Social media has exploded in recent years and the media is full of stories that it’s having a profoundly negative impact on young people. Lots of parents are worried that their children are constantly checking posts and never a few feet away from their phone…
BUT IS IT ALL BAD?
And SHOULD YOU BE PROTECTING YOUR CHILD from the dangers of social media?
Let’s start with the BAD!
Cyberbullying is bullying through social media or other digital platforms (email, forum posts etc). Young people regularly tell us about the distress and anxiety they feel when a friend or fellow student posts an embarrassing photo, or shares private stories on social media or even send upsetting or threatening messages. Cyberbullying will negatively impact any child but is particularly dangerous when a young person already has fragile mental health. It can further lower their self-esteem, cause feelings of shame and isolation and add to the anxiety and depression they may be feeling. Cyberbullying can be a key factor that triggers young people to self-harm, as they look for a way to cope with troubles in their life and the distress of online abuse.
What can parents do about cyberbullying?
Apart from banning your child from going online (and we usually don’t recommend this for young people over the age of 11), there’s not much you can do to guarantee your child won’t be cyberbullied; but you might be able to lessen the chance they’re cyberbullied and and help them if it does occur:
Social media’s impact on your child or teen’s body image
Another problem with social media is that it exposes young people to the ‘ideal body type’. People usually post the best version of themselves online, use photo filters, edit out pimples and imperfections and lots of the photos posted by hugely popular influencers look nothing like the actual person in real life.
It’s very easy for young people to compare themselves on social media, setting unrealistic standards about their appearance and constantly comparing themselves to these expectations. Social media is full of ‘fake’ and enhanced images which can make your child or teen feel worse about themselves.
In fact, 40% of teens say that images on social media make them worry about their body image. A negative body image is a big cause of distress in young people and can contribute to low self-confidence, low mood and feeling stressed. Also, in some cases, it can contribute to an eating disorder and body dysmorphia.
Talking to your child or teen about social media and body image
I think it’s definitely worthwhile talking to your child about the photoshopped and unrealistic body images shared on social media, how people only share their ‘edited highlights’, ‘best’ photos and stories, and that external beauty is only skin deep and that there is so much more to a person than their looks.
Self-harm related content in social media
Another danger with social media is that your child or teen could come across stories or images of self-injury. The big social media platforms are working hard to restrict young people from sharing these kinds of posts, but don't pick up everything and there’s the danger of your child finding posts that encourage or shows new ways to self-harm. Some of this content makes self-harm look rebellious, glamorous or a cool lifestyle choice and any attempt to portray it in a positive light is obviously very dangerous.
However, at the YMHF, we believe that if a child over the age of 11 or 12 wants to use social media…they usually will find a way of doing so, despite your best efforts. Trying to ban all social media for these older children is like trying to enforce an impossible rule, so it’s often best to avoid the conflict. Instead we’d encourage you to focus on strengthening your relationship with your child. Building an open relationship based on communication, trust and understanding means they are more likely to come to you in times of distress and need. Each parent has to make the best decision based on their individual circumstances.
Benefits of social media for your child’s mental health
With all that said, social media can also also be a positive thing in a young person’s life. During the Covid-19 lockdown, when most of the world was locked in their houses, lots of young people stayed connected and met friends in online forums and group chats, often linked to online games.
A 15 year old girl told us that she’d made new friends from all round the world during lockdown and meeting them online made her feel connected and supported at difficult times. Some of these friendships had deepened over two years to the point that a virtual friend in Canada was coming to stay with her and her family in the UK for a week after graduating from her highschool.
Social media and forums can also be a way that shy, socially anxious or reclusive young people can make new friends, meet and socialise. For those struggling to make friends, it can help them find somewhere they feel they belong, feel safe and find new people with similar interests and reduce the loneliness they are feeling.
Social media content, posts and images aren’t always bad either. We hear that young people use them to express their own individuality and it can be a way to spread positivity and kindness. Some of the young people we support tell us that they find social media helpful because:
So social media and the online world can be both positive and negative for your child or teen. We encourage you to monitor the situation in your own home and make a balanced and proportional decision as to how to respond to your child's social media use based on your particular circumstances.
It might also be useful to recommend social media accounts that can be a positive influence on your child or teens life:
I like themaddiebruce because she is a personal and realistic YouTuber who has experienced self-harm herself: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yYuE1ghTxc&t=156s).
The selfcarespotlight is a lovely Instagram account that encourages self-love and self-care.
Kenziebrenna is a wonderful advocate for mental health and body positivity on Instagram.
For TikTok lovers, I have found @recoveringgracie very inspirational and helpful as she documents her mental health recovery journey.
One of my personal favourite accounts to follow is @taylorcassidyj (on TikTok and Instagram) for growth and boosts of self-confidence.
CHECK OUT our FREE resources for parents of self-harming young people here:
SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where we coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-book
Resource Development Executive