With the growth of image sharing platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, teens have begun to see themselves more as brands rather than individuals online. To help parents understand how to help children manage their digital wellbeing, our experts give their insight on the growing trend.
A few years ago, I did a report for the Government on the sexualisation and objectification of young people. In it I reviewed research that suggested that seeing one’s self as an object, as a thing to be consumed by others, made young people feel anxious, vulnerable and had an impact on their self-esteem and overall well-being.
That report came out in 2010 and since then the amount of young people on social media platforms has exploded – and with it so has the feeling that they are on display, that their photos, comments and lives are there for the world to consume and comment on.
While social media can certainly have a positive function in a young person’s life, allowing them to connect with friends and share experiences, there is also the potential to feel beholden to the persona that they are creating (often for the sake of others) on these sites. That’s why its vital that you speak to your child about how invested they are in their digital identity and being protective of how they allow others to consume it- talk about how constricting the chasing of likes can be and how emotionally taxing it is to try and portray an ideal version of their looks or indeed their life.
The more you get young people to think critically about how they engage with their online identities the more resilient they will be, both online and off.
Knowing that your child is suffering is one of the hardest things a parent ever has to deal with. Knowing that their struggle relates to mental health can be terrifying for many. As a society, we have become used to dealing with physical health, but we still struggle to talk openly about mental health.
As a parent, you can make a huge difference. Just being there, listening and supporting may seem like a small thing, but it is the most important thing you can do, and it will make a huge difference. As hard as it may be, listen without judgement, remain calm and try to see things from their perspective.
In addition, there are other things you can do to support your child. There is a huge amount of support available online, encourage and support your child to benefit from these. You may be feeling helpless, but you can help in the following ways:
Let them know they have options, online support being one of them. One size does not fit all but together you will find the resources to help.
Use your experience to seek out the trustworthy and reliable online sources. Unfortunately, not everything you find online is credible. Start with the names you recognise.
Go on the journey with them. If they need support to benefit from online tools, be alongside them and talk openly.
Above all, keep communicating and be available as their safety net online whilst they are not feeling so good.
See more advice and resources to help children stay safe online.