A sharp knock on the door is met by silence. A text message is seen, but ignored. For several months, the only sightings of the 15-year-old on the opposite side of the door have been when he collects his meal or during fleeting bathroom trips.
This is how Kate, a 40-year-old mother from Hertfordshire, recently described her son’s descent into reclusiveness during lockdown.
While most COVID-related measures are set to expire this week, Britain is only now beginning to contend with the long-term effects and legacies of the pandemic. These appear to have been particularly severe for teenagers and young adults.
According to data recently analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there has been a 77% rise in child referrals to the NHS for severe mental health illness in the last year alone. It is beyond doubt that the extensive curbs imposed on teenagers socialising have played a major role in precipitating such a crisis. Amidst this uptick in isolation and loneliness, social media platforms have been a lifeline for young people—livestreaming app Yubo, specifically designed for young people, tripled its daily new users in the first months of the pandemic.
A teenage loneliness epidemic
Despite receiving relatively limited attention by media outlets, public health officials and politicians alike, British teenagers appear to be facing a loneliness epidemic. The available data and research paint a stark picture
Ever since the first lockdown in May 2020, researchers at Oxford University revealed how young people were struggling in the absence of social interaction. At the time, around 35% of young people reported feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’.
Another year of interrupted schooling, limited socialising, and intermittent lockdowns only served to further compound the teenage loneliness crisis. A survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University in February 2021, found that 64% of respondents aged 13 to 19 reported not having anyone to talk to. Even worse, 30% stated that their existing relationships with friends had deteriorated during lockdown.
Teens turn towards social media
One of the inevitable consequences of teenage loneliness has been their increased reliance on social media platforms to stay in contact with friends. According to a report by the government media regulator OFCOM, a whopping 87% of 12–15-year-olds reported using social media websites.
The recent growth in teenage usage naturally raises the question – on the lips of many parents – of whether these platforms are safe for their children to use. When looking at the big social media giants, it is hard to say that this is the case, as they have repeatedly failed to address concerns over ads containing misinformation and harmful posts on their platforms.
Safety first: how Yubo is protecting teens
If teenagers are to use social media safely, new safe platforms tailored to their specific needs are sorely needed. One such solution comes in the form of the social media firm Yubo. The platform sets itself apart not only limiting its usership to only young people, but also taking active steps and measures to safeguard its members.
One such feature is Yubo’s AI-driven and human content monitoring and moderation tools. Through real-time monitoringof all livestreams and direct messages, nudity, self-harm and bullying are quickly dealt with. In the absence of paid ads, the platform also limits the spread of harmful misinformation.
Even more encouraging are the stringent sign-up protocols that have been devised to prevent trolls or overage users from joining the site. By using facial recognition techniques, for instance, fake or multiple accounts are quickly detected. Users are also encouraged to undergo an additional user verification process, which includes an ID check.
By moulding its platform around the needs of its users, Yubo is positioning itself as a credible and safer alternative social media for teenagers. It has already proven to be remarkably successful in the UK, with over 3.5 million users and a London team that is growing with the arrival of a new Creative Lead. It would therefore not be surprising to see the company increasingly take over the teenage social media space.
Why teen-friendly social media matters
Faced with the choice of preventing their kids from accessing social media or allowing them to navigate adult platforms, parents have been caught between a rock and a hard place. However, the widespread teenage loneliness during the pandemic seems to have made parents even more wary of cutting off their children’s access to social media.
The data seem to bear this out. Around half of all parents surveyed by OFGEM in 2020 said that, despite finding it hard to control their child’s screen time, they thought being online was important to help their kid build or maintain friendships. In the trade-off between protecting their children from loneliness and online harm, the fear of social isolation seems to be winning out.
As teenagers using social media becomes increasingly inevitable, it becomes imperative to make it as safe for them as possible. The only way to do so appears to be through platforms that are specifically designed for young people to use. By creating ringfenced online communities, the task of protecting children from harmful adult content and monitoring their behaviour is suddenly not so insurmountable.