Likes, loves and shares: how we can reduce their impact on wellbeing

A numbers game

Likes, loves and shares are the currency of social media, determining the popularity of a profile, image, video or status.

For adults and young people alike, a ‘like’ or a ‘share’ can  represent social approval. Research shows that young people see them as affirmation or validation from peers that make them feel good about themselves and their lives (Children’s Commissioner, 2018).

However, for some young people, it can put them under to pressure to portray a ‘picture perfect’ lifestyle by altering images and curating their account in order to attain a certain number of likes, shares and comments (Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families, 2018). If they fail to do so, it can result in a feeling of rejection and therefore lead to low self-esteem and anxiety (Royal Society for Public Health, 2017).

The negative effects on mental health has led to Instagram recently hiding likes and video views in certain countries as part of a trial aimed at removing pressure and shifting the focus to “sharing the things” its users enjoy.

Reducing the impact of the number of likes

Research has found that the greater sense of ‘purpose’ a person felt they had in life, the less affected they were by the amount of likes they received online. They felt less rewarded and validated by many likes but also less negatively affected by few likes and negative comments.

Therefore this suggests that having a strong sense of wellbeing and worthiness offline could help to minimise the potential effects of social media.

To help young people to develop this, we need to provide opportunities for them to be able to identify and share their expertise/personal strengths and hone their skills in real life.

We should also enable them to:

  • Develop their digital resilience. Help them to recognise when going online is having a negative impact and identify strategies to bounce back and recover.
  • Develop the skills young people need to critically evaluate what they see online. Help them to understand how and why people may curate a specific image of their life online through ‘staged’ scenarios and photo manipulation.

Take a look at the suggested resources below to help you explore these areas:


Developing self-esteem and body confidence

#LiveSkills – a package of resources from the Thinkuknow programme that help young people to deal with issues such as low confidence and self-esteem within the context of live streaming

Confident Me - a set of evidence-based resources from Dove aimed at 11-14 year olds exploring body confidence and self-esteem. They look at the impact that image ideals portrayed through the media have on young people’s self-esteem

Crossing the Line – a practical online safety PSHE toolkit from Childnet with a film and lesson plan exploring self-esteem. It encourages young people to reflect on whether online life reflects real life and provides an opportunity for them to devise strategies to boost self-esteem

#MySenseofSelf – a lesson plan and video developed by The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Campaign and ASOS exploring social media and its impact, celebrating difference, and developing self-esteem

Developing digital resilience

Digital resilience for 11-14 year olds – a lesson plan from Childnet looking at the positive and negative experiences young people have online and how they can build resilience

Developing critical evaluation skills

Are you living an Insta lie? A video from Ditch the Label that exposes the most common lies that people tell on social media and reveals the truth behind the photos you see online