Youth forum examines use of social media

| 11/12/2018
CNS Local Life

National Youth Forum attendees respond to questions raised regarding social media use

(CNS Local Life): About 130 people attended a National Youth Forum on Friday, 30 November to discuss “Social Media and Youth”. Organised through the Youth Services Unit (YSU), this marked the third forum held by the Cayman Islands Youth Assembly (CIYA) since 2008. Participants included staff from the Ministry of Youth, under which the YSU falls; youth group members; church youth leaders; parents; and the public.

The forum, held at Mary Miller Hall,  invited the exchange of facts and opinions on social media’s impact on relationships, stated a press release. The CIYA canvassed more than 100 youth to select the forum’s discussion topic.

Participants discussed how digital technology affects youth socialisation. Attendees gained expert opinion from medical psychologists and a digital forensic specialist who shared recent changes in the laws protecting individuals against invasions of privacy and illicit material, the release said..

Minister for Youth Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said of the event, “The Social Media and Youth forum was well-attended on a rainy Friday evening, which in itself is a strong indication of how timely a discussion on the forum’s subject matter is.”

She added, “The influence of social media and its ascendancy as the communication medium of choice among teens is a relatively recent phenomena. And, while we all appreciate that the digital era is a source of many advancements, we need to balance its rewards with a vigilance and awareness of the risks and challenges it brings for safeguarding our children.”

In her opening remarks, YSU Director Katherine Whittaker said the forum was a chance for young people to openly share their opinions amongst themselves and with adults.

Whittaker outlined access to and use of social media, using figures from the Pew Research Centre’s (PRC) 2015 and 2018 surveys. “The survey results for this year show that 95 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 years in America own or have access to a smartphone; in 2015 that figure was 73 percent,” she said.

Whittaker noted that the 2018 survey found social media platforms of choice for young people aged 13 to 17 are YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, with Facebook coming in fourth. In addition, 31 percent of those young people said social media has mostly a positive effect on their lives, 24 percent called it negative, and the largest share (45 percent) responded that social media had neither a positive nor negative effect.

The director added that although that there were no comparative figures on perceived impact in 2015, results for “near constant” usage had more than doubled from 24 percent in 2015 to 45 percent this year.

CIYA President Brianna Bodden gave a Powerpoint presentation outlining the assembly’s findings on social media and youth socialisation. Following research, CIYA concluded that although it is the main way teens form romantic attachments and sustain friendships there are significant disadvantages in using social media for teens and their families concerning mental health, and physical and societal harm.

Bodden touched on the issues of cyber bullying, stalking, anxiety and depression – leading in some cases to self-harm –  suicidal ideation and negative body image.

The panel comprised psychologists, representatives from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and CIYA, and members of the Cayman Islands CARICOM Youth Ambassador team.

Through a series of questions, panellists were invited to give their opinions on how social media can affect relationships using anecdotal evidence and empirical observations, the press release said.

Panellists urged the young people not to overuse social media, noting the difficulty in picking up social cues via text, and that it can lead to negative self-image and anxiety caused by a range of factors. The factors include the lack of awareness that most images and posts portray an idealised version of reality, and also the situation where teens “live for likes” as a source of validation.

Protecting privacy and exercising extreme caution when choosing images to post were also mentioned repeatedly as rules teens should follow. The issues of the re-sharing and the harm caused when others manipulate words or graphics were also highlighted.

A  live poll of attendees conducted following the panel session reflected the PRC and CIYA results and research findings. Teens shared their views and experiences of forming and maintaining relationships via social media during the open mic session. Several cited situations where their experiences on social media had caused issues. Overall though the audience’s mood suggested that problems regarding the downsides of social media could be overcome with greater awareness and self-control, the release stated.

CIYA students then recommended that increased cyber-safety awareness should be promoted in schools using interactive competitions, including self-esteem and online relationships lessons on schools’ life skills curriculum; and implementing stricter laws to protect youth online.

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Category: Youth

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