The negative effects of social media on mental health and self-esteem, particularly among young people, are well documented. Studies have consistently shown
that spending time trawling through updates on social media can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
It’s not hard to see why. The people we know on social media constantly curate their photos and posts, editing them to look and sound as good as possible - and leading us to form unrealistic expectations of their lives. This can lead to feelings of envy, low self-worth, and the dreaded Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
However, there’s also evidence to suggest that short bursts of activity on social media can improve
our self-esteem, rather than weakening it. A study at the University of Derby
found that Facebook users recorded higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of stress after spending a five-minute period on the platform.
There are all kinds of factors that could explain this short-term self-esteem boost. Having an instant interaction with friends and relatives online can be a lifeline for many young people, particularly in marginalised communities. In a 2013 survey, for example, 50 percent of young LGBT people reported having at least one close friend they only knew online.
We know that social interactions lead to a release of oxytocin; a brain chemical that reduces anxiety and promotes feelings of contentment. We also know that oxytocin is released just as easily through digital interactions as it is through real-life ones - something that’s especially good to know while many of us are still in a period of isolation.
However, rather than encouraging children to constantly seek external validation through ‘likes’, Natterhub teaches them to act positively because virtue can be its own reward. Our Chat It lessons help pupils to understand feelings of left out and how to deal with them in a healthy manner, while our Feel It lessons promote empathy and kindness - built around the simple idea that It’s Nice to Be Nice!
If short-term social media use can be beneficial to our mental health, and long-term use can be detrimental, then it’s crucial that we help young people to develop a healthy sense of balance
when it comes to social media. Natterhub’s lessons and built-in safety features teach children to use social media in small doses instead of becoming lost in endless scrolling.
Our Balance It badges explain both the positive and negative ways in which our devices can alter our brain chemistry; from the oxytocin and dopamine rushes caused by getting likes to the blue light that affects our sleep. Our Think It badges examine the difference between our online and offline personalities, and how what we see of someone’s life on social media isn’t the whole story.
Social media can be a source of anxiety, but it can also be a support network. It’s capable of both boosting and lowering our self-esteem. The important thing is to always be self-aware when we surf, and to turn away when it becomes more of a burden than a support.