We’re the first generation to grow up online. That's where we create, run our social lives, we share our highs, our lows, show the world who we are.
We grew up with selfies and share our lives through our Stories. We support each other, build each other up, and fight for what’s right. No matter who you are, what you look like, or who you love, we're here for it. Life online made us who we are. But it’s not all perfect. Some are using online spaces to spread hatred, or bully others.
The online world has shaped us. And now we’re shaping it back. We’ve formed a network of young people across Europe to rethink online spaces. We believe there must be new and better rules to protect young people online, and we’re going to speak to online platforms and governments about how to improve things.
It’s time to make online spaces a better, safer place for all of us. This is our feed, our future.
Our Feed Our Future, supported by Meta and ThinkYoung, brings together a network of young people from across Europe. Together with parents, industry leaders and experts, we want to have our voice heard and help shape our digital future for the better. Our mission: bring an honest, fresh and unique perspective about our online experiences and help shape regulation to ensure safer digital spaces for all of us. In the coming months, we will connect with other young people, meet experts, attend webinars and host in-person events hoping to inspire, inform and mobilize this growing youth movement.
Dr Angélique Gozlan’s Advice to Parents on Teen Social Media Use? “Let’s Go Back to What We Know”
“So, when it comes to social media, let's go back to what we know: let's inform ourselves as parents, let's take an interest in our children's practices, and accompany them in their first steps on social networks.”
Dr Angélique Gozlan is a PhD in psychopathology, teacher and researcher with over 15 years of experience in child psychiatry. Dr. Angelique is one of the experts supporting the Youth Network Meta launched in partnership with ThinkYoung.
Why did you join Meta's network of youth experts?
I joined the network because the project seemed very relevant to me. Young people are on social networks, they're building themselves up through their exchanges on these platforms, but they're also finding role models to identify with. It therefore seemed necessary to reach them at the very heart of this space, where they spend a lot of time, and to offer them content created by young people with whom they can identify.
I also wanted to join this network to contribute my knowledge and thoughts on the subject of young people and social networks, which I have been developing for over 15 years. I'm delighted to be able to pass on my knowledge, but also to support young creators on the fundamental issue of young people's safety on social media.
How do you focus on the well-being of young people in your work?
The well-being of young people is at the heart of my work as a psychologist. Every day I see young people in mental distress and I help them to make sense of what they are going through, to find in themselves and in those around them the resources they need to get better. Cultural artefacts, like social media, help young people express themselves and, by discussing them, can often launch the therapeutic process.
What are the myths about young people's well-being and social media?
The myths, or rather beliefs, that I hear about social media and young people's well-being are, first and foremost, addiction: social networks and the way they work are said to have addictive potential. However, there are currently no studies and no scientific consensus to support the diagnosis of addiction to social media.
Secondly, the loss of self: the encouragement to engage in risky behaviour through challenges, for example, or by exchanging nudes, or talking to potentially dangerous strangers. In this sense, social media could make young people vulnerable or depressed. But these two issues are often already present, and the use of social networks highlights this suffering.
How can parents strike a balance between allowing their children to explore and learn independently while ensuring their safety?
There's nothing new about this question. Letting your child explore and experiment in safety is a basic principle of education, and it starts with babies.
So when it comes to social media, let's go back to what we know: let's inform ourselves as parents, let's take an interest in our children's practices, which are not so different from our own, let's prevent risks by learning the rudiments of browsing on a social network (just as when you teach a child to walk, you protect the corners of the table, then buy suitable shoes), let's accompany children in their first steps on social networks by helping them to set up their account. But above all, let's open up a space for dialogue, not only on prevention and settings, but also on our respective browsing habits (which influencer I follow, why, what I like in which social media, which friends I find there). Let's start by considering our children's activity on social media or digital tools as a recreational activity in its own right. When a parent picks up their children after a sporting activity, they ask them how it went... It's the same thing with social media, opening up the dialogue is fundamental by listening to the teenager's needs, the family's needs and your own needs. But be careful not to be intrusive or insistent, as trust is key during adolescence and is essential to encourage the young person's autonomy and individuation.
Are there any emerging trends or technologies that could improve the safety of young people, and how can parents, policymakers and guardians keep abreast of these developments?
Of course, there are all the parental control tools that you can install on your own smartphone or that are internal to a particular social medium (Instagram is rolling out several of these in 2023: definition of length of use, night mode, parental supervision), but this use has its limits if it is not correlated with a parent-child relationship based on respect for each other's privacy, dialogue and trust.
A government digital hub is essential for centralising information on the subject, taking stock of it, and communicating with citizens on the major channels, viewing platforms and radio stations. The platforms naturally have a role to play in this communication, by offering targeted communications for specific categories (young people, parents, grandparents). For parents, it's essential that we collectively take stock of the place of social networks today, by giving them their rightful place in the family and social system. If we take this on board and see social networking as an activity in its own right, then it is also the responsibility of parents to inform themselves about the ins and outs of such an activity.
After the summer holidays and now that children and teenagers are back at school, what advice or best practice on safety for young people could you share with parents?
One of the basic observations we can make is that the more time a young person spends on social media, the more insecure they can become. So my first piece of advice for getting this school year off to a good start is to sit down together, as a family, to co-define the rules for using your smartphone and therefore social media: set a firm but flexible framework for the time you use it and the duration, giving priority to family time and extra-curricular activities. Like any other activity, it must not interfere with the smooth running of the family. Discuss the new safety features offered by certain social media and decide together whether you think it would be appropriate to introduce them. Reaffirm your availability and willingness to listen to your child if anything happens to him or her in these spaces, whether it's an image that has shocked him or her, a hateful comment he or she has received, or an unknown person who has contacted him or her.
