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Screens, Teens and Mental Health

Screens, Teens and Mental Health

Earlier this term we celebrated Safer Internet Day, creating conversations with students and families about how our boys manage their screen time and the potential impact to our wellbeing of online activity and access. St Edward’s College is working with Dr Lyndsay Brown from Black Dog Institute – a research company on the cutting edge of adolescent mental health. Her recent paper has published five key findings, in terms of how families can support their sons in making positive choices with their time and behaviour in online spaces. While the details of the findings are attached in the link below, a summary of the five key strategies is as follows:

What can we do to support our boys with positive online activity?

  1. Acknowledge and valuing digital experiences for teens: According to research, when adolescents are not feeling defensive and judged about their screen use, they will talk about how social media and gaming serve as stress relievers, distractions from daily pressures, a central way to maintain friendships after school, an avenue for learning new skills like software coding and expressing their creativity via vlogging or blogging or posting.
  2. Providing targeted support to already at-risk adolescents vulnerable to the impacts of screens: Research shows that vulnerable young people who ‘come to screens’ with pre-existing mental health problems are frequently negatively affected by screens. So, we need to continue to work proactively with young people who are already vulnerable in order to protect them from the negativity that can be associated with accessing social media. These interventions need to be approached delicately, however, since the challenges these individuals face often mean that they also benefit from the support, information, help, community, recognition, and sense of belonging available online.
  3. Teaching digital technological literacy: Starting in primary school, we can engage with our boys on how social media and advertising can manipulate our thinking and lead us to spend more time online mindlessly scrolling. In this learning process, a nuanced approach that steers clear of the simplistic ‘helpful’ vs ‘harmful’ approach to social media and technology will land more effectively with adolescents – and, more accurately, also reflect the reality of the intricate and multifaceted nature of adolescents’ online interactions.
  4. Role modelling a balanced approach to technology and social media use: Leading by example is crucial: when adults prioritise quality time away from devices, adolescents are more likely to follow suit. And seeking opportunities for enforced offline stretches of time are possible – and very helpful.
  5. Engaging in indirect prevention approaches: For families, indirect prevention strategies include promoting healthy peer relationships, encouraging regular physical activity, providing balanced nutrition, creating safe spaces at home to use the internet and teaching the importance of good sleep in an environment free from access to technology.