If there is one nagging concern I have, it’s that we appear to be losing more of our humanity on a daily basis. When a tragic story breaks in the media, there is a buzz, everyone airing their comments and you expect that someone somewhere would do something to forestall future occurrences…then a similar tragedy is reported and it doesn’t get as much of a reaction like the first one…a couple more incidences and the matter becomes “another news story” that is until it hits close to home.
You’re probably wondering what I’m ranting about this time – It’s this new trend of suicides streamed live on Facebook. My focus today, however, is really not about the suicide in itself or why anyone would want to take his or her life in front of a live camera (I honestly don’t get it!) but my focus is more on what has been reported as the leading cause of suicide – NEGATIVE EMOTIONS.
I started thinking about the issue of negative emotions particularly in children and inasmuch as I realize that several things including depression, shame, hopelessness, helplessness, fear and medical issues could be the underlying cause of these emotions, my mind kind of zeroed in on the role social media may have on their emotional state.
Except if you’re from another planet, you must have realized that the younger generation operates more in the digital & social media space than the physical. They follow and are followed by more people in the digital world; they like and are liked by more people on social media than in the real world and their conversations – the good, the bad and the ugly – take place in that space. So don’t you think it’s important we pay attention to that space?
Cast your mind back to when you were that awkward 13, 14 or 15-year-old boy or girl. Imagine that you’ve just moved to a new school or new neighborhood and there’s a group of other young children about your age who have been friends long before you came on the scene. You observe them playing and having plenty of fun and one day you summon the courage and ask if you can join them. Unfortunately, one of the “meanies” in the group takes a look at you, starts calling you names and the others join in. You run away – terribly embarrassed and wondering why the other kids don’t like you.
Okay snap back to reality – it’s 2017 – your child “wants to hang out” and for them a lot of the “hanging out” takes place in the social media space and as beneficial as that space can be, it can also be very vicious. In that space, people can “like / follow” and “unlike / unfollow” you at the press of a button. Stories about a person (usually the embarrassing or bad stuff) can go viral in a few seconds and comments can be savage! Except where one has developed a thick skin or attained a level of maturity, emotions can vacillate quite a bit in this space.
It’s important for parents to be aware that for our children, “likes” have gone from just being “likes” to VALIDATION. It means they’re popular and people are interested in what’s going on in their lives. The number of followers (I hear people actually buy followers!) they have, is seen as a sign of popularity and a conferment of “celebrity” status. Do you wonder why they take so many “selfies” and post on social media? They’re looking for validation. Unfortunately, it’s gotten so deep that if a picture or post doesn’t get as many likes as anticipated it begins to take its toll on their mood and how they view themselves.
Then there is the other issue of who our children are “liking” and “following” in the social media space. In most cases, they would be people considered popular for reasons ranging from rational to downright absurd.
If we’re to be honest, this syndrome doesn’t just affect children, even adults struggle with mood swings and mixed emotions based on likes; follows and views. Maintaining popularity can exert a lot of emotional pressure especially for the person who derives his or her sense of self-worth from these statistics.
There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving validation, being “liked” and “followed” from/by the right kind of people and for the right reasons. However, it is unhealthy to derive one’s sense of self-worth based on these metrics. A person’s self –worth should be derived from a more tangible value system and that’s where we parents come in.
By reinforcing positive core values, we help our children gain clarity and know what is really important. We should let them realize that a lot of what is seen on social media is “packaged” & photoshopped. Comparing their real lives to a “packaged” celebrity is setting himself or herself up for emotional pain.
Finally, we should be alert to mood swings in our children. Keep the lines of communication open. If and when your child does open up on what’s going on, please do not trivialize what is bothering them. Remember they are still relatively immature and what you see as a “molehill” may actually look like a major mountain to them. Try and find out what could really be going on and coax them back to emotional health.