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The Social Dilemma – Time to build mental fitness for our young people’s sake

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

On Friday night, I sat down with my wife to watch the Social Dilemma and what followed was an uncomfortable couple of hours as we reflected on our own use of social media and what it is doing to our health as well as divisions in society.

More worrying than that, being the parents of a wonderful 5 year old girl, were the statistics coming out of the U.S. since social media has been available on Mobile phones from 2011. In that time according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, incidents of self-harm for teenage girls has increased by 62% in girls aged 15-19 and by an enormous 189% for 10-14 year olds with similar increases for suicides. The social psychologist and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt observed a ‘gigantic increase’ in depression and anxiety as social media has seen a dramatic impact on young people’s sense of identity and self-worth, and their ability to connect to others.

As a secondary PE teacher & leader in the UK system for the last 16 years, I have witnessed similar frightening increases and it has become an epidemic in our schools which is becoming more and more common and showing no signs of abating.

I believe now is the time for schools to take this issue by the horns and use the power of PE to educate our young people and liberate them from their phones. As PE departments we have the antidote by getting young people to exercise and communicate together. Very often PE teachers up and down the country have outstanding relationships with our young people so that they will listen and take on board the guidance, we need to teach them about how social media is deliberately addicting them to their phones and provide the knowledge to give them a fighting chance. We need to teach our young people about the power of physical activity, sleep, nutrition and hydration and give them practical strategies to help improve each aspect as well as showing them how to reduce their social media usage so that they feel healthier.

We need to give our young people opportunities to build a foundation level of confidence in themselves which is not reliant on how many hearts their Instagram post achieves or how many views their tik tok video get. We need to teach them to talk kindly to themselves rather than berating oneself when comparing themselves against the latest Instagram filtered photo. Finally, it is important to let them know how to use their worries as a positive by helping them plan for their future and create a compelling vision for themselves so that they have direction and a sense of purpose.

Here at Future Action we have created a CPD course with editable resources for teachers that is packed with proactive practical strategies combined with physical activities that will give young people healthy habits for life and improve their life chances from the threat of social media. There is also the option for Future Action to deliver the course in your school if you prefer.

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