A government paper has revealed that alcohol abuse, drug use and teen-pregnancy are declining in teenagers, but different problems like self-harm, eating disorders and lack of sleep are on the rise.
The findings were published by a group of senior civil servants from Britain. The paper has suggested that the changes could be down to better parental monitoring coupled with the pervasion of social media and the Internet.
When discussing the findings, experts said ‘digital immersion’ has caused a ‘rapid and dramatic societal shift’, something that is already having a significant impact on young people.
Some said the rise of social media and computer games may be giving teenagers less time to partake in ‘traditional risk behaviours’ (for example, under-age drinking). Others argued that the anonymity of the Internet is making it easier for teens to get hold of ‘designer drugs’ and legal highs.
The paper noted a clear increase in cases of cyber bullying and said children are more frequently exposed to harmful content, such as pro-anorexia sites and self-harming sites.
Interestingly the paper also found that sexting (when people send and receive text messages of a sexually explicit nature) is already declining in young people, along with the under-age use of social media. Experts were however quick to raise concerns about the prevalence of online pornography and the psychological impact this is having on young people.
The discussion came after research, commissioned by the Government’s ‘horizon scanning’ group, was carried out to analyse future threats and opportunities, assessing the potential impact on policies. The work is overseen by the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood.
The document found evidence suggesting a ‘slow and steady’ reduction in drinking, smoking, drug use, teenage pregnancy and suicide in young people. They concluded however that there was no room to be complacent as various other risks are emerging.
A key area of concern is self-harm. Recent research found a third of 15-year-old girls admitted to harming themselves.
“Figures for eating disorders and body image issues suggest that these are also significant problems, and are less likely to be associated with poor mental health.”
The Government has put £1.25bn aside to help improve mental health services for young people over the next five years.