A teenager from Harrow spoke in Parliament to help MPs understand how social media can affect young people’s mental health, on behalf of Barnardo’s.
Orlaith, who has helped develop Barnardo’s Harrow Horizons mental health and wellbeing service since it launched in the borough two years ago, spoke honestly to MPs about her reaction to seeing inappropriate material that is posted online, and the reactions of parents who do not always understand. Orlaith, 17, was invited to address the Science and Technology Committee on July 4 when she and a handful of fellow young people spoke about how they use social media and deal with online dangers.
“I find it quite satisfying now I’m older to report inappropriate material. At first it’s a shock and you want to scroll past it quickly. But the longer you use it, you become quickly desensitised by it, and the older I get the less affected I am. I’m not shocked by it anymore.
“If you report something it might vanish for you, but it doesn’t vanish for anyone else. Moderation and reporting needs to be better.
“Young people worry that if they tell, their parents will take social media out of their lives. Parents need to have an open conversation without repercussions. It’s not your fault if you see inappropriate material that other people are posting.”
Orlaith told MPs that it is easy for young people to spend too long looking at screens, but urged them to think about the positive things social media can offer.
“It’s very easy to lose track of time on social media. I know people who don’t know how long they have been on until the sun rises. I would support some kind of social media warning system that helps you see how long you have been online.
“Social media can be positive if you are following the right people. I see people posting about self-care, support for mental health – the type of things you don’t get taught in schools.”
Lynn Gradwell, Director of Barnardo’s in London, said:
“It’s vital that our decision-makers in Parliament understand the reality of how children and young people use social media, and how it can affect their mental health and wellbeing. The best way to do that is to hear it from the young people themselves, and I want to thank Orlaith for giving such a confident, honest and articulate account to the committee.”