In my role as a counsellor working with children and adolescents, I am privileged that young people feel safe enough to be able share worries and problems with me that they often feel unable to discuss with anyone else. However, armed with the insight of a life as a teenager I feel terrified about what lies ahead for my own children as they head towards adolescence.
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 being 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). It has been acknowledged that the key to addressing this problem is to improve access to services for children and young people and whilst I believe this to be 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 between a generation exposed to the increased use of social media and the increase in problems with young people’s mental health, which 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 either consciously or unconsciously to them. Unfortunately, present research is limited, so finding the evidence to prove that social media is the catalyst to young people’s mental health problems is difficult and without evidence it is much harder to generate the attention that this subject so urgently needs, so my concern as a professional and a parent is growing fast.
Adding to my concerns is the ever increasing demand for counselling in primary schools. Again, I have witnessed social media playing an active part in the problems these children are facing with body image, self-esteem and attempts at self-harm. I was recently dismayed to discover children as young as 8 were actively using social media and by navigating through Instagram had been exposed to some extremely shocking and disturbing videos of people committing suicide and self-harming.
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 I speak to are already one step ahead of their parents.
By understanding that the adolescent brain works differently to an adult brain we can begin to understand why adolescents are much more likely to take risks, have limited capacity to self-regulate and are susceptible to peer pressure. For adolescents, the reasoning part of the brain (the cerebral) is still developing so they are often unable to think things through rationally. This can be risky when navigating through social media as teens will act impulsively and dangerously without weighing up consequences of their actions. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be educated about how social media works, what the dangers are and have measures in place to protect them.
A recent study by young mind matters initiative (2016) found that 81% of parents with Adolescents blamed social media for making them more vulnerable to mental health problems which is a staggering number.
There is a list of statistics referenced at the bottom of the page but here I have identified the highlights:
1. 88% of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social networking site.
2. The number of sexual assault cases related to social media sites has increased by 30%.
3. 12% of teens say they witnessed unpleasant behavior “frequently” on social networking sites.
4. 41% of teens had a negative experience as a result of using a social networking site.
5. 67% of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from their parents.
6. 43% of teens say they would change their online behavior if they knew that their parents were watching them.
7. 39% think their online activity is private from everyone, including parents.
8. 20% of kids think their parents have no idea what they are doing online
Kelly, Caroline. Therapeutic Counsellor. BA(Hons), Act Counselling. Post Graduate Certificate in Enhanced Evidence Based Interventions for Children and Young People. Wood, Shelley. Director, Every Cloud Ltd. BA(Hons)