With the increasing popularity of digital technology, many concerns have been raised about the detrimental effects that social media, gaming platforms and many other online services used by children and young people could have on their mental health and wellbeing. Headlines such as “Teenage social media use linked to less life-satisfaction for some” are common these days.
It is fair to say that the relationship between the use of digital technologies and wellbeing and mental health is a complex one  because there are many factors that influence how well young people feel about themselves and their lives. One of the concerns that is often raised by parents, practitioners and policymakers is the worry that young people spend too much time online and that this could negatively impact them. Research shows mixed and often inconclusive results . As children grow older, the type and quality of online activities is an important factor in determining how much time is too much time [2, 5].
Screen time is the amount of time a person spends interacting with screens .
Another concern many adults and children share is children’s intended or unintended exposure to online risks. Research shows that some exposure to risks can help children and young people develop the necessary coping mechanisms that will help them to minimise or prevent experiences of harm in the future and, thus, help them build online resilience [7, 8]. Online resilience is important to protect the wellbeing of children and young people when they face online risks . However, we need to be mindful that not all children experience online risks in the same way, and even similar experiences may end up being more or less harmful depending on a child’s personality traits, individual characteristics and other social and environmental factors (e.g., parental support, supportive social networks, etc.). For instance, in the case of children with mental health conditions, one can wonder if they use social media more because of their condition or if the use of social media has led to a negative impact on their wellbeing  or both.
As a matter of fact, research suggests that some groups of children are more prone to being negatively affected by online risks, such as children with mental health conditions, children who lack supportive social or parental relationships or children who have experienced serious trauma, such as refugee children. These are children who have already faced multiple difficulties in life, and who may struggle to successfully cope with online risks [2, 7]. It is also likely, that for some young people, their negative online experiences have contributed to the development of their mental health difficulties. This could be the case of children or young people who have suffered distressful online situations such as online sexual abuse, unwanted sharing of sexual pictures or videos or online bullying . Suppose these kids are not able to disclose these experiences and receive adequate help. In that case, the long-lasting consequences can be more severe, affecting their school performance, social life, leisure activities and wellbeing.
Can digital technologies support wellbeing and mental health?
It is interesting to notice that digital technologies, especially social media, are usually portrayed as having a negative influence on children and young people. However, when asked their opinion, children and young people often highlight both the positive and negative aspects of their online experiences. Researchers, on their turn, argue that understanding how digital technologies affect wellbeing and mental health is not straightforward because there are many factors that play a part in how online experiences are lived, perceived, and experienced by different people. Despite, this, researchers have found that some aspects of digital technologies can have a positive influence on children and young people’s wellbeing, for instance:
Digital technologies can help children and young people experiment with, develop and explore their identity [10, 2] and can help adolescents find like-minded peers.
Digital technologies such as social media offer adolescents the possibility to connect with others helping them develop strong peer relationships and social skills. Both social skills and strong peer relationships are connected to positive mental health .
Especially during adolescence having friendships becomes more and more important . Online communication can help maintain and strengthen existing friendships and this may help support adolescents’ and young people’s self-esteem and connectedness, which can have a positive influence on their wellbeing .
Digital technologies offer adolescents a world of information but also spaces to find support about topics that they may find difficult to deal with or talk about, for instance, sexuality. However, a potential problem is that not all information and sources available online are trustworthy and, therefore, it is vital to support adolescents develop adequate information-seeking, processing and critical skills so that they can successfully assess the information sources they consult.
Using social media is an important form of entertainment for children and young people . Children themselves mention that they enjoy things such as watching videos, listening to music, or playing online games . In this sense, their digital media consumption can also serve to cope with stress or simply to relax [12, 13]. Once again, it is important that children, especially the youngest ones, have access to content and online services that are age-appropriate and in line with their maturity, cognitive and socio-emotional development.
Can digital technologies negatively influence wellbeing and mental health?
Despite the many opportunities that digital technology provides, research also shows that some online experiences and habits (e.g., frequently using your smartphone until late at night) may undermine children's and young people’s wellbeing . Additionally, there is also some evidence that children and young people who report lower wellbeing, for example, those who report higher levels of depression and anxiety, are more often victimised online . Other potentially negative outcomes include:
The use of internet is problematic when it interferes with normal daily life and when it is difficult to control. Research suggests that risk factors for problematic internet usage include low self-esteem, anxiety, and the use of the internet for sensation-seeking activities .
Children and young people who use technology late in the night suffer from a reduction in sleep and have a poorer sleep quality .
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can drive young people to try to constantly be connected via digital devices. FOMO can lead to negative mental health outcomes, through increased stress levels, reduced sleep, and negative mood states .
The Oxford English Dictionary defines FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as a feeling of anxiety by an individual when they believe that an exciting or interesting event may be happening somewhere else, often a feeling aroused by seeing posts on social media. 
The use of social media can negatively impact children and young people’s mental health through damaging their self-esteem . For instance, the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty or success standards that are portrayed online can negatively impact children and young people’s self-esteem. This can lead some children or young people to seek out advice or join groups of ‘like-minded’ people which can potentially accentuate risky or unhealthy behaviours, for instance following nutritional tips that can accentuate eating disorders, such as anorexia .
Globally, more than a third of young people have reported being a victim of cyberbullying . In Europe, the EU Kids Online research found that cyberbullying had increased from 8–12% from 2010 to 2014 with girls seeming to be more affected as their rates had risen to 15% . In 2020, EU Kids Online found that in most of the European countries included in the survey less than 10% of the children reported having been a victim of cyberbullying . In the last decade cyberbullying has been the most reported issue to the Safer Internet Centres helplines funded by the European Commission . Cyberbullying is a concerning problem, especially because of the negative consequences it can have on the victims’ mental health and wellbeing .
