of social media on adolescent mental health is poorly understood. According to one study, children who spend more than three hours a day on social media have a significantly increased chance of developing poor mental health.

20% of our children are checking Snapchat ‘streaks’ and so on more than ten times during the night. Sleep deprivation means they are more likely to perform poorly in school. It also puts them at greater risk of depression.

The challenge is to provide an alternative.

The NHS advice is clear: getting active is vital. We’re told our children need to be moving about wherever possible, whether it’s in our parks, at the Lido and Leisure@, or getting away on holiday.

The advice is that children aged five or over should be physically active for at least one hour a day. Keeping active helps our children to grow strong muscles and bones and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise builds their confidence and helps them sleep better.

But it also connects us with our loved ones. It creates shared memories. Not many children will remember a summer’s day spent behind a screen. But most will remember a day playing with their parents, in the garden or park, at the Lido or on the beach.

Now, for those seeking some hard politics from this column, let me offer up just one phrase: ‘legislative consent’. Anodyne enough you may feel. Don’t be fooled. This expression encapsulates a major constitutional bust-up which could well be on the way. That’s because the so-called Brexit ‘Repeal Bill’ requires the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments to give their agreement – or ‘consent’ – before the legislation can make any progress in Westminster. Their current refusal to do so means we could be in for decidedly choppy waters in September. You heard it here first!