The internet and online world is a part of all our lives, from video games to social media to completing homework, it also gives us opportunities to learn new things, build new connections and stay in touch with our friends and families.
However, it is important to remember that the internet is not always a safe place, with exposure to negative, harmful and inappropriate content being an issue a lot of young people face. The impacts of this can not only be unsafe for us, but it can also have a negative impact on our mental health.
To mark Safer Internet Day, we want to share some of our tips on how to stay safe and look after yourself and your mental health whilst you are online!
With social media tapping into our brains and releasing more dopamine (find out more here), it is no wonder why we spend so much time online.
Social media provides great platforms to share our lives with our friends and families, engage with communities around our interests and hobbies and to stay up-to-date with the latest news, fashion, events and more! For some of us, these interactions and experiences are beneficial to our mental health by helping us feel connected and giving us a platform to express ourselves!
Social media can also be a negative space. You may receive unwanted and unkind messages, requests and comments from unknown people, the algorithms showing us content that we don’t want to see or consume, fake news or misinformation and more.
We may also see things that upset us, such as friends hanging out without us, images, and reports of more negative news (e.g the war in Ukraine), and content that makes us feel we need to act or be a certain way, or different to who we are.
All of this can start to build up and create worries and negative feelings, and some scenarios can become something more serious such as cyberbullying, harassment, child exploitation (grooming, sexting), cyber stalking, or exclusion
It is important to remember that you are not alone. Talk about these feelings with a friend or trusted adult, report the content to the app or website and block people where needed.
You may also find that taking some time away from the online-world for a while is beneficial for you and your mental health. It might be the perfect time to focus more on your self-care and take time to learn a new skill/hobby or pick up an old one!
When we asked young people in our Social Media Workshop how seeing other people’s lives on social media made them feel, they said:
It just goes to show that everyone will have a different experience of social media, and that taking time to consider what we are consuming and how it makes us feel can help us stay safe and look after our mental health.
Being mindful of our screen team and phone usage is another great way to look after our mental health whilst reducing how much social media content we are consuming. For a lot of young people, as well as adults, we tend to have ‘less time’ for other activities now we have access to social media and the internet 24/7!
Young people in our social media workshop told us since getting their first smartphone or tablet they stopped:
- Playing with games and toys e.g Lego
- Talking to people as much (and find it harder to start a conversation)
- Going outside
- Drawing and creating art
It is a good idea to recognise when you are having ‘too much’ screen time, and luckily most phones/tablets come with a built-in screen-time report system for you to see a full overview of your screen time for that day and across the week! You may find it interesting to see how much or how little you use it on different days of the week and to consider why this may be.
You can also recognise when you have been online for too long if:
- Your eyes start to feel sore
- Your neck is feeling sore
- Your device starts to feel hot
- Your device battery is low
- You don’t realise how much time has passed that you’ve been on your phone
These are all good indicators that it’s time to take a break and if this happens regularly it may be a good idea to implement some regular break times in your screen time usage.
Why not challenge yourself to reduce your screen-time over a month –starting with 5 minutes on the first day and increasing this by 5 minutes every day after. By the end of the month, you could have reduced your daily screen time by 2 and half hours! This would be a great time to pick up on some of those hobbies you may have stopped doing, such as going outside or doing a creative activity.
It is important to remember that everyone’s screen time may be different, from using the internet to complete homework, playing videos or music in the background whilst completing chores, or using their emails and social media such as LinkedIn as part of their job.
What is important is that you find a balance that works well for you!
Our top tips for staying safe online:
- Review your safety settings on social media accounts regularly!
- Reflect upon your screen time!
- Be mindful of the content you are consuming – you can always block accounts and hashtags you don’t want to engage with!
- If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, leave the website, game or app and then plan your next course of action (talking with someone you trust, reporting what happened, blocking the person, changing your settings, etc)
Where you can find help:
- SWGfl have some ‘Social Media Checklists’ which can help you report content that is un-safe or makes you feel uncomfortable, as well as helping you identify who can see your accounts, add you as a friend, message you, etc and how to change these settings! Download them for free here – https://swgfl.org.uk/resources/checklists/
- Cybersmile– committed to tackling all forms of digital abuse and bullying online
- CEOP– reporting online sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour online
- Ditch the Label– anti-bullying charity supporting 12-25 year olds through support mentors, resources and reporting of online abuse
- Fearless– Fearless (part of Crimestoppers) is a service that allows you to pass on information about crime 100% anonymously and also provides an A-Z list of what counts as a crime
- NSPCC– national children’s charity working for the safety of all children and young victims of child abuse and domestic abuse
- Looking for Direction – a signposting website created by young people, for young people
- No5’s Useful Links Page https://no5.org.uk/mental-health-resources/useful-links/ – covering multiple areas and topics that effect young people’s mental health