The number of schools clamping down on the use of smart phones during school hours is increasing as reports point to the harmful effects of social media on young people’s well-being. There is speculation that social media may be fueling a mental health crisis – and some research suggests that heavy use could linked to poor mental health in teens.  Social media undoubtedly has a positive impact on the lives of many young people: building friendships, honing communication skills, a source of advice and emotional support. However, it’s clear that young people need more help to deal with the pressures of growing up digital.

Adults who didn’t grow up online may feel they have little to offer in the way of support – but that’s far from the truth. Use these simple strategies to better prepare the young people in your life to respond to the challenges of the digital age.

1) Prepare them for being upset by something online. It could be inappropriate content that slips through the filters, worrying or abusive contact or just an upsetting comment from a ‘friend’:

  • Familiarise them with possible issues in advance. Forewarned is forearmed!
  • Show them how to block individuals and where and when to report incidents.
  • Emphasise the importance of telling someone in ‘real life’ and talking it out.

2) Show them how easily digital pictures can be manipulated. The realisation that not everything is what it seems online is a useful first step. Teens maybe familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating ‘fake’ images:

  • Explain how users on image sharing social media like Snapchat and Instagram almost always use filters to make images look better.
  • Discuss why and how images can be faked online.
  • The story of social media star Essena O’Neill who quit Instagram can reassure a teen suffering feelings of inadequacy from self-comparison with others on social media.

3) Help them think through possible consequences of what they post online:

  • Show how everything is easy to share with a wide and public audience – many who are unknown to them.
  • Explain how screenshots and local copies of their pictures and posts mean that nothing is ever really deleted.

4) Encourage socialising ‘in person’. Communicating solely via screens can be highly isolating, so enable them to spend time face-to-face with friends. Social media scholar and youth researcher danah boyd states that “teens turn to, and are obsessed with, whichever environment allows them to connect with their friends. Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other”.

  • Suggest they call a friend for a chat if they are feeling out of the loop.
  • Provide or help them find time to physically be with their friends, enjoying their company and developing relationships that they value.

5) Start talking today, talk little and often:

  • Drop in handy tips on a daily basis. Chat through hypothetical scenarios. Offer up ideas to avoid tricky situations.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, Common Sense Media and NSPCC’s Net Aware are good resources for finding out about sites, apps and games young people are using and the potential risks involved. You can then discuss the potential risks on the platforms they use or plan to use and together come up with ways to minimise those risks.
  • Encourage them to talk to their peers. Net Aware helpfully includes advice from other young people. Chatting with their own age group about potential risks – and how to deal with them – will build their resilience to any challenging encounters.

If you would like to learn more about building young people’s resilience to the challenges they face online, do get in touch.