Social Media and Self-Esteem

Does using social media affect your self-esteem?

Jeyda and I have had many conversations about this topic but found that we were going in circles, and craving evidence. So, we decided to run an experiment.

We agreed that every time we signed into any of our social media accounts, we would pay close attention to which posts or images stood out the most to us, or perhaps evoked an emotional response. We then created a log, describing each post/image, and how/why we reacted to it. Here’s what we found:


I noticed that I mindlessly scroll past tons of posts without even really giving them any attention. If I’m not interested in what I see, why do I keep looking? Is it because I feel like people may post something interesting that I don’t want to miss out on? If I counted the number of posts I have to go scroll past until I reach something that genuinely stands out, it becomes obvious I’m wasting my time.

I also found that although my mindless scrolling was punctuated by occasional stops and ‘likes’, the most memorable thing from the last week’s worth of social media sessions were posts which provoked a negative reaction. Usually, this would be a post by a friend doing something amazing and inspiring; like travelling the world or setting up their own company. There was an initial impressed feeling, but it was shortly followed by one thinking of my own situation as dull by comparison. On each of the occasions I logged, the reactions were strong enough to make me close down the Facebook app. I’d opened social media out of boredom, and although there were a couple of interesting things on there, overall I would come away feeling worse than I had in the first place!


What stood out most about our finished log was that both of us used the phrase “made me” a lot when describing the impact of the images. This made me ask, how can images MAKE us feel a certain way? If we had better control over our self esteem would this reduce such emotional responses? Would we care as much about other people’s lives?

Similar to Jeyda, I have now noticed that the VAST majority of content on my Facebook homepage is dull. When I first started using Facebook it was a place where my school friends wrote statuses like they were diary entries. People constantly posted personal updates about everyday life, accompanied by often hundreds of unfiltered photos. Nowadays my homepage looks quite different. It’s a place to share or re-circulate media content such as news articles (or #fakenews), viral videos, as well as shameless filtered selfies and not much else, which clearly isn’t as much fun.

When I see genuine updates from friends such as; engagements, first home purchases, travelling adventures, expensive looking holidays or once in a lifetime type experiences etc, how does it make me feel? That depends. Usually, I feel happy for my friends, but if I don’t like the person who has posted, or I’m feeling particularly sensitive, that’s when self-comparison kicks in and I end up questioning my own lifestyle. Are they achieving more than me? Self-doubt can feel so crippling

So, why do I still use Facebook? I’ve pondered this question for a while and to answer honestly: I don’t know. Maybe I don’t like the thought of missing out.  Or maybe old habits die hard. I wish I knew the answer.

In conclusion, I believe that we are a generation of oversharers, which has produced an expectation to know everything about everyone within our social networks.

The Motivation Project has an Instagram account. Jeyda and I made a conscious decision to upload the parts of our lives that are a bit less ‘shiny’. It’s  a place where we can be honest about our insecurities, as well as a place where we can share how we overcome those insecurities. I was nervous about using Instagram in this way, but I have to admit, I’m glad we do.

Follow us on Instagram @TMotivationP


Social Media in Schools

A few weeks ago I ran my last workshop of the year in Social Media/Body Image for a full year group of Year 9’s. As usual, I was happy to meet some bright individuals who too often suffer being underestimated by adults. During the workshop, I asked the students to complete interactive tasks, aiming to help them improve their self esteem/body image and to understand that social media can often be misleading and impacts not only their own self-esteem but the self-esteem of others.

I was happy that the workshops had been well received and as one of my follow up actions I asked them to concentrate on more authentic content online (an account which reflects who you really are instead of exclusively posting selfies). As usual, I asked the students to follow The Motivation Project’s Instagram and promised to ‘follow back’ so I have some level of engagement with them post workshop.

As you can imagine, I was pretty appalled to have my professional Instagram account followed by a few accounts which had usernames referring to sexual acts, including one with the accompanying bio of ‘Please help, my Uncle rapes me’. I was even more appalled to realise that these accounts belonged to 14 year old boys whom I had met merely hours beforehand, in a social media workshop. Ironic? The content they were posting was violent, racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic… you name it, I showed their accounts to a few adults and they were so shocked they couldn’t look. My head was in my hands. The accounts started posting on The Motivation Project’s posts with very obviously sarcastic comments (sadly, I wasn’t born yesterday).

