FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Xarea sees a clear link between mental ill-health in young people and their use of social media.
“You go on an Instagram page full of models and you’re going ‘I don’t look like this,’” she said.
“And then you’re looking at all the people who have all the stuff that you don’t have. That’s not going to make you feel positive at all, it just really like puts you in a little pit and you’re going a bit deeper and deeper every time you see something new.”
Xarea (pictured above) was speaking at a school workshop organised by Global Action Plan, an environmental charity which aims to make the connection between what’s good for us and good for the planet.
She isn’t alone in questioning the role social media plays in the lives of young people. Research has shown that more than half of females aged 11 to 21 say they are made to feel that the most important thing about them is the way they look.
In order to examine the connection between consumerism and the wellbeing of young people, Global Action Plan is leading one of the first national campaigns of its kind.
Through a series of workshops, the charity is working with 180 young people from six UK schools to understand the way they are affected by social media and consumerism.
The feedback has been decisive, with many describing how constant exposure to coercive messaging on social media - where perfectly curated images from brands and celebrities intermingle with posts from peers - is having a negative effect on their mental health.
“Social comparison drives anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and loneliness, which in turn drive e-shopping for cheap clothes and electronics,” Natasha Parker, head of consumerism and wellbeing at Global Action Plan said, “Children who spend the most money, quickest, on themselves report lower self-esteem and greater anxiety levels.”
The feedback suggesting the extent to which social media undermines the self-esteem of young people and focuses on their desire to fit in has also been overwhelming.
The workshops encouraged the teenagers to think of ways to improve their wellbeing and to put their own personal goals into practice.
As well as creating videos to share the opinions of the young people they have worked with, the next stage of the campaign will see Global Action Plan bring their findings to the attention of more than 200 political and business ‘influencers’ with the aim of inspiring young people to lead lower impact, and ultimately happier, lifestyles.
“We see tackling today’s consumerist culture as more than just people’s shopping or recycling habits shifting,” Natasha said.
“It requires a revolution in the way we fulfil our needs and challenge artificial material desires. Our role is helping young people to develop agency – their power to shape the world and their own happiness.”
- The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust makes a grant to Global Action Plan to support its campaign on consumerism and its effect on young people’s wellbeing.
- The grant is made as part of JRCT’s Sustainable Future programme.
- Read more about Global Action Plan here.