The charity YoungMinds has published a short guide for parents on how to talk to their children about the internet and social media.
The guide is published in the wake of Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, warning that the children’s mental health crisis is being fuelled by social media, as well as media reports criticising the “addictive” nature of the game Fortnite.
YoungMinds has previously released reports on cyberbullying and digital resilience, and its #LifeOnTheWeb campaign won a Liberty Human Rights Award in 2016. The charity also runs a parents helpline, which takes 13,000 calls per year from parents who are concerned about their children’s mental health.
The new publication offers practical suggestions to parents about how to talk to their children about the internet and social media from a young age, stressing the opportunities that the online world can offer as well as potential risks.
Jo Hardy, Head of Parent Services, said: “Many parents are understandably alarmed by the reports they read about what social media and games are doing to their children’s mental health – especially if they didn’t grow up with the same technology themselves.
“We hear from parents who don’t know whether to ban their children from having a phone or playing games, and from others who simply turn a blind eye because they feel they don’t understand the technology that their children are using.
“We think it’s important to remember the positives about the online world, as well as the negatives, and to take a balanced, collaborative approach. We as parents can’t police everything our children do online, but we can keep the lines of communication open and help them understand how to manage what they’re doing online in a positive way.”
YoungMinds has previously called for digital resilience to be a core part of the national curriculum, and for social media companies to do more to tackle cyberbullying and promote good mental health.
The charity also campaigns on other issues affecting children’s mental health. Its Wise Up campaign stresses the pressures that the education system can place on children, while its #FightingFor report shows than only one in ten children who look for support for their mental health find it easy to get the help they need. The charity also recently published Addressing Adversity , a book demonstrating the many ways in which difficult or traumatic experiences in childhood affect mental health.
Jo Hardy said: “While we welcome the current focus on technology and mental health, it’s important that we don’t simply blame social media for the current crisis. Having a difficult start in life – whether that’s because of growing up in poverty, or experiencing abuse, discrimination or bereavement – can have a huge impact on mental health. There are also many other factors that put pressure on our children.
“Schools urgently need more resources and recognition for the work they do on promoting children’s wellbeing, and there also needs to be long-term, sustainable funding for specialist mental health services.”