Relationships and Sexuality Education

Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)

Social Media and its Effects on Relationships and Self-Esteem

On this page

Social media has become an integral part of everyday life for large numbers of young people.

Ofcom figures show that 25% of 10 year olds who go online claim to have a social media profile, with this proportion almost doubling to 43% of 11 year olds. By the age of 13 (the minimum age restriction on some social media platforms) more than half of children have a social media profile, and by the age of 15, almost all have one (Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2019).

Social media offers many benefits for young people and society in general, such as providing:

  • a way to connect with friends and family over long distances;
  • a route to learning and developing skills;
  • an outlet for creativity and activism; and
  • opportunities for job searches.

However, it can also have a negative impact on young people’s health and well-being, for example by causing increased levels of anxiety and depression. See the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health for more information.

Most social media sites a have a minimum age restriction of 13, but we know that children and young people do not always follow this. In May 2018, WhatsApp increased its minimum age for users in the EU from 13 to 16 years old. Social media sites set these limits as they recognise that some content may not be suitable for younger age groups.

According to Ofcom, most parents of children with a profile are aware that there is a minimum age requirement for social media sites and apps, but most are unsure of what these are. A quarter of parents of 5–15s would allow their child to have a social media profile before they reached the minimum age requirement (Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2019).

When using social media, young people should understand:

  • the risks associated with using it;
  • the importance of reading the terms of service of the sites they are using;
  • how to use appropriate privacy settings;
  • the importance of having a strong password;
  • the risks of sharing personal information on social media sites;
  • how to recognise and resist the pressures placed on them to share inappropriate images of themselves or others;
  • the possible consequences, including legal ramifications, of sexting;
  • that once they have posted and shared something, they have lost control over where it goes and what happens to it; and
  • that it is wrong to cyberbully and post content which can harm other people or lower their self-esteem.

If something does go wrong with social media and young people find themselves as victims of cyberbullying or other forms of online harassment, they should know what to do or who to talk to for help. The UK Safer Internet Centre’s Professionals Online Safety Helpline offers advice on online safety issues like grooming, cyberbullying and online reputation, and can be useful for anyone that works with children and young people.