If you’ve ever felt lonely or isolated after spending long periods of time scrolling through social media, you’re not alone. Prince William and Kate Middleton paid a visit to the BBC Broadcasting House this week to try out a new internet safety app for anti-bullying week, speak with the young app creators, and talk social media and cyber-bullying. In this effort, they join Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have used their platforms to talk about mental health and social media use in the past.
While the royals have spoken about the isolating effects of social media before, even launching a taskforce involving Facebook, Snapchat, and Google to tackle the problem in 2016, Prince William made it abundantly clear in his recent speech that the power of technology to isolate users is more prevalent than ever, especially in the younger generation. “I am worried that our technology companies still have a great deal to learn about the responsibilities that come with their significant power,” he shared. “From a young age, I have detested bullying in all its forms. As Catherine and I started our family a few years ago, I was alarmed about the increasing reports of online bullying that were making headlines around the world.”
Prince William also expressed his hope that progress on the issue was imminent: “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but by this time next year we expect to have a plan in place to achieve fundamental improvements in online safety for bullied children.”
His speech on the issue this week suggests that progress up until this point hasn’t been as steady as he’d hoped. “I believe we are stronger when we are connected and more successful when we can understand each other’s experiences… We all have to acknowledge, though, that much of the early optimism and hope of social media is giving way to very real concern, and even fear about its impact on our lives,” he said. “The tools that we use to congratulate each other on milestones and successes can also be used to normalize speech that is filled with bile and hate. The websites we use to stay connected can for some create profound feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.” This loneliness that he highlights is backed up by research: A new study from the University of Pennsylvania found a causal link between use of social media, loneliness, and depression.
Although there are boundaries we can set in order to limit our own social media use, Prince William says the onus ultimately lies on the tech companies themselves. “Their self-image is so grounded in their positive power for good that they seem unable to engage in constructive discussion about the social problems they are creating," he noted. “I am very concerned that on every challenge they face... fake news, extremism, polarization, hate speech, trolling, mental health, privacy, and bullying, our tech leaders seem to be on the back foot.”
While Prince William says tech companies have a lot to learn about responsibility, the forthcoming internet safety app that he and Middleton are planning points towards some of the emerging technology that can help manage social media usage from the consumer end, too.
And while we cannot control the nature of the technology we use, what we can control is how we use our own devices. Here are some steps you can implement to avoid the loneliness and isolation that social media can often cause:
Be aware of your time
The University of Pennsylvania study recommends that you reduce social media use to 30 minutes or less per day, but even if that goal isn’t feasible, the study provides some good news: Monitoring your usage, in and of itself, led to a significant decrease in anxiety over baseline levels. And there are technologies, like Apple Screen Time, that can help you do this.
Trade out some of your social media apps for a mindfulness app
Downloading an app like Headspace, which aids meditation, gives you better options when you feel that reflexive urge to unlock your phone. Meditation, science has shown, is great for mental health. And research has shown that maintaining a higher number of social platforms correlates with higher levels of depression and anxiety, so culling down the platforms you carry around in your pocket might help you think about which platforms are most meaningful to you, and perhaps drop a few of your accounts entirely.
Look out for your child by monitoring and enforcing good habits
Although Prince William’s speech emphasized the widespread effect of social media on adults and children alike, his visit with Middleton to the BBC was centered specifically around the potential dangers of kids using the internet. This is a deeply relevant issue: 45 percent of teens say they are online almost constantly, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
If you are considering your child’s online well-being, there are a variety of technologies designed specifically to help you help them stay safe. Apple’s Screen Time can help here, too, allowing parents to check on app usage by their kids as well as to use technology to enforce phone bedtime rules.
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