Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK) is the largest accredited mental health agency in Halton, providing mental health services for children and youth from birth to 17 years of age and their families. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, ROCK shifted its service delivery from in-person to virtual in order to continue offering necessary mental health services for children, youth, and their families.
ROCK understands that now more than ever our young people are being inundated with information right at their fingertips. This quick access to information can greatly impact the way our young people see themselves potentially resulting in low self-esteem, anxiety or depression, and can negatively affect the overall well-being of our youth.
One of the biggest concerns that comes from communicating over social media, texting, etc., is that messages, comments, and sharing between youth can be quite severe. The cell phone for many youths seems to act as a shield in which cruel comments and posts about peers, acquaintances, or even celebrities are shared without a second thought – comments which would likely never be said by these same young people in a face-to-face interaction. In this way, it becomes a vicious cycle. Young people are bombarded with “photo-shopped” images displaying unrealistic appearance ideals as well as glamorous lifestyles that seem unattainable, as well as dangerous, harmful, or problematic actions. This can create immense insecurity and low self-esteem in our most vulnerable youth. This insecurity can often show up as cyberbullying or “trolling” which can involve leaving harsh or rude comments or even creating posts aimed at peers or acquaintances in order to feel a sense of acceptance and superiority.
For others, this insecurity may show up behind the scenes, with feelings of anxiety. Youth may feel that they are not able to live up to the highlight reels shown on social media. They may feel like a failure for not having a certain lifestyle, or for not receiving enough “likes” or “engagement” on a post. For our young people these “likes” act as an online popularity contest. They are constantly being judged by peers, which is enough to make even the most confident person feel insecure.
So, what can we do? It may feel like the easiest thing to do is take away the phone or computer or iPad, but it’s unlikely this will deter youth from accessing their social media platforms in other ways. It may also fracture the lines of communication between you and your young person and they may feel like they can’t come to you when something is really wrong.
Some ideas that may have a greater effect are:
Role-Modelling: Children and youth are sponges absorbing and mirroring what they see. If they see the adults in their life constantly consumed with their phones, emails, texting etc., they will likely pick up on this behaviour as “normal.”
Media Free Zones: Having media free zones in the home can include an agreement that when you’re sharing a meal together or watching a family movie, everyone in the home is disconnected. This leaves space for meaningful conversations and connections.
Media Free Time: You may also want to set aside one day a week where everyone in the home does something active together without technology. This could include things like going for a hike, biking, crafting/creating, etc. Once you are able to build this into your routine it becomes easier and may even be something to look forward to each week.
Media Literacy: One of the most important ways to ensure our youth are educated around the impact of social media is to introduce media literacy. This means education around the images they see and the unrealistic nature of them, as well as underlining the consequences that come from sharing some posts online. This also means having meaningful conversations and engaging with your youth about what they are looking at. Showing interest without anger or judgment will promote trust and open the lines of communication.
ROCK offers a few really excellent media literacy, self-esteem, and body image programs through a service called Danielle’s Place. This program offers a range of groups for children as young as 8 years old all the way up to 17 years. These programs are a great way for young people to learn more about the information they are consuming and the effect it can have on their view of themselves. If you are interested in learning more about Danielle’s Place offerings, you can check out their website at daniellesplace.org.
ROCK also understands that mental health doesn’t take a day off and sometimes our young people need to connect with someone immediately. ROCK’s crisis line is available 24/7. The crisis line offers a safe space for youth to connect and receive immediate mental health support. The number for that line is 905-878-9785.