“Adolescents need to be recognized as equal stakeholders in healthcare policymaking”

Youth Charter released at the closing ceremony of IAAH 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health


New Delhi: An overwhelming 92% of adolescents in USA are online every day, with 24% constantly online. Data from a 2015 research in USA has found that tweens (8-12 years) used social media under 6 hours daily primarily led by TV and games, while teens (13-18 years) used social media for almost nine hours daily led by TV and music, and yet others were exposed to media for close to 11.45 hours.

The addiction is leading to serious consequences on the health. Meanwhile, Indian youth are fast catching up with their western counterparts, raising the need for corrective measures and awareness at the earliest.

Speaking during a plenary on “Social Media, Sexting, Addition, Oh My’’ at the 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health, Dr Michael Rich, `Mediatrician’, Centre on Media and Child Health (CMCH) said adolescents were always online for the fear of missing out, a phenomenon popularly known as `FOMO.’ Facebook, he added, is the third largest nation on earth.

Half of the teenagers surveyed by Dr Rich felt they were `addicted’ to social media and 30% of the parents felt the same.

Adolescents spend 16 minutes on homework, 1.03 hours on watching videos and music, and 1.29 hours on social media and games. As many as 42% of 10-17 year olds end up on pornographic sites with 4% having been asked for sexual pictures of themselves by strangers. 21% of females and 8.5% males were victims of cyber-bullying in high school. More than half-58%- have received and 53% sent hurtful messages.

Dr Rich spoke about a `Media Abstinence Experiment’ conducted in 1,000 college students across 5 continents wherein they were kept off media for 24 hours. Initially some said `they did not know what to do with themselves all night’, `I felt dead’, and `I can’t live without media’. After the experiment the reflections were very different with the participants saying: `It was an unpleasant surprise to realize that I am in a constant state of distraction’, `When you really get off the media, you realize how many quality things you can do,’ and `I interacted with my parents more than usual.’

According to Dr Rich, 66% suffered from sleepiness, 90% had emotional problems and 67% felt they were distracted which affected their academics.

“The way media has evolved radically. It is important for them to know what they are exposing themselves to and how it influences their lives.  If they are busy texting, they are not talking to them. The connectivity is not the same as connectiveness,’’ Dr Rich said.

We need to understand that technology and social media can do great good but a lot of harm if used mindlessly, he said, adding that telecom companies should educate and empower their consumers on how to use their product.

‘Rigid Masculinity Norms Are Not Changing’

In his session on “Gender and Health: Are We Missing Anything,’’ Dr Ravi Verma of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) said focus across the world continues to be on sexual and reproductive health and girls and women, with very few governments – 22%– globally prioritizing equality and norms and male engagement.

“Rigid masculinity norms are not changing. On the contrary they may be becoming rigid with negative implications for both women and men,’’ he said while quoting his research data which suggested that 80% men in India believed a man should have the final word about decisions in his home, while 75% in USA, 65% in UK and 60% in Mexico believed that boys/men should act strong even if they feel scared or nervous inside.

Dr Verma pointed out smoking among women and girls in India has doubled from 1.4% to 2.9% during 2005-2010 though smoking among men has come down. Girls’ mobility is extremely restricted compared to boys, but girls are often rewarded for taking on `masculine’ traits of being good at math, science, assertiveness, stepping into `male’ professions, whereas boys are strictly criticized if they step into traditionally `female’ spaces – particularly caregiving, Dr Verma said.

Youth Charter Presented At The World Congress

During the closing ceremony of the conference, a Youth Charter was released, containing some recommendations on what should be the priorities for addressing adolescent health for all stakeholders engaged in policymaking and programming.

The Charter was drafted by the 100+ youth delegates participating in the conference from across the world. The priorities laid down in the Charter included Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; Comprehensive Sexuality Education; Gender Based Violence; Mental Health and Suicide; Adolescents and Young People in Humanitarian Settings; Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expressions (SOGIE); HIV/AIDS; and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

“The Youth Charter makes a strong case for adolescents and young people to be recognized as equal stakeholders, whose meaningful participation at all levels – local, national or international – is critical towards ensuring that adolescent health policy and programming is consistent with the on-ground lived realities”, concluded the inspiring group of youth delegates.