Children aged 8-12 using social media become increasingly anxious about their online image and over-dependent on likes and comments as they get older. These findings, released this week by the Children’s Commissioner for England, reflect what young people tell us at The Diana Award.

The ‘Life in Likes’ report describes the ‘cliff edge’ that young people approach as social media becomes more important in their lives. Despite being under the age limit of 13 for most social media platforms, young people routinely join social media once they reach secondary school. This rapid expansion of their social circle can lead to an increase in anxiety and staff members report feeling ill-equipped to help their students.

At The Diana Award we aim to equip young people and staff members with digital resilience: the ability to recognise the positives and negatives of the online world and deal with the challenges they face there.

The hundreds of young people we work with every week consistently tell us how much they value the opportunities afforded by social media. But they also recognise that it can bring complex challenges and a particular set of pressures– particularly when it comes to the images we share online. Many young people we have spoken to revealed that they would delete a selfie they’ve posted if it didn’t get enough likes, and that getting fewer than even 50 likes would make them feel upset and even ‘ashamed of myself’.

We conducted research last year which found that almost a fifth (19%) of young people who use social media have changed the way they look in an image before posting on social media channels, compared to 8% of adults. Furthermore, 44% of young people surveyed believed that selfies make people less likely to be happy with the way they look. This echoes the Children’s Commissioner’s findings that “many young people are increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’.

We know that just because young people are growing up as digital natives, it doesn’t mean they always have the emotional skills and digital literacy they need to cope with the challenges they face on social media. That’s why we work with young people to help them increase the digital resilience of their peers. Our peer-to-peer initiatives, such as our Be Strong Online Ambassadors Programme run in partnership with Vodafone, help young people identify and think critically about the various forms of pressure they experience online.

Through all of our workshops and training events – whether they’re taking part in a cyberbullying workshop on the Be Nice Bus or training to become an Anti-Bullying Ambassador- students learn to be online role models to their peers and how to harness the power of social media for good.

To find out more about our upcoming training events, click here.