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Here at Fresh Start, we are always mindful of keeping our young people safe. Sometimes young people come to us severely traumatised and anxious. Sadly, and increasingly, social media has played a part in this.

In this blog we are sharing the views of one of our young people at Fresh Start, where she explains her opinions and experience of social media, its impact, and influence, having been exposed at an early age. Read below Sarah's piece of research compiled with the support of her education specialist.

“Many people enjoy social networks including myself. 99% of 16 – 24-year-olds use social networking sites. SnapChat and TikTok are the most used apps by this age group and the average English adult uses social media for 3 hours 40 minutes per day and teens spend an average of at least 4 hours a day online. People go online for many different reasons: to meet people, to make friends, to find a partner and to find support. Although people do find partners and friends and support network groups, there is a darker side. 

Researchers found that children who spend more than 3 hours a day using social networking sites on a school day are twice as likely to report very high scores for poor mental health. Young people can also be exposed to inappropriate materials such as nudes, pornography, grooming, bullying, hate and the promotion of violence.  

These sites generate billions of pounds, for example, TikTok generated an estimated $14.3 billion in revenue in 2023, a 52% increase year-on-year. ( In July 2022, SnapChat had 464 million users and made just over $4.6 billion ( however, despite their success, I don't believe they care about their users or the well-being of the younger generation. 

My experiences 

I started using social networking when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I met my boyfriend online and found some support and strategies for mental health and addiction problems which have helped me to an extent. However, I have been exposed to things I shouldn’t have seen from a young age, for example, men and women sending me sexual content on the internet and people attempting to groom me.  

 Fig. 2 These are some mild examples of the kind of messages I get online. This is not uncommon – almost half of children have seen harmful content online and I used to get these kinds of messages daily.   

SOCIAL MEDIA - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY "Young people can also be exposed to inappropriate materials such as nudes, pornography, grooming, bullying, hate and the promotion of violence." Click To Tweet

Impact on young people  

Young people’s mental health is negatively impacted by social networking. I have always struggled with my mental health and have self-harmed in the past, seeing self-harm content online has made me relapse and harm myself on several occasions. This content did not cause my mental health problems, but it made them worse. 

In 2017 14-year-old Molly Russell killed herself after viewing content about suicide and self-harm. Molly tweeted an image of a young girl standing alone looking up at the stars and the caption read ' I'm ready to become one of the stars.' Instead of talking to her friends and family she looked for support online and found none.   

I do not believe that the advantages of social media outweigh the disadvantages. Companies could do so much more to safeguard their websites. For example, manage what people put on these social media platforms, take down harmful videos and pictures, and stick to age restrictions by verifying age properly. Educators and parents also need to be more involved with their children's social media lives so that they know what their child is seeing and look for signs that anything negative is going on that they have not talked about.“ 

Sarah's research clearly highlights the challenges young people face as they navigate social media. Her story represents many young people today…

Guiding Children to Safe Online Spaces

We can’t necessarily control content on social media, but establishing good boundaries to equip us to make good viewing choices and teaching our young people do the same is a good starting point. Here are some steps to help achieve that:

Open Communication: Establish a dialogue about online safety early on. Encourage children to share their online experiences and express any concerns.

Education: Teach children about the risks of sharing personal information, the importance of privacy settings, and how to recognise suspicious behaviour online.

Parental Controls: Utilise parental control features to monitor and limit what children can access online.

Safe Browsing: Set up safe search options on browsers and educate children about using trusted sources for information and entertainment.

Cyber Etiquette: Instil a sense of responsibility for their actions online, including respect for others and understanding the permanence of their digital footprint.

Emergency Plan: Make sure children know what to do if they encounter something upsetting or dangerous online, including who to tell and how to report it.

Lead by Example: Model positive online behaviour. Children learn from observing, so demonstrate safe and respectful internet use.

Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest online trends and potential risks to better guide and protect your children.

By taking these proactive steps, we can create a safer online environment for our children, allowing them to explore, learn, and connect securely. Remember, the key is not just to impose rules, but to empower children with the understanding and skills they need to protect themselves online. For more detailed guidance and resources, organisations like NSPCCGOV.UKUNICEF, and Action for Children offer comprehensive advice and tools for parents and caregivers.

Sarah is one of the young people we support and work with at Fresh Start in Education. *Names have been changed for safety reasons.

To get in touch with a member of the Fresh Start in Education team, click here

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