Sexual related online risks such as exposure to pornography (harmful or illegal), sexting, sexual harassment, grooming, or online sexual abuse and exploitation can have a detrimental impact on the wellbeing and mental health of children and adolescents. For example, sending nude or partially nude images via digital media [20, p.146], can lead to emotional distress and mental health difficulties for victims, especially when their images are shared online without their consent .
Grooming refers to the practice of an adult building an eoptional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purpose of abuse or exploitation. 
In line with what we have discussed in this section, the ySKILLS report "Young people experiencing internet-related mental health difficulties: The benefits and risks of digital skills” by Livingstone et al. (2022)  provides a balanced overview of the potential positive and negative impact of digital technologies on children and adolescent’s mental health. Their key findings are presented in the table below.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, we recommend you start by reading this ySKILLS blogpost.
Digital technologies are not all good or all bad – they can have both positive and negative effects on young people’s mental health.
Positively, the internet and social media can help young people meet and talk to others. They can also offer information and support and help people to cope with difficult situations .
But they can also be upsetting and trigger mental health setbacks. For example, young people may be shown unwanted harmful content or find themselves in extreme spaces .
Vulnerable young people are often on the lookout for online threats. They try to develop the skills and knowledge to prevent online problems or to deal with them better .
Young people with lived experience of mental health difficulties have lots of digital skills. Some are helpful for their mental health - such as learning about algorithms that promote negative content or finding ‘safe’ spaces or trusted people to support you online .
Young people with lived experience of mental health difficulties do not always manage to gain the specific skills they need. Or they have the skills but can’t always use them effectively when they need to. So, things can still go wrong online. And sometimes, this makes mental health difficulties worse .
Young people often feel it’s down to them to manage their digital lives. So, they may feel proud of what they can cope with. But they can also feel alone when coping with difficult situations .
Young people rarely seek help or advice when they are in trouble online. They are afraid of being misunderstood or punished, or blamed for things going wrong. So, they may find ways to keep their digital experiences secret from parents, teachers, therapists and even peers .
They would like the internet and social media to be made into more friendly and supportive places. And they would like their therapists and other trusted adults to understand their digital lives better .
https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/bitstream/handle/document/83155/ssoar-2022-gulec_et_al-Effects_of_digital_technology_on.pdf?sequence=4&isAllowed=y&lnkname=ssoar-2022-gulec_et_al-Effects_of_digital_technology_on.pdfGulec, H., Lokajova, A. & Smahel, D. (2022): Effects of digital technology on adolescents’ well-being: The integrative model (iMEW). CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics. Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence.
O’Reilly, M., Dogra, N., Levine, D., & Donoso, V. (2021). Digital media and child and adolescent mental health: A practical guide to understanding the evidence. Sage. https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/digital-media-and-child-and-adolescent-mental-health/book270318
Hawkes, N. (2019). CMO report is unable to shed light on impact of screen time and social media on children’s health. British Medical Journal, 364, l643. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l643.long
Livingstone, S. (2019a). From policing screen time to weighing screen use. The Children’s Media Foundation. From https://www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org/archives/7165/from-policing-screen-time-to-weighing-screen-use
Orben, A. (2020). Teenagers, screens and social media: A narrative review of reviews and key studies. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 55, 407–414. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-019-01825-4
Livingstone, S. (2012, February 07). Sonia Livingstone on children and the Internet. https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2012/07/sonia-livingstone-on-children-and-the-internet/
Clarke, B. (2009). Early adolescents’ use of social networking sites to maintain friendship and explore identity: Implications for policy. Policy and Internet, 1(1), 55–89. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.2202/1944-2866.1018
Chen (2022, August, 15). How Children Think About Their Own Well-Being Online https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_children_think_about_their_own_wellbeing_online
Milyavskaya, M., Saffran, M., Hope, N., & Koestner, R. (2018). Fear of missing out: prevalence, dynamics, and consequences of experiencing FOMO. Motivation and Emotion, 42(5), 725–737. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-018-9683-5
Council of Europe. Digital Citizenship Education (DCE). Health and Wellbeing. Retrieved from https://www.coe.int/en/web/digital-citizenship-education/health-and-wellbeing
UNICEF (2019, September 4). UNICEF poll: More than a third of young people in 30 countries report being a victim of online bullying U-Report highlights prevalence of cyberbullying and its impact on young people https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-poll-more-third-young-people-30-countries-report-being-victim-online-bullying
European Union: European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions A Digital Decade for children and youth: the new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+) (COM/2022/212) https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2022:212:FIN
Betton, V., & Woollard, J. (2019). Teen mental health in an online world: Supporting young people around their use of social media, apps gaming, texting and the rest. London: Jessica Kingsley. https://www.worldcat.org/title/teen-mental-health-in-an-online-world-supporting-young-people-around-their-use-of-social-media-apps-gaming-texting-and-the-rest/oclc/1061117851
Glazzard, J., & Mitchell, C. (2018). Social media and mental health in schools. St Albans: Critical Publishing. https://books.google.be/books?hl=nl&lr=&id=RZCCDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=Social+media+and+mental+health+in+schools&ots=cRMXtBtocD&sig=w-EClNLEcQKW2rK3mh--7QiJL_U#v=onepage&q=Social%20media%20and%20mental%20health%20in%20schools&f=false