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Exploring how parent relationships and social media affect young people’s mental health

Research awardData Science

Funding period 2018 - 2019

InstitutionUniversity of Portsmouth

LocationUnited Kingdom

Professor Liz Twigg wants to find out how young people’s mental health is influenced by their parent’s mental health and their relationship with their parents – and if social media could actually help their wellbeing.

The project

We know that parents and carers have a critical role in shaping a child’s mental health. Everything - from the relationships they build, to their own mental health - can have an impact. 

But what has the biggest influence? And could social media – often criticised for its impact on young people – play a role in providing additional support when a child may need it?

Professor Liz Twigg and her team are looking for answers. They want to understand how three key factors influence young people’s mental health:

  • The mental health of their parents or carers
  • Young people’s relationship with their parents or carers
  • Social media use.

Through their research, they could bring us closer to understanding the causes of mental illness in young people – and find out if social media might actually help young people’s wellbeing. 

The process

The team are analysing data from a leading longitudinal social survey that began in 2009 called Understanding Society. Children and adults from the same 40,000 households answer the survey every year – and that includes questions on mental health, relationships and social media.

Liz and her researchers are focusing in particular on 10-15 year olds, looking to identify situations where effective action could be taken earlier. This has the potential to make a lifelong difference to young people’s mental health.

They are also focusing on any differences between boys and girls, because previous research suggests gender could make a difference to how much impact social media has. 

The potential

Liz and her team hope to create a list of guidelines to help staff at youth mental health services recognise when social media could help young people, and when it could make them feel worse. 

They also hope to make recommendations to help professionals provide effective support for young people on social media – for example through private support groups.

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