Seeking support online?
The average young person spends around 27 hours a week online; watching videos, messaging and sharing images. Despite being more ‘connected’ than ever, there are times in everyone’s life when loneliness can take hold. Feeling lonely and experiencing low self-esteem were the most common reasons young people called Childline in 2016.
Feelings of isolation can affect anybody at any time in their life. It would seem as though the internet has made communication with others easier, and more accessible than ever before. But at times, feelings of loneliness can be amplified by social media.
It can sometimes seem that everyone on Instagram is living their #bestlife. Often 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. Disagreements with friends, family problems or issues at school can lead us to feel isolated. Loneliness can be standing in a school full of people feeling like you have no one to relate to- this can feel especially difficult if we compare ourselves to what we see 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 and form their own online communities. A study from the Royal Society for Public Health found that whilst some forms of social media increased feelings of anxiety and loneliness; other social media platforms gave people a sense of belonging and helped them feel more confident. From issues of bullying, mental health and those specific to the LGBTQ+ community the internet offers a place where people can get support from others, who may be going through the same things - even if they don’t live in close proximity. You begin to realise that you are not the odd one out when you see other people that share your interests; that look like you or are going through similar issues.
Whilst seeking support online it’s important to be vigilant. Sadly, some people online specifically look to target young people who are reaching out for support or appear lonely. They use this often confusing and vulnerable time to offer support to a young person and in turn, get them to do things they don’t want to do like sexual things on camera or meeting them offline. There are things (listed below) that young people can look out for to help them seek support safely online.
Top tips to stay safe...
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. Ask yourself why they would need to know this and think carefully before you give away your private info.
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. Tell an adult you trust and report to CEOP
Finding support on the internet can often be in the form of group discussions, public posts and videos. There is a range of trustworthy places to get advice you can trust online such as 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. Sending private messages; asking for your number or to video chat live can be risky. Some people online use forums and support networks to pressure them to do sexual things. They do this by encouraging young people to talk privately where others cannot see what might be going on.
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. Some people encourage 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. This is especially true when there are lots of comments all at once and it feels like you have no time to think. 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.
Be social media savvy.
If you’re feeling low it can be tempting to indulge in social media and compare yourself to others. But not all is as it seems online. Quite often we only present what we would like others to see – a highlight reel of only our ‘best bits’. When we compare reality with this curated online version we can end up feeling disappointed. Sometimes taking a little time out from scrolling can be helpful. Spending time doing time doing things that add to your well-being and feelings of accomplishment can be a great way to feel better about yourself.
Seeking support online can be really positive. But sometimes we can be so focussed on our smartphone in our hands that we forget to look up. Use your networks online to look for support groups or volunteer programs in your local area focusing on an issue you are passionate about. This can help you to feel good about yourself and can build self-esteem and confidence. 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.