Social Media and Mental Health

Is the mental health of young people being adversely affected by Social Media?

Social Media Mental HealthKate Winslet has recently been very vocal about how social media is banned in her household. A mother herself, she has openly said that in her opinion, the unhealthy obsession of thinness and the media's idea of beauty leaves her in no doubt that it causes women (and girls especially) to suffer low self esteem and potential mental health issues. Controversially she has also gone further in this argument by stating that parents are losing control and that smart phones should be confiscated off teenagers for good.

She is able to put her money where her mouth is too as she has a clause written into her L'Oreal contract preventing them from airbrushing or retouching her photos. In 2003 she bitterly complained very publicly about how GQ magazine in her words 'reduced the width of her legs by a third' on the front cover of the magazine. She flies the flag for the representation of 'real women' (as she puts it) and it's her opinion that social media has encouraged girls to fashion themselves for the purpose of near strangers to 'like' their pictures.

I share her concerns to an extent. I conducted a survey recently through an online mums group with 4000 users. I really wanted to hear real life stories from parents about whether they agree they are losing a battle against the draw of social media sites and if they felt deep down that it is adversely affecting their teenagers lives.

It's difficult to admit you should be doing something when you're not. All parents know too much online time is never a good thing. The results of my questionnaire reflected this. Nearly all parents agreed that their teens spend far too much time on devices and that any sort of phone amnesty was met with strong resistance and disdain. Parents of girls were very keen to identify a lack of advice and guidance on the subject and it was obvious that they felt they needed more information about the risks to childrens mental health. They were shocked at the amount of apps dedicated to photo manipulation too - they spoke of teens being open about desiring comments and likes and gaining the maximum number of followers as possible.

Other concerns were voiced about saturation of social media 24 hours a day, online bullying and general spitefulness toward each other causing distress and anxiety (not to mention the affect this has on learning and taking up precious time at school trying to pick apart online disputes).

This concurs with a Daily Mail story recently that had the headline 'children glued to Facebook are twice as likely to suffer mental health problems'. They claim 56% of kids spend more than 3 hours a day on such sites. Parents biggest concern was how they noticed their child's mood altered during or after usage. Large numbers of families stated that there were marked changes in attitude and distress according to what was posted by viewers. Worrying information. To kids of the 80's like me it’s definitely something we find hard to relate to as growing up in a non technological world now seems very simple, innocent and appealing. So, as our first generation digital natives mature, are we yet to see the true consequences of their excessive social media exposure?

According to a national survey conducted in the US, the research provides a more positive outlook. Their findings illustrate teenagers are using social media for much more positive reasons. Headline statistics show teenagers aged 13-18 are sourcing health information online from social media sites that positively influenced them to change their behaviour about diet, exercise and well being. Far from technology being a catalyst for anxiety and depression, instead it was a self help tool for them that made a difference.

Apps and sites have cottoned onto teenagers growing interest in healthy living and it seems that it is the reference of choice for 67% of young people. It also seemed that young people use it as an ongoing support network, using social media as an instrument to aid continuing success. They report to enjoying online friendships from empathic young people, especially about issues such as bullying, eating disorders and obesity. One of the most popular online searches was not surprisingly to do with sex and relationships. Being an SRE teacher myself, I know and understand the reasons why young people seek information online. Every time I ask the question ' please put your hand up if you talk to your parents or teachers about sex?' ...the tumbleweed blows through the classroom. I can see the appeal of looking up intimate information in private and anonymously and without judgement. So for that reason I can safely say that websites such as Bish and Brook prevent a lot of teenagers contracting STI's or keep them safe from unwanted pregnancy.

So, does this information infer that it's all about developing a healthier relationship with social media and not ruling your life by it? Teenagers, by the very fact they are teenagers will lean on the side of rebellion, push boundaries, take risks, show a lack of self control at times and perhaps an inability to truly understand consequences for actions. So again the way forward seems to lie in educating young people about the pitfalls and challenging the notion that it should rule our lives or define us as people.

Written by Vicki Dan on November 11, 2015 14:54

Social Media - the pressures on young people

Is social media more stressful than exams for pupils?

E-safety Social MediaAccording to Marion Gibbs, a retiring head teacher from James Allen's Girls School in Dulwich, teenagers feel more pressure and stress from social media than they do exams. She refers to a 'Goldfish bowl' world where girls especially feel an overwhelming pressure to look amazing and be popular.

Recently I have seen a definite rise amongst younger and younger students using social media as a platform to prove their popularity and the anxiety it causes when it goes wrong. So I am inclined to agree with Ms Gibbs opinions. I am talking from the position of step parent and teacher.

From my own experience, my selfie-stick loving step children have taken to using special apps in search of more followers on instagram because in their words 'you're really unpopular if you have no followers'. They are 9 and 12. Following on from that, I know of adults too that use these apps to increase their online profiles status by 'buying up' followers and likes. In an attempt to appear more successful and more popular in job hunting for example. The superlatives echo our need to feel accepted and looked up to. Are we all guilty? Do we all in fact feel the same pressures?

