Seeking support online

The average young person spends around 30 hours a week online. We are more ‘connected’ than ever … and yet there are times in everyone’s life when we can feel lonely.

Illness, losing someone close to us, family stresses, relationship problems, disagreements with friends, issues at school – so many things can make us feel isolated.

And sometimes social media can make us feel even lonelier. It can seem like everyone on Instagram is living their #bestlife. People portray the best friends, the perfect family and greatest relationships online - and this edited version of life can sometimes make us feel even worse about our own situation. 

Loneliness can be standing in a room full of people, or looking a busy news feed, and feeling like you have no one to relate to.

Mental and emotional health difficulties, including feeling lonely, was one of the most common reasons young people called Childline in 2019.

Connecting with support online

But the internet isn’t all about FOMO (fear of missing out) and fakery. Blogs, vlogs, and social media have paved the way for people to find support from others.

A recent study found that although some apps and services can make us feel anxious, depressed and bad about ourselves,  other online services have positive effects on mental health (Royal Society for Public Health, 2019).

The internet offers spaces where people can get support from others who may  be going through similar difficulties, or have gone through them in the past. You begin to realise that you’re not the odd one out when you see other people you can relate to.

A great place to start is Childline’s Voicebox Channel  (trailer below) and message boards.

The Mix also offers a great advice and support service for teenagers, as well as a support helpline.

Seeking support safely

While seeking support online it’s important to be cautious about who is offering help.

Sadly, some people target young people who seem lonely or are looking for support. They take advantage of their vulnerability, offering them support but then trying to get them to do things they don’t want to do – for example, sexual things on camera, or meeting up.

If you are worried about someone who is offering you support online, or if someone is trying to pressure you to do something you don’t want to do, you can get help by contacting CEOP, where a specialist child protection adviser will support you.

Here are some important things to think about if you are thinking of seeking support online.

Here are some important things to think about if you are thinking of seeking support online.

  • Keep private information private.

    Sharing your feelings and thoughts with others can feel like a relief. But some things shouldn’t be shared with people you don’t know. Your full name, address, or school can give people clues about who you are or where you might live. If someone asks for this kind of information, remember you have to tell them. If they keep asking, this is a concern. If you have any concerns about them, stop talking to them and consider seeking support from a service like Childline or The Mix.

  • How do you feel?

    Talking about complex issues like sexuality or mental health can sometimes bring up uncomfortable feelings. But does ‘friending’ other people online or following a vlogger leave you feeling worse than when you started? If so, think about whether the ‘support’ is really helping you. Always remember that you have the right to feel good and look after your well-being. Unfollow, unfriend and report anything that makes you feel unsafe or worried to an adult you trust, or Childline or The Mix. If someone is trying to pressure you into sexual chat or activity, you can get help by contacting CEOP.

  • Private chat?

    Support on the internet often comes in the form of group discussions, public posts and videos. There is a range of trustworthy places to get advice online such as Childline  The Mix and Young Minds. On these sites, advice is moderated and checked. But not all spaces online are the same. Be aware of people who want to chat with you privately, where interactions are not monitored and supported.  If someone sends private messages, ask for your number, or invites you to video chat, it is safest not to respond to them.

  • Group Chat?

    Having a group of friends online can feel really supportive. But be wary of groups who pressure you to do things you don’t want to do. For example, there have been cases where people have encouraged young people to  do sexual things on camera by using a group chat or comments to apply pressure. This pressure might not always be obvious. Loads of compliments, ego boosts, promising gifts or the prospect of more followers can make a young person feel like they need to do what they are being asked, even if they don’t want to. But always remember that you always have a choice. If you are feeling pressure do things online  always talk to an adult you trust and report to CEOP, or contact Childline or The Mix for advice and support.

  • Is this real?

    When we are feeling low, we often compare ourselves to others, including on social media – and this can make us feel much worse. But not all is as it seems online. Quite often people only present what they would like others to see – a highlight reel of only the ‘best bits’.

     

    Sometimes taking a little time out from scrolling can be helpful. Spending time doing things that add to your well-being and feelings of accomplishment can help us to feel better about ourselves. Childline, The Mix and Young Minds have good advice on strategies for managing anxiety and well-being.

  • Offline life

    Seeking support online can be really positive. But sometimes we can be so focussed on the smartphone in our hands that we forget  to look up. Use your networks online to look for local support groups.

     

    You could also look for volunteer programs in your local area focusing  on an issue you are passionate about. This can help build self-esteem and confidence, and is a good way to meet like-minded people . It’s also really helpful to speak with an adult you trust about how you’re feeling. If you’re not ready to talk to an adult you know, you can always contact Childline, where you can get support and advice.

Talk to someone

Childline

Childline is a free helpline for children and young people. You can contact Childline about anything. No problem is too big or too small. Whatever your worry, it's better out than in.

Childline is a private and confidential service. Confidential means not telling anyone else what you’ve said. This means that whatever you say stays between you and Childline.

They would only need to tell someone else if:

  • You ask them to
  • They believe your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger
  • You are being hurt by someone in a position of trust who has access to other children like a teacher or police officer
  • You tell them that you are seriously harming another young person

Call them on 0800 1111. The number won’t appear on your phone bill.

You can also visit www.childline.org.uk to speak to a counsellor online.

CEOP

CEOP helps young people who are worried about sexual abuse online.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Chatting about sex online or asking you for sexual pictures
  • Making you have sex when you donʼt want to or making you do sexual things online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if youʼve only met them online
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, report to CEOP.