‘Don’t spend all day online’, Prince William warns school students
Image credit: Reuters/Arthur Edwards/Pool
During a surprise school visit, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and second in line to the throne, spoke out about cyberbullying, mental health, and the pressure to appear perfect in digital spaces.
The Duke made an unexpected visit to Ark Burlington Danes Academy in White City, West London, for a question and answer session, followed by conversations with GCSE students.
He was joined by British rapper Professor Green, who has been involved with mental health awareness efforts, including the “Heads Together” campaign. The campaign – which is spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry – aims to encourage supportive conversations about mental wellbeing in order to destigmatise mental health challenges.
In April 2017, Prince Harry took the unprecedented step of speaking candidly about the state of his mental health, explaining that he continued to experience grief for much of the 20 years following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and had sought counselling.
At his appearance, Prince William spoke about the growth of heavily ‘touched up’ portraits found online, and how these images – often manipulated to perfect with airbrushing and other selfie-enhancing apps – could cause stress and unhappiness. This is a pressure that his generation did not have to face up to, he commented.
“I worry for you girls,” he said, addressing two students. “So don’t try and recreate or think that’s what […] you’ve got to aim for. There’s a lot of fakeness online so don’t worry about that.”
“The online world is a whole new sphere that we never had to deal with. If you’re trying to do your normal life and trying to get that right and make friends, then you also try and do that online; that’s a lot of pressure […] you’ll never keep everyone happy.”
“Don’t spend all day online: seriously, don’t,” he said. “For your mental health, get outside, come away from the screen. By all means, be on a screen but don’t be on it all day because it will only bring you into another world. It’s important that you balance the time.”
Professor Green added that in order to remain resilient in the face of online abuse, he had to keep reminding himself that the abuse was being directed at him by people who did not know him personally.
The students shared their stories about dealing with the pressure to appear as perfect as airbrushed celebrities online, including going to such lengths as taking hundreds of selfies to get the right shot, or styling their hair and applying makeup before posting on Snapchat.
The students had been learning about the “Stop, Speak, Support” code of digital conduct, launched by the Royal Foundation’s Taskforce on Cyberbullying in November 2017 in order to tackle cyberbullying among young people and protect mental wellbeing online.
Numerous studies have suggested that excessive social media use can have negative effects on mental health, including stress and fear of missing out (FOMO), as well as being associated with more severe problems such as depression and eating disorders.
In December 2017, David Ginsberg, Facebook’s director of research, admitted that passive consumption of social media content can leave users feeling low in mood.