In my role a PSHE coordinator I am constantly hearing how students can have literally 24 hours a day of constant contact, photos, statuses and texts at the touch of a button. This can be a particular problem when students fall out and where it was previously left at school gates, now students complain of an inescapable virtual presence at every turn. And in an environment where students can have in excess of hundreds of friends and followers, every thought and picture is scrutinised, judged and commented on. Alluding to the pre aforementioned comments of the head teacher, these issues are all running parallel to an already stressful time of their young lives studying, learning and taking exams, against a backdrop of unequivocal pressure to be popular and to 'fit in'. I feel for them a great deal. As an 80's child, I am so pleased that our school years weren't filled with selfies and status updates and instead was just being nagged for spending a mere 5 minutes on a landline.

Scarily, it's now reported that kids can spend up to 44 hours a week in front of smart phones and tablets, with a further 23% admitting to some sort of addiction to games and social media. Potential warning signals of addiction can range from checking emails and status updates several times an hour; a complete loss of time when on phones and tablets, preferring to interact online than face to face and using tablets and phones first thing on waking and then last thing when going to sleep. Knowing this applies to at least half of my class, it's apparent how addiction and pressure to keep 'in the social media loop' is a complete distraction from real life and provides some sort of escapism.

So, looking forward, what can we do to alleviate these pressures and refocus children? I think firstly lead by example, I know I am guilty of scrolling through my phone during downtimes, it's important to show we can have self control and abide by no phone/tablet times - even though initially this would be unpopular it does provide an alternative focus from technology and gives a chance for free time to be 'uncontaminated'.

We can encourage students to turn off notifications from social media sites, if, every time the screen flashes up with another picture or status update, the young person is so tempted to stop what they're doing and then be drawn back into the cycle. A recent study by Johnathan Spira pefectly illustrates the issue in his findings. If you spend 30 seconds scrolling the internet it will then take you at least 5 minutes to fully re-engage in what you were doing beforehand.

Schools can also adopt good practice too by teaching children the pitfalls of using social media in unhealthy ways and understand its place in relationships. E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members can download a series of e-safety lessons that deal extensively with this topic.

We can raise awareness of campaigns like 'ditch your smart phone for a day' (June 28th)...I know I intend to heavily promote this in school, introducing it like a sponsored silence where it's a challenge and discussions can ensue where students share stories of how they coped and what they did with all their new found available time off social media. Ironically, the promotion of the event has massively gathered memento through sharing on social media sites, but, this is also how many people have been reached and reflected upon their own habits, moreover it reflects a desire amongst society to change our habits to improve our relationships and lifestyles. I know that June 28th will be an interesting experiment, no doubt reported in depth by some on social media the next day. I look forward to it.

A recent poll by Schools Improvement Net, posed the question 'Is the pressure to look good on social media harming young people?' - see the results here

Written by Vicki Dan on June 03, 2015 13:14

Keeping children safe online is the biggest child protection challenge of this generation

Parents’ concerns about social networking sites popular with children were revealed recently, as the NSPCC launched its Share Aware campaign to get families talking about socialising safely online.

An NSPCC panel of more than 500 parents from Mumsnet reviewed 48 of these sites and said all those aimed at adults and teenagers were too easy for children under 13 to sign-up to. On more than 40 per cent of the sites, the panel struggled to locate privacy, reporting and safety information.

At least three quarters of parents surveyed by the NSPCC found sexual, violent, or other inappropriate content on Sickipedia, Omegle, Deviant Art, and F my Life within half an hour of logging into the sites.

Those aimed at younger children, like Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Popjam and Bearville, fared better and parents did not find any unsuitable content on them.

The NSPCC also asked just under 2,000 children and young people which social networking sites they used. Talking to strangers or sexual content were the main concerns mentioned by children. But they also thought the minimum age limit for signing up to many sites should be higher, despite saying they’d used the sites when they were underage.

The NSPCC has used the reviews to create a new online guide to help inform parents about the risks of different social networking sites used by children.

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “Children are taught from an early age that it is good to share but doing so online can be very dangerous. We must all be Share Aware. This Christmas many children will have been given a smart phone, a tablet computer, or a games console. So it’s the perfect opportunity for parents to have that important conversation with their children about who they are talking to and what they share when they socialise online.

“We know that children do take risks online, sometimes without realising it. And we know some parents feel confused by the internet – out of their depth, and out of control. Our Share Aware campaign gives parents straightforward, no-nonsense advice that will help them to untangle the web and feel confident talking to their children about online safety.

“Keeping children safe online is the biggest child protection challenge of this generation. Parents have a vital role to play but we want social networking sites to respond to parental concerns about their children’s safety and privacy. The NSPCC will continue to challenge and work with internet companies and the Government to make the internet a safer place for children.”

The NSPCC’s Share Aware campaign is aimed at parents of 8 to 12-year-old children and also features two animations to be shown on prime time TV and digital spaces. I Saw Your Willy and Lucy And The Boy are engaging films with a serious message that follow the stories of two children who share too much about themselves online. Both films contain the simple message that although children are taught that it’s good to share, this is not always the case online.

People can find out more about the NSPCC campaign at and join the debate on social media by following #ShareAware.

Anyone looking for advice about keeping children safe online, or concerned about the safety and welfare of a child, can contact the NSPCC’s 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email

Children worried about online safety or any other problem can call the free, 24-hour helpline on 0800 1111 or get help online at

Written by E-safety Support on January 20, 2015 11:06

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