Social Media, Self Harm And Teenagers – Causation Matters Rather


Demos tells us that teens who fiddle with social media for three hours or more a day are more likely to self harm. Also, that girls are more likely to do so than boys. Well, OK, interesting observation. But we know what’s coming next, don’t we, this being Demos and all. Someone must do something! Likely, the social media firms will have to do something. Which isn’t something that follows from the observation at all:

Teenagers who spend three or more hours a day on social media are twice as likely to self-harm, according to one of the most comprehensive studies ever of tech’s impact on children’s mental health. The study of almost 12,000 14-year-olds found a quarter (23.3 per cent) of those who spent three or more hours on social media each day said they had self-harmed in the last year.

That compared with under one in ten (9.1 per cent) teenagers who spent less than an hour a day on social media, and 11.4 per cent of those online for one to two hours. Girls were far more vulnerable than boys. Almost three in ten (29.3 per cent) of girls who spend more than two hours a day online have self-harmed in the last year.

The analysis, by thinktank Demos and revealed today is based on the millennium cohort study, which has tracked nearly 20,000 children since they were born in 2000.

What matters here is causation. Is it fiddling with social media that causes the cutting? Or that those more likely to cut are those who obsess over social media?

The particular source of the information, that cohort study, doesn’t allow us to work that out. They’ve simply observed, not tested for causation.

Claire Murdoch, NHS national director for mental health, said idealised body images and harmful content appeared to contribute to mental ill health and in some cases self harm and suicide. “While the NHS is busy ramping up mental health services to see hundreds of thousands more young people, this work risks being undermined if social media giants and others don’t take their duty of care seriously and start pulling their weight too,” she said.

If it’s Billy – and more especially Billie – no mates doing the social media and the self harming and doing both because they’re no mates then what is it that the social media companies are supposed to do?

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