How can I support my child’s mental health when they’re using the internet?

Talking about mental health to children is sometimes hard. Parents and carers can sometimes put off raising the subject, not wanting to unearth problems or raise overwhelming subjects that we think our child is not ready for or too young to understand.

However, there might be times when spending time online can have a negative impact on a child’s mental health. They may experience anxiety or low mood that can be caused by comparing themselves to others; feeling pressure to constantly check their accounts; or have difficulty sleeping as they spend lots of time at night checking online sites etc.

Some tips from the Mental Health Foundation to help encourage healthy internet use and to help minimise any negative impacts are:

  • Remember the internet isn’t all bad – it allows children a wealth of opportunities for education and to connect with friends and relatives
  • An internet ban is rarely helpful – this is almost impossible when access is so widely available. It is also likely to be counter-productive, encouraging secretive rather than open use
  • Be age appropriate – both in what sites you agree they can access and what parental controls and restricted viewing settings you apply, and in respecting their desire for privacy
  • Use the internet alongside your child – when you go online with your child it encourages social rather than isolated use and provides opportunities to discuss staying safe online. Show a respectful interest in what they are doing, even if they want to use the internet independently
  • Promote good sleep habits – encourage everyone to turn off their screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. Leave phones, laptops etc. out of the bedroom at bedtime
  • Talk to your child about body image – it can be difficult for children (and adults) to distinguish between what’s a healthy body image and what’s not. Try to normalise diversity – we all come in different shapes and sizes, there isn’t one ideal body shape, and beauty comes in many different forms not just airbrushed or filtered perfection
  • Look out for warning signs – if you notice a change in your child’s behaviour, like spending lots more time alone in their room, avoiding friends, or a shift in their mood, speak to them about your concerns. Make sure you both know what help is out there (on- and off-line) and seek advice from your school or GP if you need extra support.

YoungMinds has a guide that may help if your child is struggling with worrying or anxiety.

ParentZone has an app called Ollee that is designed to help children articulate their feelings and share them with their parents – and to help parents talk to their children about what they’re going through.