The Education Policy Institute has today published a report on the relationship between young people’s emotional and mental wellbeing and their use of social media.

In investigating the extent to which social media is used by young people, the report found that over a third of 15 year-olds in the UK use the internet for more than six hours a day at the weekend, making them “extreme users” according to ratings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Young people were also found to be extensive users of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, with 94.8% of 15 year-olds using social media before or after school in 2015.

Exploring the negative impact of excessive social media use, the report cites data from the Office for National Statistics showing that 27% of children who use social media websites for more than three hours a day show symptoms of mental ill health, compared to only 12% who spend no time on these sites. It also reviews other areas of risk and harm including cyber-bullying, the influence of social media on body image, and the sourcing of harmful content or advice via social media. 

In terms of the positive impact, the report looks at benefits including; increased social connections, help with homework, support for creative projects and enabling support seeking behaviours. It goes on to emphasise the need for a greater understanding of how to build resilience in young people and provides policy recommendations on supporting the industry, families and schools to build this resilience.

Commenting on today’s publication, Caroline Hounsell, Director of Partnerships, Product Development and Training, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said, “Today’s report by The Education Policy Institute provides some insightful strategic recommendations on how we can better support young people as they navigate the increasingly complex digital landscape. Whilst building resilience is paramount, this report also highlights the challenges faced by parents and teachers, with only one in five children coming forward to discuss upsetting online experiences. By training secondary school staff in Mental Health First Aid skills, MHFA England hopes to play a part in better supporting frontline school staff to identify when children are in emotional distress and to provide advice on seeking further support.”