There is much debate over the impacts of social media on the human psyche. Undoubtedly, it taps into human traits in such a way that can be harmful; amplifying narcissism, heightening anxiety, enhancing our ability to spread damaging messages and normalizing, even promoting self harm and suicide (https://www.cmaj.ca/content/192/6/E136). But amongst all of this, importantly it has also demonstrated our willingness to share personal stories and our deep desire to be heard.
If there is one thing any parent would want, it would be for their child to be transparent about how they are feeling, particularly when they are going through a difficult time. It is also one of the most fundamental challenges we face as schools in trying to support the wellbeing of students, the lack of transparency means issues often sit beneath the surface for a lot longer than they should. Social media has taught us that this isn’t through a complete unwillingness to talk about their emotions, they are in fact doing this on a daily basis across these platforms. There are now coded phrases on Tik Tok that signal distress, including suicidal thoughts, which have come from Hannah Dains’ popular poem. Yet in the physical school environment, with students all around, teachers rushing between classes or in their office working, there is a lot less opportunity for students to feel comfortable and engaged to share these stories. It has become clear that whilst social media may indeed be a significant contributor to increasing anxiety and depression amongst our youth, it may also hold a very important piece to the puzzle in addressing these concerning trends.
Is social media the right place to have this conversation?
Millions of children and young people go to social media every day to express themselves, they are by their very nature exceptionally powerful broadcasting tools that have proven to be immensely engaging for our youth. However, when these conversations take place on such platforms, they have also proven to be potentially dangerous places to share our personal stories, primarily as a result of a loud and highly active minority group of users that seem determined to bully and ridicule others. And unfortunately, when this happens, it happens quickly and unlike physical bullying in the playground, those doing the bullying have unlimited access to the victim’s life. There is no safe space for them.
What if we could tap into those same nerves that social media does but instead, confidentially communicate these stories back to those in positions to offer genuine support and build strong relationships? How different the outcome might be for that child and their family if the dialogue could start in a safe and supportive environment.
Social media is still in its infancy really and the full impacts are being examined but the early findings show there is a great need for a new wave of emotional technology geared toward productive growth. Tools that enable safe self expression, deliver content that resonates and informs understanding of ourselves and others to help guide our youth through what is becoming an increasingly complex journey to find footing. Much of technology to date that has seen strong engagement has largely been seen as a tool of distraction, rather than growth. They have acknowledged the human psyche almost solely to drive this engagement but have had little concern for the ensuing psychological impacts of that engagement. Emotional technology can harness this for the betterment of our health and wellbeing.