So, what do I do? I see each group for around one hour, once a year. My intentions are always completely positive. I listen to teenagers and actively change the content of my workshops based on their feedback to make sure that they are relevant and educational but most of all, fun.

Despite desperately not wanting to report teenagers who I work hard to build trust with, I really had no choice but to report this behaviour to the school. At their young age, they represent their school and their parents in all they do. My main concern was that their bad choices as immature boys will later come back to bite them. There’s no such thing as ‘delete’ anymore; if an account is linked to your email address it’s plausible that potential Universities and even employers may be able to track their online footprint in years to come. Will they like what they see?

Of course, the school was shocked. I was thanked for reporting it as it was the only way for them to discover these things. Despite being told everything would be done to make sure the accounts were changed or closed, weeks later the accounts are all still active and commenting on my Instagram.

What’s the next move for me? I feel as though I have gone beyond my responsibilities as an outside authority to report the boys, and yet I’m mindful that I don’t want them participating on my own account any more. I’m left feeling powerless to take further action.

How does it feel to be a teacher when these situations arise? Where are the boundaries? Are you really allowed to intervene? What level are these situations escalated to? When do you have to (frustratingly) step aside? How much can adults really do to protect young people online? Unfortunately, these are questions I don’t have the answers to.

On my way home I thought to myself, “I wish the world would hurry up and change already”, a thought I’m sure many of you have shared over the past year. Am I defeated? Not at all. As I look forward to what 2017 has to offer, I am striking up more ideas than ever for the project which will help to prevent this event repeating itself. New year, fresh start!


How Well Do We Know Our Kids

A friend, Leyla Carter, asked me some pretty difficult questions today:

How much do you notice the ‘mental state’ of your students and how much can it impact their learning, or the learning of others around them?

Sarah Armstrong, Drama Teacher
Sarah Jane, Drama Teacher

She started up her own company called The Motivation Project which aims to tackle mental health issues amongst teenagers through the means of dance and movement. So, when asking me these questions what she means by ‘mental state’ is issues such as stress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders – which I think affect our kids today now more than ever. Below, I attempt to answer her questions indicating just how hopeless I feel as a teacher.

The key to understanding my pupils mental state is by building rapport, positive relationships and gaining trust. This is not easy to do because lately our children are, in general, less trusting. That said, I still feel confident in doing those things with lots of my students. Thus they come to me if needed and more importantly, I can tell if their mental state appears to change. Some children however, do not speak up and hide how they are really feeling. This is where being able to spot ‘typical’ behaviours is crucial. Being a teacher, where I have experienced difficulty is what to do with information both LEGALLY and PROFESSIONALLY. All teachers complete ‘safeguarding’ training annually and we are made aware of what to do should we notice anything. Along with everything else though, it has become yet another ‘tick box’ activity. You notice something so you email someone else. You never hear what unfolded. You never hear whether you have genuinely helped a child. With so much work under our job description it becomes difficult to see your impact beyond the classroom (which for me is not very often). I feel hopeless.

The biggest failure is that the expressive subjects; where relationships are built, mental state is explored and thoughts are expressed are seen LEAST on a child’s timetable. As a secondary drama teacher I only see each pupil once a week. Tragic in its own right. Their mentality could have changed over and over before I see them again. I therefore need to pay close attention to notice mood changes or lack of effort where they were previously engaged and try to tackle the problem there and then. Maybe a fight at lunch time or an argument with mum before they left for school has left them feeling anxious? These things could easily be resolved in the classroom with a friendly smile or a quick conversation. If they continue to act out following a chat, your hand is then forced to follow the ‘consequence ladder’ for behaviour choices because you have 29 other kids in the class and ‘behaviourism’ is a disease to the classroom learning environment. “Joe Bloggs sees anxious person, seemingly acts apathetic and refuses to join in too”. Nightmare. So, I would then type a quick email to their form tutor mentioning their odd behaviour and hope that they follow it up to check if anything more is going on. I feel hopeless as a classroom teacher.

