Sunday, 24 September 2017

Social media is damaging our teens mental health

In modern society, Social Media is both a blessing and a curse.

We are all so dependent on our phones and letting the world know what we're up to, checking in at amazing locations and sharing our every movement. 

Don't get me wrong. I love Facebook and Twitter and probably spend at least 2 hours a day scrolling, retweeting and expressing my agreement and amusement with various emoji's. 
Its what we all do now. Its part of everyday life.
I'm old enough and ugly enough to take what i see at face value and like to think I'm not overly influenced by the opinions of others.

But as a mum of two young people social media really worries me.
The NSPCC state that 67% of 9-16 year old's have at least one social media account and this figure raises to 92% in 15-16 yr olds. 

social media is damaging our kids mental health

Before i talk about my concerns and why in many ways i wish social media platforms would vanish forever i want to talk about the positive aspects. 

The Positive side to Social Media

Social media offers young people a platform that we never had as kids. 
Its fantastic for making friends all over the world and connecting with others that share the same passion and interests. Its a great way to develop a young persons self identity and gives them the opportunity to express themselves freely. 
For those who don't have a confidante in their physical lives or find it hard to talk to others its a great way to seek out advice and guidance and there are some fabulous organisations, communities and self-help groups offering support.
Having access to other peoples experiences of mental health can be hugely beneficial for young people and i feel offers them the chance to share their worries and make positive choices.
For Young adults going through experiences that make them a minority in their physical life such as being LGBT or struggling with eating disorders, they can find themselves a community from all over the world to share their struggles and can resonate. 

And now my concerns

Gone are the days where you could size up the people your teens are conversing with at the front gate when they called round. These days we have no idea who these people are or indeed if they are who they say they are. 
I have personally dealt with the repercussions of an online offender and the damage it has caused to someone i love. It is life changing. 

Another of my concerns is the unrealistic ideology's that apps such as Instagram and Snap chat create. Posts of people out having amazing experiences such as parties, festivals and sleepovers have left my teenager feeling isolated and an oddball.
Celebrity Instagram posts of their size 8 waists in tiny bikinis on tropical beaches or men with massive oiled up muscles promote poor body image and inadequacy in our boys and girls, when in reality, we as adults know that these gorgeous people are the exception and not the rule in normal life. 

My biggest worry and one that i have dealt with first handed is online communities and self-help groups that are popular on Facebook and Instagram . These groups are normally formed by well meaning people who aim to help others and offer a safe haven for those who are dealing with issues that they don't want or cant talk to their parents about. 
Whilst these are well meaning, they aren't professionals and sometimes do not have the skill to help those in crisis. My daughter has been a member of groups where posters have been in a serious mental crisis, asking for help and expressing suicidal intentions and then going offline. This has caused K great upset as she is then left worrying for hours as to whether this person is OK and still alive. I have also witnessed posters offering the completely wrong advice to others and also sharing pictures of self-harm and anorexic sufferers. It is worrying to me that these groups go un-moderated and with no lower age limit. Decisions  on suitable content is left to the Page or group creator to an open platform.

teenager on mobile phone social media

So as parent what can we do to protect our kids? 

A natural reaction is to whip their iphones out of their hands and tell them they aren't allowed social media. But in my opinion this only leads to secrecy, social isolation and sneaky hidden devices and then you'll have no idea what your young ones are up to. 

Its important to have open and honest discussions with your teen.

Its important that you let them know that you're aware there are things they don't feel comfortable talking about with you. 

Ensure they understand not to share their personal details with online friends and never to share their password.

Steer them toward websites such as Young Minds or Live about which offer some great articles on everyday issues facing young people.

Childline offer phone help and web chat for young people to talk in privacy without fear. 

Remind your teenager that people only post the absolute best or absolute worst of themselves online via Instagram and Snap chat and that these are unrealistic expectations. No ones life is wonderful all of the time. 

Ensure they know how to report and block on Social Media and advise them to flag up any concerns for others safety to you or another adult so they don't have to carry that burden. 

There is some very good advice concerning Social media safety for young people 
on  the .Gov website which is definitely worth a read,

If readers have any further suggestions or advice please feel free to leave a comment. 

Here are some helpful books that can support parents with social media use and teens.

Sex,likes and Social media by Deana Puccio & Allison Havey is written by two child professionals and offers advice on how to approach conversation about sex and relationships with your teen on social media and was highlighted  1 of the 10 best  parenting books by the Independent. available here 

Girls just want to have likes by Laurie Wolk  This book talks about how social media is affecting our daughters self confidence and identity an offers advice on how to reclaim your child from the influences of social media. Available here 

Social Media Wellness by Ana Homayoun  Personally i love this book. Its a very solution based book aimed at Parents, teachers and teens. It offers some practical help on understanding the language and behaviours of social media for those parents who dont particularly use it themselves and of course offers advice on how to help your teen make good decisions and stay safe. Available here 

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