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Social Media Safety Evening Hosted by You’re Not on the Back Foot

Social Media Safety Evening Hosted by You’re Not on the Back Foot

As a counsellor working with children and adolescents, I am privileged that young people feel safe enough to share worries and problems with me that often, they feel unable to discuss with anyone else. However, armed with this insight into modern teenage life I have become acutely aware that I need to equip myself with the skills to support and help my children as they face the pressures of social media that lie ahead.

Over the past few years I have witnessed the number of young people wanting to access counselling almost double as an alarming number of young people are diagnosed with depression, anxiety and other mental health related problems. Recent research suggests that 1 in 5 young people now suffer from a mental illness (Teen Mental Health, 2016) and a study by Young Minds Matters initiative (2016) found that 81% of parents with adolescents blamed social media for making their children more vulnerable to mental health problems.

It has been acknowledged that the key to addressing this problem is to improve access to services for children and young people. However, whilst this is true, there is a question to be answered; why, today, are so many young people struggling with their mental health?

I believe there is no coincidence that there is a correlation between a generation exposed to more social media and the increase in problems with young people’s mental health. This is an opinion I know other professionals also share. During my sessions with young people I hear, first-hand, the devastating impact that social media is having on young people’s mental health.

Adding to my concerns is the ever-increasing demand for counselling in primary schools. Again, I have witnessed social media playing a role in the problems these children face with body image and self-esteem. I was recently dismayed to discover children as young as 8 were actively using social media. By navigating through Instagram they had been exposed to some extremely shocking and disturbing videos of people committing suicide and self-harming. This group, in turn, had begun to self harm as a direct effect of what they had seen.

Many schools educate young people about the dangers of the internet and social media use during PSHE lessons, however this only scratches the surface and is simply not enough. Without the insight of understanding how social media is impacting on young people’s mental health, how can schools and parents know where to start in protecting them? Parents are often out of touch with technology and find monitoring children’s online activity a difficult task; especially when most young people are already one step ahead of their parents.

I am not opposed to social media and I see its many benefits; it is here to stay and we need to embrace it. However, we also need to help our children to self-regulate within the pressures it presents. Whilst it’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand and hope they’ll survive, there are so many ways that we can help ourselves to help our children. There are three key elements to arming ourselves for the road ahead (and it’s never too early to learn).

Firstly, we need to know what children can be exposed to online and be aware of the impact it can have on them. Whilst this can feel overwhelming and even alarming, it does help us to grasp why social media can provide such pressure. Understanding the constant cycle of reassurance, the reality of addiction and the ways that our children can easily access social media (even when their apps or even their technology have been removed) contribute to how we put measures in place to protect them.

The second is to comprehend that the developing brain responds differently to the adult brain; developing brains are more likely to take risks and are more susceptible to peer pressure. This knowledge helps parents to empathise with their children’s concerns realistically, rather than idealistically, and informs parents how they can educate and influence their children to make wise choices online. It is also helpful to be aware of the physical impact of ongoing stress on the adolescent’s mind and body.

The third is to establish age appropriate boundaries and consequences that don’t cause conflict between the parent and child. I work with parenting counsellor, Madeleine Stanimeros, who often meets with parents who have found that one small electronic device is holding the whole family to ransom and damaging relationships. There are effective tools that can be put in place to protect the parent-child relationship and help the child to develop a sense of responsibility.

These are the three key areas that we will be addressing this Thursday 14th September. Trinity Church Cheltenham is hosting an event to support, encourage and inform parents in the area of social media. Madeleine and I will be speaking and Alex Chalk will also briefly share some work he is doing in parliament to propose regulations on social media companies.

We held a pilot evening at St James Primary School in July and were overwhelmed by the response. We knew that parents were keen to have some help, but we couldn’t have guessed how well received it would be. Their comments reflected how relieved they were to be given helpful strategies.

“Wonderfully informative. So simple and effective – and memorable.”

“Fantastic talk – all parents need this. The science behind anxiety was really helpful along with the practical tips.”

“So cleverly and concisely covered the neuroscience of young brains and shared strategies and techniques to put in place.”

Many of them urged us to make the evening available as widely as possible. For this reason Trinity are hosting the event and making it freely available to everyone. If you would like to come please visit our website to reserve your place.

A Guest Blog from Caroline Kelly of You’re not on the Back Foot

Enjoyed this read? Make sure you check out all of the CheltenhamMaman recommendations over at Maman Pages.


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