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By Helen Bowman

Many people assume that drinking, smoking, underage sex and drug misuse are still the common issues amongst young people, but in reality, young people are becoming much more health and environmentally conscious and these issues are declining.

The Health-Related Behaviour of Primary and Secondary School Pupils in Newcastle Questionnaire published results in January after interviewing 7,500 children from primary and secondary schools in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It showed that actually, social media and online threats through coercion, peer pressure and wanting to please others are increasing at a significant rate.

We all appreciate the importance of social wellbeing for ourselves, but what can we do as adults and parents to respond to these results and help our young people?

When we caught up with Mandy Coppin, we spoke about the massive impact that social media is having on children, young people and parents in the North East…

Real friendships and communication skills

Mandy said: “Young people just aren’t prioritising time to develop strong and reliable friendships and social media ‘friendship’ seem to be taking over their lives. At Streetwise we always say that it is better for young people to have two or three good friends rather than 10, 15, 20 or more superficial friends who ‘like’ their posts. Increased social media usage is seeing many young people becoming more upset and sensitive to what others are saying about them online but they need to appreciate that lots of people hide behind social media and would never say nasty things in front of them, they are not their true friends.

Instagram vs. Reality

Celebrity social media accounts, influencers and photo editing apps are all contributing to young people feeling like their lives are never perfect enough. The reality is that the posts on social media don’t portray people’s real lives. People are becoming more and more aware of Instagram vs Reality now, but it’s still a big problem amongst young people.

Mandy’s advice for parents

Ask.

If you’re worried, start a conversation with young people which starts by being curious, ask them what they like about social media, what helps them, what’s new (trending) rather than start a conversation by being accusatory. Ask what they are watching, ask them to show you how different platforms work and why, how Tik Tok works, for example. Young people will always be one step ahead of us when it comes to social media, so we need to be one step behind them.

Parents have a great opportunity to let their children educate the whole family about social media.

If you don’t want to ask young people directly, ask them what advice they would give their friends if they felt their friends were at risk of being harmed by social media posts or messages etc.

Social media is going to be here for a long time, it’s not going away. So we need to appreciate it and understand it.

Work together with other parents will help develop an understanding, share learning, raise concerns but most importantly help to keep our children and young people safe. 

HLN’s advice? Let’s all take responsibility as adults, not just parents

As adults, we all have an impact on our own and other people’s children, whether we realise it or not. Every conversation we have with young people can impact their mental health, both positively and negatively. Even when we think they aren’t listening, the chances are they’re taking something from what you’re saying.

Treat young people with respect and as individuals, appreciate their rights and dignities and be gentle with them, especially when they’re vulnerable. 

Let’s take time to talk to young people. Make communication a priority. 

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