As a form tutor, you notice students’ emotional and mental state daily by monitoring their mood and/or behaviour. You would think that this means you are in a better position to do something about it. There isn’t a lot you can do though, often you ‘pass it on’ to somebody else as this is policy. The conversation that follows with the student in question is awful to have, “I have had to pass on that you haven’t been yourself recently otherwise I will get into trouble”. Students feel like you have let them down and you have to work hard to rebuild lost trust. I feel hopeless as a form teacher. A better conversation would be ”I have noticed you have been down recently so I have signed you up for ‘The Motivation Project’ to see if that helps. It’s cool and fun and if nothing else, I know you will have a good time”.

Does negative mental health have an impact on their learning? Very much so. When a child is not feeling themselves they become withdrawn. In a subject like drama, this has a huge impact not just on themselves but the other kids too. As a teacher or even as a caring adult, if a child is disengaged or seems anxious, you want to help them and so you dedicate time to them and help them feel better. More kids than necessary then end up missing a lot of learning time; they find concentrating tricky and demonstrate negative behaviours and learning then becomes difficult for all. However, the worst feeling in the world would be NOT helping a child because you assumed they were playing up but actually, it turns out they have an underlying eating disorder or are under extreme stress. So, what do we do? I feel hopeless as a caring person.

Sarah&AndrewStruggles with sticking to the curriculum means that teachers are unable to explore the issues we want to through subjects like drama, which would massively help students to develop understanding, empathy and give them an opportunity at school to work through their anxieties. If ‘The Motivation Project’ helps teenagers to be more positive about themselves, then their learning would improve along with everyday life for themselves, their teachers and their parents. If people are more emotionally positive, they tend to have the capacity to be more positive about other people, cultures, issues, history, relationships and religion. Everyone is a winner. I want to see this across the UK. Make The Motivation Project happen.

By Sarah Jane.

Are you a teacher? Do you have experience of the issues discussed in this blog? Leave a comment or email to share your views.

Self Esteem and Fame

I was working with a group of teenagers a few months ago and we were discussing limiting thoughts. One boy admitted to me that a limiting thought he had about himself was, “I’ll never be famous”. Although it didn’t shock me, I was saddened to hear a young person so honestly express that our celebrity obsessed culture has affected him so much so that he feels ‘less than’. Current trends tell us that you are a ‘nobody’ unless the paps are chasing you, but does fame equal happiness?

Cameron Diaz discusses this exact issue in an intimate interview. She reminds us that if you seek fame in order to achieve happiness, you will never find it. It saddens me to think that so many people my age are in a constant state of ‘seeking’. They seek travel, culture, fame, enlightenment but most of all they seek happiness.

We can control of our own happiness. If we paid more attention to how lucky we really are, we might even experience it more often. My message to those still searching is this: happiness can be found in such simple things, but only if we allow it to.


How to: Improve Mental Health in Schools

Last week, The Motivation Project exhibited at the Prince Bishop Teaching School Alliance’s conference on ‘Mental Health in North East Schools’. It was a fantastic opportunity not just to listen to speakers with first hand experience in this area but also to stand in a room full of other mental health and emotional wellbeing workers. I had the chance to speak directly to school leaders across the North East and demonstrate how when we look after the mental health of our students, often the academics will follow. Unfortunately, school’s are usually forced to prioritise academic achievements and emotional wellbeing falls to the bottom of the agenda because of obvious external pressures which I don’t need to get into.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to improve the mental wellbeing of young people, here are my top five ways to improve mental health amongst teenagers in school.


The first step in making changes to improve emotional wellbeing is to understand your students. Every child is unique and each year group will have a different dynamic. So, under which circumstances do they best learn? What makes them happy? What makes them angry? What is it that pushes them into conflict? Is there anything that you can change within the school that would immediately benefit their learning and reduce any conflict between students?

If you are struggling to answer the above questions- ask the pupils! I cannot tell you enough how much teenagers appreciate being asked for their opinion when they know someone is truly listening to the answer. The best way to demonstrate that they are being listened to is by actively making the changes that they suggest.


Top tip: Train them to mentor each other. This method has been used in many schools and students may feel more comfortable opening up to someone their own age rather than to an adult.


Lead by example! Stressed out teachers create stressed out students.

