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Stress Awareness Month: Addressing the Digital Threats Impacting Students Today

6 minute read
By Smoothwall

According to Internet Matters, two thirds of UK children reported experiencing online harms in 2023. As educators are urged to develop comprehensive strategies to support emotional and mental wellbeing in schools, Smoothwall explores the online threats impacting children today and how to combat their effects.

It’s a difficult time to be a young person. The aftershocks of the pandemic are still being felt, loneliness is on the rise, and there is intense pressure to keep up with rapidly changing online trends. Furthermore, many of the threats students face exist in the digital realm, making the job of safeguarding them particularly hard. 

This is a generation that has thrived as a result of access to digital technologies. The internet has revolutionised learning and is a vital educational and social tool for young people. However, without appropriate safeguarding mechanisms in place, the online world can also be a significant source of stress for minors.

“I am concerned that to younger generations who have grown up with technology, experiencing harm online is becoming normalised: increasingly seen as an inevitably of online life, rather than something which can, and must, be tackled.”

- Carolyn Bunting MBE, Joint CEO of Internet Matters

Online threats causing stress in students

Students are often more technologically proficient than their teachers, but without the right knowledge and resources, they are also more vulnerable to online risks. 


In 2023, Smoothwall Monitor identified a child suspected to be involved in a serious cyberbullying incident every 6 minutes.

Bullying has always been an unfortunate reality in schools, but technology has allowed it to become more prevalent and personalised. Cyberbullies can take advantage of having a degree of anonymity online. At the same time, victims are offered no respite, as digital devices make them reachable both in school and at home.   

For today’s children, cyberbullying is the leading form of bullying, with Ofcom reporting that 84% of 8-17-year-old victims had been targeted this way, compared to 61% experiencing face-to-face bullying. 

Social media pressures 

Social media platforms offer young people a space to connect with one another and share their thoughts and passions. These platforms can also be a hub for negative interactions, with 40% of children telling Ofcom that they thought people were unkind to each other on social media and messaging apps “all or most of the time”. 

Unfortunately, due to peer pressure and the addictive nature of social media, unpleasant experiences are not enough to put young people off. As a result, issues like low self-worth, body image struggles and loneliness can develop.   

Viewing harmful content

Whether it’s through social media, messaging apps, or nefarious websites, there are a range of ways students can actively find, or even just stumble upon, harmful content online. A 2022 report by the Children’s Commissioner found that 45% of UK children aged 8-17 have viewed harmful content online - including suicide, self-harm, violent, and pornographic material.

Loneliness and emotional alienation

Childline receives, on average, 15 calls a day from children experiencing loneliness. 

The internet’s ability to transcend barriers like geography and time means that people are more connected to one another than ever before. However, the sometimes superficial and intangible nature of online interactions can cause feelings of loneliness, especially if such interactions begin to replace those that would otherwise happen in person. 

At the same time, the insight social media platforms offer into the lives of others can create the impression that everyone else is thriving. If those viewing this content don’t feel the same way, comparing themselves could lead to feelings of alienation.

How to identify and alleviate stress in students 

A major roadblock to managing stress in pupils is that they can be reluctant to speak up when something is bothering them. Some will find the idea of asking for help intimidating, or they may feel that their issue is too embarrassing to talk about. In certain cases, a student may not even be sure if what they are experiencing is serious enough to raise with an adult.

As vulnerable students are not always forthcoming, it is important that DSLs are on the lookout for signs of stress. Indicators of a shift in wellbeing include:

  • Changes in demeanour

  • A reluctance to engage in class

  • Social withdrawal

  • Altered eating habits

  • Signs of self-harm

Wellbeing-focused activities

To gain an insight into how students are feeling and promote discussions around mental health, schools might choose to arrange various wellbeing-focused activities.  

These could include scheduling drop-in sessions for pupils with the school DSL or Counsellor, where students can discuss any issues impacting their wellbeing. At a classroom level, schools can organise play-based activities or group work designed to educate students on digital safety and inspire them to consider how their own online experiences impact their mental health. 

Such activities can facilitate in-person pastoral care, which is certainly a vital component of establishing a positive wellbeing culture. However, these methods alone are not sufficient to enable DSLs to identify and help vulnerable students in an efficient and effective manner. 

Utilising safeguarding technology to improve student wellbeing

In reality, it can be impossible for busy DSLs to recognise stress in students until it has reached a serious level. Furthermore, wellbeing needs can change on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, which means annual activities like drop-in sessions cannot achieve the timely intervention that is often necessary. In these contexts, digital safeguarding technology can be significantly helpful. 

Digital wellbeing platforms

Digital wellbeing platforms, such as Smoothwall Pulse, can enable DSLs to identify wellbeing issues at an individual, group and whole school level. Providing check-in tools that ask ever-changing wellbeing questions, students benefit from a simple and fun way to share how they’re feeling and request help, if needed.  

The resulting reports give DSLs an up-to-date snapshot of the mental health and wellbeing of the entire student body, allowing them to address any negative patterns before they become problems. 

As well as registering their current wellbeing, students can select the option to talk to a preferred staff member in person. In this way the platform encourages important offline conversations, while taking some of the pressure off busy DSLs, as other staff can get directly involved in supporting student wellbeing.  

From a big data perspective, wellbeing platforms provide schools with a wealth of information that can be used to drive school-wide improvements and inform the curriculum of safeguarding education.

As a result, safeguarders are able to use their time more effectively, whilst clearly demonstrating the development of a “whole school or college approach to mental health” (KCSIE, 2023). 


Want to learn more?

To learn more about student wellbeing platforms, download our whitepaper, How To Reach Vulnerable Students Who Don't Speak Up.

Alternatively, if you would like to find out more about Smoothwall Pulse, please get in touch via enquiries@smoothwall.com. We’d be happy to help. 

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