Locally applicable guidelines needed for children’s social media use, moot told

KARACHI: Highlighting concerns over growing mental health problems among youth, speakers at a discussion held at a local hotel underscored the need for implementing comprehensive educational programmes to foster responsible online behaviour and digital literacy at an early age.

Organised by the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), the event focused on the profound impact of the internet and social media on mental health at both the individual and mass levels.

The participants, including seasoned psychiatrists, psychologists, political leaders, and social activists, among others, identified challenges and proposed effective strategies to address them.

Special Assistant to Sindh Chief Minister on IT Tanzeela Qambrani emphasised the need for locally applicable guidelines for children’s social media use, considering Pakistan’s socio-cultural aspects.

Chief Secretary Dr Muhammad Sohail Rajput, the chief guest, was of the opinion that the situation required urgent steps, including the formulation of comprehensive policies and regulations that protect both online freedom and mental health.

During the discussion, experts shared valuable insights into the complex relationship between internet usage, social media, and mental health.

They cited studies linking excessive use of social media to disrupted, decreased, and delayed sleep, which in turn led to depression, memory loss, poor academic performance, and even affected users physical health.

Dr Ayesha Mian said the excessive use of social media could also create greater dissatisfaction amongst the youth about their body image and weight when they were exposed to countless images, including those of celebrities and fashion models, every day.

Stakeholders in the technology and social media industries pledged their commitment to developing tools and features that foster a healthier online environment, including content moderation and enhanced privacy settings.

Social activists emphasised the impact on marginalised communities and called for inclusive digital spaces promoting positivity, understanding, and support. They advocated for digital literacy and responsible online behaviour to combat the challenges faced by society.

They called for encouraging collaboration between mental health professionals and tech companies to develop mental health-focused features and interventions.

The recommendations put forward by speakers included preparing and implementing up-to-date regulations related to internet, digital, and social media use, focusing on protecting user data and combating cyberbullying while respecting freedom of speech.

They also called for promoting public awareness campaigns to highlight potential risks associated with excessive internet and social media usage while encouraging a balanced approach to technology.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

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