How to support young people to look after their mental health on social media

This month we’ve been focusing on mental health across our social channels. But at Brook we know that the relationship between mental health and social media doesn’t always seem positive. In this blog, Brook’s Media and Communications Coordinator Eliza Bell uses her 5 years’ experience as a social media manager to offer 5 top tips on how you can support your young people’s mental health if they’re using social media. 

Most young people are on social media (over 90% of 16-24 year olds have at least one social media profile) and it’s unrealistic to want or expect our young people to not be on any platforms at all. But we know that social media can seem to pose a threat to young people’s mental health for parents/carers and teachers who want the best for their young people. 

Before giving my 5 top tips on how to support young people’s mental health on social media, it’s important to dispel some myths around this topic. 

Firstly, while social media and the online world more broadly can seem to hold numerous risks and to be detrimental to young people’s wellbeing, new research shows that technology use doesn’t have a significant impact on mental health. 

Secondly, it’s important not to assume the worst of social media. The advance in mobile phones and online networking has opened up whole new communities to people who may not have found ‘their people’ IRL, or who find it challenging to communicate face-to-face. Social media can be a lifeline for young people who are feeling lonely or isolated. Managing Brook’s Instagram allows me to see the power of that community first hand, and I am consistently in awe of the warmth and encouragement I see between young people online. 

Having said that, social media is still a relatively new development and it can seem daunting if you’re not familiar with it or don’t use it to the same extent as your young person. Here are some tips to support your young person to look after their mental and emotional wellbeing online: 

1) Teach them to curate their feed 

People present the best versions of themselves and their lives online. This is particularly true for celebrities and influencers who are paid to promote particular brands and lifestyles. It can be disheartening for anyone to see a constant feed of filtered, homogenous body types, but this is particularly true for young people who are still developing their relationship with themselves and their bodies. 

One of the most valuable things you can teach a young person is to curate their feed.

They have control over who they follow and the content that they see. Encourage them to follow accounts that show a diverse range of people and that post positive, engaging content. Equally they can unfollow or mute any accounts that make them feel bad about themselves or promote unhealthy diets and lifestyles.  

2) Encourage them to find their community 

A young person’s online community might be the same as their school friends, or friends from a youth club. But social media can also open doors to whole new communities.

Young people may want to meet new people who share their interests or have a similar lived experience, for example they might want to connect with other LGBT+ young people. 

A great way to do this is to follow content creators and organisations that address particular topics that they’re interested in and check out the comments section to join in the discussion. They can also follow particular hashtags to see content relating to that topic. 

If they are struggling with connecting with people, encourage them to keep going or try sitting with them and seeing what is out there. There are so many communities online for all kinds of hobbies and passions, they will find people who share their interests. 

3) Talk about it/do your research! 

It’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the different platforms that exist and how they work. Internet Matters has a really helpful selection of guides to the different social media and messaging platforms that young people might be using. You may be using some of the platforms yourself but there are others that you may not be aware of. 

Understanding the platforms that young people are using means you can be more aware of issues they may be facing, and be equipped to support if they come to you for help. 

Speak to your young person and find out what they’re using and what’s popular with their friends, then you can do some research on anything you’re less familiar with. Young people are digital natives and will likely know lots about apps and how they’re used, it can be fun to get their insights and get them to walk you through any platforms you’d like more information on! 

4) Make use of tools available 

I would always encourage young people to keep their account private so they have control over who is following them and seeing their content. It’s important to check with young people whether they know how to block/unfollow/report any accounts that they want to.  You should show them how to do so if they are not sure. Here is a helpful guide for how to block users on Instagram Twitter and Facebook, and this is a guide for how to do so on Snapchat and TikTok

You can also set time limits or reminders about how long you’ve been using an app for to help prevent excessive use of social media. 

5) Make sure they know who to go to for help (and look out for warning signs) 

Let your young people know that if they do come across content or users that make them feel uncomfortable, unhappy or unsafe; they can speak to you about it to get support on what to do next. It’s also good to signpost them to people or organisations they can go to if they don’t feel comfortable coming to you. This might include a teacher, another trusted adult, organisations like YoungMinds, or even the police. 

You know your young person best, and if you see worrying changes in behaviour or any warning signs, it’s important to sensitively step in and check if they need support. 

Social media presents a host of benefits when used safely and in a positive manner. The above tips can help you be more engaged and aware of your young person’s social media presence, ensuring you both make the most of its potential! 

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