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Helping children to make sense of an increasingly connected world

Social media is fuelling mental health issues, says Katie Wright

A series of lesson plans are being developed to help children cope with the pressures of living in a digital environment. Online stress, body image and the importance of sleep are three of the areas of focus set out by Public Health England (PHE) in comments on a Government inquiry into the role of education in young people's mental health.

"Access to social media and the internet is now a part of children's everyday lives and offers opportunities as well as potential risks," the statement says.

"Some studies suggest excessive screen time can be associated with lower levels of self-reported happiness, lower self-esteem, behaviour and attention problems."

Recognising that long periods spent on smartphones and tablets mean kids can become less active, which in turn contributes to anxiety and stress, the lessons are designed to build resilience and promote positive mental health.

The news comes in the same week that a study revealed 67% of UK children own their first smartphone before they turn 13.

The research, from retailer E2save, also found that more than half of under-18s surveyed say they "couldn't live without" Facebook or its Messenger app.

The NHS reports that sleep disorders in under-14s have tripled in the past 10 years, while in 2015/16 there was a rise of 42% in diagnoses of anxiety in under-18s.

The lesson plan content is designed to communicate with youngsters "in a language they will understand and engage with", to complement PHE's current offering.

"Rise Above (is) a digital channel that uses interactive and engaging content on issues relevant to their lives including: dealing with the pressures relating to online stress, body image, bullying and 'FOMO' (fear of missing out) and the transfer of online disputes into the real world."

The teen-friendly website features video clips and guest appearances from bloggers their parents probably haven't even heard of.

Teachers who don't consider themselves very tech-savvy will get help, too, as the initiative will "help build teachers' digital literacy and equip them to deal with challenging topics in class".

The lessons will be introduced into selected schools in England from this month and rolled out to all secondary schools in September.

  • www.riseabove.org.uk

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