Young people rebelling against social media, survey reveals

5 October 2017
Posted by HMC Press Office
  • 63% of young people wouldn’t mind if social media had never been invented
  • 71% of students have undergone ‘digital detoxes’ to take a break from social media and would do the same again

 A survey conducted amongst more than nearly 5,000 students at independent and state schools by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the heads of the world’s leading independent schools, and Digital Awareness UK, reveals that young people are rebelling against the current state of social media, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying they wouldn’t mind if it had never been invented.

The findings of the survey, which sought to identify digital trends amongst 11 to 18 year olds, were launched at the HMC Annual Conference on 5 October.

Respondents highlighted the emotional impact social media is having on their wellbeing with 57% stating they’ve received abusive comments online; 56% feeling they are on the edge of addiction; and 52% saying social media makes them feel less confident about how they look or how interesting their life is.  More than 60% believe friends show a fake version of themselves on social media but 85% believe they do not do so themselves.

The research also highlights what students like about social media. Internet ‘memes’, ‘filters/lenses’ and storytelling features, such as Snapchat Stories, are listed amongst the most popular social media trends. To improve their user experience, students have shared what social networks need to consider moving forward:

  • Less advertising (73%)
  • More trusted sites, i.e. less fake news (61%)
  • More creative and inspiring content (55%)
  • Greater privacy (49%)
  • Opportunities to earn income on social media (33%)


Chris King, Chair of HMC and Headmaster of Leicester Grammar School said:

“The findings of this poll may surprise teachers and parents but it will help them understand the pressures young people feel in the digital age.

“It is fascinating to see the first indications of a rebellion against social media and reminds us that they may need help to take breaks from its constant demands. The respondents also had clear advice to social networks about the need to consider the quality and trustworthiness of their content.

“Schools will be able to use these insights to help pupils live comfortably and safely online and use good judgement when using social media.”

 Samantha Price, Headmistress of Benenden School and chair of HMC’s Wellbeing Working Group, said:

“These results chime with my experiences at Benenden, where in March we held a three-day ‘Phone Fast’ without mobile phones or social media. In the run-up I was worried about how the girls would cope but afterwards they were wondering what all the fuss had been about and said we should do it again but for even longer next time, which I found incredibly reassuring.

“When young people have time away from social media they see and feel the benefits: they sleep better, concentrate and therefore learn better and feel better. Of course, social media and the internet are not the enemy – there are enormous positives to them – but it is a matter of finding the right balance, and all schools should be working hard to help children to achieve that balance.”

 Charlotte Robertson, co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said:

“We speak to thousands of students on a daily basis about safe internet use and, while it’s a matter of concern to see the emotional impact social media is having on young people’s health and wellbeing, it’s encouraging to see that they are also employing smart strategies such as digital detoxing to take control of their social media use.

“Social media allows us to be creative, connected, to campaign for things we believe in, to become entrepreneurs! It’s a platform that should be celebrated and if online abuse or fake news stops it from flourishing we all lose.

“This research is a real wake-up call for all of us working in social media to ensure that we listen to the needs of young people, who will ultimately dictate the direction in which the industry moves.”

Tech Control survey 

Notes for editors

The survey was carried out in September amongst students at state-funded and independent schools in England. Most of the responses came from students in Years 9, 10 and 11 of which 57% were female, 42% male and 1% other.

The annual HMC conference is taking place at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, 2 – 5 October 2017. HMC is the professional association of the heads of the world’s leading independent schools, educating more than 231,000 children at 289 schools. The theme is ‘Celebrating Difference’ and this year’s Chair is Chris King, Head of Leicester Grammar School.  The full programme is available at

Media enquiries to Sue Bishop, HMC External Relations Director ([email protected]) or Sheila Thompson ([email protected])