A new report on the effects of the internet on young people’s mental health has found that children in the UK are facing a lack of resources in schools, leaving teachers frustrated and pupils vulnerable. The report, by family online safety experts Parent Zone, surveyed teachers and young people aged between 13-20.
Results show a generation of young people torn between positive feelings towards the internet (74.5% report that it makes them happy), yet an acknowledgement that there are areas they would tell friends to avoid. 36% of young people who were surveyed admit they would suggest friends avoid Facebook if they were feeling worried or upset.
Parent Zone also conducted a number of interviews with young people as part of the research, with one astute young student commenting:
‘I don’t think the internet makes mental health problems, I think people make people have mental health problems. The internet puts up a wall between you and the other person – it makes you feel safer saying things, but if you were on the other end of it you might feel victimised.’
Key Findings include:
- Over half of 13-20-year-olds surveyed (51%) have seen someone talk about suicide online.
- 61% of young people have seen someone talk about hurting themselves online.
- 34% of young people said if they were upset or had a problem, they would talk to a parent or carer first. 27% would talk to someone else they trusted in person. 28% of respondents said their first step would be some kind of online help, ranging from a Google search to an information service for young people. Fewer than 1% would call a helpline first.
- 44% of teachers think the internet is bad for young people’s mental health, compared to 28% of young people.
- 91% of teachers believe the frequency of mental health issues among pupils is increasing.
- Of these issues, schools report stress and anxiety (95%), depression (70%) and self-harm (66%) as the most common issues amongst pupils.
- Worryingly, 84% of schools say they do not have adequate resources to deal with pupils’ mental health issues.
Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone, says:
‘Family life is arguably more complex now than it has ever been. Children have access to information, views and
opinions that adults cannot control. The internet has destroyed any notions we might have had about keeping some things away from children until they were ‘old enough to cope’.
‘All of the indicators suggest that the prevalence of mental health problems and the severity of those problems are increasing. Some people are linking the internet to the increase so we wanted speak to the young people who have grown up with technology and hear their views so that we can start to think about how best to support them.
‘This report offers a glimpse into their world. It does this by doing what parents around the country do when they are concerned about young people – talking to them, and the teachers who look after them.’
The report’s recommendations include:
1) Stop trying to make 20th Century Services meet 21st Century Needs
Today’s young people face challenges their parents and teachers did not face.
The support we offer young people needs a new approach if it is to be fit for purpose in the digital age. With schools and mental health services struggling to deal with demand for help, it is time to place more emphasis on prevention.
2) Provide support for schools
Much of the burden for responding to mental health issues has been placed on schools, which do not have the resources to cope. If schools are to be charged with responding to pupil mental health on this scale – monthly, weekly and even daily – they should be supported to do it properly.
3) Use technology as a force for good
Supporting adolescent wellbeing in the digital age requires an innovative approach, and tech companies – who many young people admire and respect – should recognise both their duty of care and their unique opportunity to create online spaces that are positive and inspiring.