Social media and mental health - Advice for teachers and parents 

Posted on 19 May 2017

Today the results from the Royal Society for Public Health survey were released. This survey looks at the effect that different social media platforms have on young people’s mental health.

The study asked 1,479 people aged 14-24 to score popular apps on issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image.

The research found that image sharing websites had the worst effect on young people’s mental health, with Instagram being ranked as the worst.

For Mental Health Awareness Week we looked at how we can encourage good mental health online

In this blog we look further at how parents and teachers can talk to young people about the issues covered in this research; such as self-esteem and body image as well as the role and influence of image in their lives.

Our Education Team’s experience

Our Childnet Education Team run school activity days for primary and secondary schools across the UK. These sessions look at the many positives of the internet whilst also exploring online safety issues such as cyberbullying, social networking, grooming and sexting.

In these sessions the Education Team explore what young people are seeing online. During the sessions with young people aged 11-14, the following image is shown in both an edited and un-edited version. Young people are given the opportunity to discuss the changes made to the image and impact this could have on someone’s self-esteem and body image.

Each time the team run this activity the vast majority of pupils in the session will raise their hands to say that they had seen edited photos like this online. Pupils explained that they had not just seen celebrities posting edited content but had also seen the same from their peers. Through films, resources and discussions, our team encourage young people to think critically about what they see so that they can continue to have positive encounters online.

Advice for teachers

PSHE Toolkit

Our PSHE Toolkit has lesson plans and videos which explore issues like self-esteem and peer pressure and has received PSHE Association accreditation. The purpose of the toolkit is to help educators generate discussion among young people about their online experience. Using the short films as a spring board, the toolkit covers relevant topics such as cyberbullying, sexting, peer pressure and self-esteem. 

The Power of Images

For Safer Internet Day 2017 the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) explored the ‘Power of Images’ in young people lives. 1,500 young people aged 8-17 years old took part in a UKSIC online survey conducted by ResearchBods. The research looked at the power of images in young people’s lives and the influence this can have on their self-esteem, behaviour and emotions.

The research showed that 1 in 6 young people had shared a photo online in the last hour, and 1 in 8 had shared a selfie in the last day. However, 2 in 5 (40%) of those asked said that they sometimes don’t post images because of concerns about receiving mean comments.

What is positive to see from this research is that 4 in 5 young people said that they had been inspired by an image or video online to take positive action online and offline.

In order to explore these issues further, for Safer Internet Day education packs were produced which include lesson plans, video content, quick activities and lesson plans. These packs can be found here

For parents

Have a conversation

The internet is constantly changing, and new issues and online platforms are arising all the time. We would advise parents and carers to have an open and honest conversation with their children. Ask your children about what they’re seeing online, talk through some of the issues that this research has brought to light, such as mental health and how images can be edited online. The NSPCC has some great advice for when you need to talk about difficult topics.

It’s important that your children feel that they are able to come and talk to you about any issues they may be having online. Although it may seem difficult to have this conversation, we have some conversation starters that can help you to start a discussion with your family about their time online.  

Social media guides

The Childnet social networking hot topic looks at some the things parents need to know about their children being on social media. The hot topic looks at some of the FAQ’s about social media and keeping your child safe online. 

The UK Safer Internet Centre also has useful social media guides for parents. These look at the safety features available on some popular social networking sites.                                                                              

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