Dr Radha Modgil’s Take on Social Media? “A Space to Campaign … [and] Bring About Positive Change”
“Social media allows young people to create, to connect, and to feel understood and valued.”
Dr Radha Modgil is an NHS GP, a television, radio, and podcast broadcaster, and author. Radha is the medical expert for numerous BBC shows and was the presenter of the CBeebies show, Feeling Better, which highlighted the importance of talking to young children about their feelings. She is a member of the Youth Expert Network, a joint initiative by Meta and ThinkYoung to bring together key European youth experts to help young people shape their digital future.
How does joining Meta's Youth Experts Network build on your past work?
I have been an advocate and voice for young people since I started my media career 15 years ago, and before that as a medical doctor as well. This was an active choice that I made as I have always and still believe that when we empower young people and support them with the life skills they need. Social media is part and parcel and integral to young people’s and all of our lives. It is our responsibility to support and empower young people with the skills they need to thrive on social media and to be able to express themselves and benefit from being creative, and ensure systems are in place on all platforms they could use that ensure they are safe, empowered and protected. Being part of Meta’s Youth Expert Network is another opportunity that I am honoured and grateful for that will allow me to advocate for young people.
Why do you focus on the well-being of young people in your work?
Our wellbeing is everything – it impacts how we see the world, how we interact with others, and what we feel able to be involved in and say yes to. Our psychology and our belief systems, our ability to be self-aware and notice how we feel, what we are thinking and to make an active choice in how to respond to the ups and downs of life determines so much. For me, our mental and emotional wellbeing in a truly holistic sense of the words is the foundation stone and the first building block of everything. Without this we have nothing, we cannot do anything and we definitely cannot thrive and flourish. The earlier we start teaching life skills and emotional skills to young children and people, the better. Life will always bring us challenges and we must get to know ourselves, how we tick, and, importantly, how to look after ourselves and trust ourselves to do this. This is true wellbeing – integrating life events and day to day life challenges with our wellbeing. Wellbeing is not just the basics of self care for our mental and physical health, but also our ability to find our purpose in life, to thrive and to be able to use what we have to support others and bring positive and impactful change to the world.
How can social media positively impact youth wellbeing?
Social media is like anything in life – it has its benefits and its downsides. There are of course many things we need to discuss and change and improve about social media – platforms, etiquette, safety, and how we use it. But, in these discussions, we mustn’t overlook or ignore the multitude of benefits that it had to offer. Social media allows young people to be able to create. Creativity is a wellbeing strategy – it is good for our mental and emotional health, it allows problem solving, a chance to connect with others, to improve and advance our skill sets, and to use our imagination which opens us up to being more in the present moment and understanding ourselves more as well. Social media also allows us to connect to others and not feel so alone or isolated. It allows us to feel understood, heard, seen, and valued for who we truly are. It can also provide a space to campaign for things young people care about and bring about positive change. It can allow young people to feel they have agency and autonomy and an ability to make a difference in the world. Social media can also allow us to understand young people in other countries and cultures – what they might be facing and how they might be feeling – a sense that we are more similar and have more in common than different.
What role do you see for governments and policymakers in ensuring young people’s well-being on social media?
For anything to improve there needs to be a clear and authentic intention as a starting point. This intention needs to be meaningful and be beyond any one person’s ambition or any one organisation’s lifetime, but sustainable and to have longevity and legacy. There also needs to be a joined up, collaborative approach with many agencies working together towards common and shared goals in order to be effective. Social media is multifaceted and an approach to supporting young people’s wellbeing needs to reflect that. Above all, any approach must reflect and include the voices and opinions of young people themselves, and must be led by them – we need to understand how they feel, what challenges they face, and what they need. It must have energy, long termism, and momentum behind it to ensure it works effectively, and be able to adapt to changing needs within the dynamic social media landscape.
October is Mental Health Awareness Month, what are your top tips for parents to support teens’ mental health?
One of my top tips is to be a parent or carer who that young person feels they can turn to and tell anything to, no matter what – with no judgement, no fear, and no worry. The key to supporting a young person and their mental health is to make them feel safe enough to open up and talk. This is everything when things seem challenging and difficult. Try to listen actively rather than interrupt, and allow them to debrief about how they feel. It is helpful to offer them support in seeking professional input if needed. Ask them what they feel might help, let them have the autonomy to tell you what strategies or responses you can give that will help them when they are having a bad moment or a bad day. Allow them to go at their own pace and encourage them to see their friends and take part in hobbies or activities they enjoy. Above all, let them know that you are there for them. That is potentially life-saving - the same way basic life support for physical health is absolutely essential, so is a young person knowing they are loved and safe and can talk to someone about how they feel for mental health.
ThinkYoung is a not-for-profit organisation, aiming to make the world a better place for young people by involving them in decision-making processes and providing decision-makers with high-quality research on youth conditions. ThinkYoung conducts studies and surveys, makes advocacy campaigns, writes policy proposals, and develops education programmes: up to date, ThinkYoung projects have reached over 800,000 young people.
Meta is a tech company with apps that you may know, like Instagram or WhatsApp. We work hard to build online spaces where young people can learn, connect, create, and have fun. We want young people to enjoy our platforms and to be safe, so creating spaces for young people to have their say on the future of platforms like ours is crucial.