This one is pretty much impossible to solve overnight; I’m sure teachers will agree. I understand how completely overworked our teachers are at the moment; keep fighting for the change you want to see in the education system because your passion doesn’t go unnoticed. I for one do not envy your job! As difficult as it may seem, we all know that you don’t want your own stress to influence the atmosphere of a class.


Top tip: Small 3-5minute relaxation exercises can be used in any lesson to help encourage calm. Students will appreciate a quick break from their work and you might gain something too. Google it! Choose the exercises that you think your students will respond to best.


Getting parents on board is not always simple as they might be unaware of how practicing good emotional wellbeing at school will benefit their child. There are many things you can do to try and engage them, including writing home and hosting meetings. A great way to ensure parents are aware of your work in emotional wellbeing is to engrain it into your school ethos. This way, the parents of any new students to the school will be aware from the beginning that the school is focused both on academics and positive mental health.


Top tip: Send out short emails containing progress updates and encourage the students to get involved by taking pictures or writing short blog entries you can use.


Schools have a million and one things on their agenda and quite frankly not enough time in the academic year to achieve it all. The only answer here is that everyone needs to agree that mental health is a priority. As I described earlier, if we start with the emotional wellbeing of students and promote happiness first, the rest will follow.


Top tip: Senior level absolutely have to be on board! Continuously involve everybody.


Sadly, there’s nothing that can be done about budget cuts and schools feeling increasingly squeezed in this area. However, this one should be tied with the above because it really is about your priorities. At the beginning of your journey to reduce stress and increase positive emotional wellbeing in your students, it will likely come as no surprise that you will have to spend money. However, the benefits really do outweigh the cost.


Top tip: Focus on long-term benefits to argue your case if met with challenges.


The Fear

A couple of nights ago I sat curled up on my sofa with my jumper pulled over my knees like a child, crying. Why? Because, the next day I had a blood test.

My fear of needles developed when I was a very small child. It was something that my Mum describes as having been pre-programmed, there wasn’t a particular experience that put me off (although I do have a vivid and horrible memory of an ear operation; a doctor attempted to put a needle into my hand and let’s just say it didn’t go down well) it’s a phobia that’s always been with me with little explanation as to why.


I often feel misunderstood when I tell people about my phobia. Injections/needles aren’t exactly fun and not many people admit to liking them. I believe the word ‘phobia’ is overused so I end up hearing statements such as ‘it won’t hurt’ or ‘it will all be over in seconds’. Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate people trying to reassure me but my fear is a deep rooted psychological issue that even I don’t completely understand. Therefore, anxiety doesn’t ease with the knowledge that I won’t experience discomfort, I am scared of needles, not pain.

The people who understand it as best as I do are my close relatives and friends. Especially my Mum who held my hand through every injection up until the age of 18 (I know) and my poor boyfriend who had no idea what to do with me pre-blood test! I apologise to anyone and everyone who has come in contact with me when these unfortunate appointments are due. Doctors and nurses truly are the most patient, understanding and fantastic people.


The worst thing about my phobia is the pressure I put on myself to get over it. I can put myself in other people’s shoes and see how utterly ridiculous the whole charade can be but as much as I try, I can’t help freaking out. Along with panicky feelings I have those lovely negative and limiting thoughts. ‘You’re being stupid’, ‘don’t be a baby’ and my personal favourite ‘you’re the founder of an emotional wellbeing enterprise, HOW can you let your mind take over your body like this?!’. Are these thoughts helpful? No. They make it worse.

How can we move forwards and push past our fears? I believe the best thing to do is to be more accepting of ourselves. I try to live by the following phrase:

“Change what you can, accept what you can’t.”


The more we try to resist our inbuilt characteristics the more difficult we can make life for ourselves. This is one example of something I don’t think I can change. Rather than pushing against the phobia and desperately trying to convince myself that I need to overcome it, I am instead making myself a promise. I will accept that, for me, fear is something that accompanies needles. I also promise to drag the closest person to me along to the procedure to hold my hand. Sorry in advance.


I hope that everyone reading this can relate. Unfortunately, life does not come without fear. It’s how we manage it that counts. Allow yourself to accept it as a valid emotion and remember that, like any other feeling, it will pass.

I almost forgot, how did the blood test go? Well, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? On reflection, it went fine. Although, my boyfriend may disagree…