Young people's mental health: the role of technology and social media

On 26 April 2016, European Schoolnet was represented at the ‘Young people's mental health in Europe: promoting prevention and early intervention through multi-sector cooperation' symposium. Organised by Public Policy Exchange, the event brought together policymakers, stakeholders and experts with the opportunity to informally discuss measures taken and to be taken to improve mental health for young people in Europe. 

Date 2016-04-28 Author European Schoolnet
The symposium enabled sharing of best practices about early prevention of youth mental health disorders, namely psychosis, depression and suicide. Representatives of European Schoolnet focused on presenting the role of technology and social media in young people's mental health: the risks and solutions. 
Nowadays, children in Europe start using the internet on average by the age of seven. A study from EU Kids Online shows that children's digital footprints are now taking shape from very young ages, when children are too young to provide consent for their images to be online. As children are growing up online, they do consider the online world as the ‘real word'. Additionally, one in three children goes online via mobile phones, game consoles or other mobile devices making the role of parents and teachers to supervise their online activities more challenging. Therefore, it important to equip children and young people with the necessary skills and tools for using the internet in a safe, responsible manner.
Recent research provides a link between internet addition to insomnia and depression. Sleep deprivation due to excessive time using technology may have an impact on young people's mood, school success rate and mental health development. The digital age has seen the appearance of new trends such as sexting, gaming and virtual reality, but shed a new light on other trends such as eating disorders and suicide. 
How can we tackle these trends? 
It was stressed in the symposium that when talking with young people about their online behaviour, the offline rules also apply in the online world: foster an open dialogue with children and young people (as early as possible) about their online activities, raise awareness of the consequences of their acts online which may have repercussions in their life offline, and empower them to talk about online issues with their peers. 
The Insafe network, composed of European Safer Internet Centres, looks at the emerging online trends and provides guidance, assistance and education material for families, teachers and young people. Through the Better Internet for Kids platform, the exchange of knowledge, expertise, resources and best practices is fostered between key online safety stakeholders, including industry, in order to provide high-quality content for children and young people, step up awareness and empowerment, create a safe environment for children online, and fight against child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation. 
The global Safer Internet Day (SID) campaign is a unique opportunity to disseminate the better internet message and to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones for all stakeholders, including parents and carers, teachers and educators, and industry and politicians – but especially among children and young people across the world. 
Celebrated in over 120 countries, the campaign reaches a wider audience each year. A few successes of the 2016 campaign, celebrated in February this year, include: 
  • At least 21,000 schools and more than 19.5 million people were involved in SID actions across Europe.
  • On Twitter, the #SID2016 and #SaferInternetDay hashtags trended globally several times on SID itself. 
  • Over 400 million people were potentially reached worldwide with both hashtags throughout the SID campaign period.
  • Over 2.5 million people were potentially reached by the SID Thunderclap campaign – a way of ‘making a noise online' on the morning of SID itself.
  • Over 11,300 fans supported the SID campaign on Facebook.

Data from the Insafe helplines network shows that cyberbullying remains the single issue which helplines receive the most calls about. In order to combat the growing threat of cyberbullying, the ENABLE (European Network Against Bullying in Learning and Leisure Environments) project aims to tackle bullying in a holistic way, helping young people exercise their fundamental rights in the home, school, class and community (i.e. peer group). ENABLE promotes education, raises awareness and provides support to over 6,000 young  people aged 11-14 years old, 2,000 parents and at least 30 schools in a half a dozen countries across Europe. Looking at the impact of direct and indirect bullying and its impact on not only the victims but also the bullies, ENABLE focuses on building resilience in young people so that they can better understand and become more responsible and effective for their online and offline social interactions. 
In order to provide support to students, teachers, parents and campaigners, a booklet has been developed and is available here.
eSafety Label
As children and young people spend a good part of their time at school, it is important to provide assistance to schools to deal with eSafety issues and provide assistance to teachers and students when facing issues online. The eSafety Label responds to the growing need for teachers to become confident to teach online safety within the classroom and to support schools with the ICT challenge. One of the strengths of the eSafety Label community is the nurturing of best practice exchanges with other schools and experts from across Europe. In order to have an overview of the common concerns and opinions of the community a monthly poll is held.
This month, the poll asked: "Can digital initiatives (e.g. the eSafety Label, ENABLE, etc.) help to improve the mental health of young people?"
The results were as follows: 
Schools only need to follow three simple steps to join the eSafety Label: 
  1. Complete an eSafety self-assessment questionnaire.
  2. Receive a customised action plan.
  3. Attain the school accreditation.
The benefits of the eSafety Label for schools include: 
  • The ability to share the accreditation status with the local community.
  • The ability to benchmark against schools in your own country and across Europe.
  • Access to eSafety advice and guidance.
  • Access to a quarterly newsletter.
  • Access to an ever-growing set of resources and tools.
The eSafety Label community is composed of school staff from across Europe with over 4,000 subscribers from across Europe involving 2,300 schools. Over 1,100 labels have been awarded in 35 countries to date: 12 with gold medals, 57 with silver and 1,050 with bronze. 
Join the eSafety Label community and keep on track with eSafety at
In summary, the symposium was a great opportunity to build synergies on collecting research from mental health experts and for European Schoolnet to disseminate its projects and educational resources to tackle online issues which have an impact on young people's wellbeing.

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