The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. It gives us access to any information from any part of the world, allows us to talk and develop relationships with people we may have otherwise never encountered offline, and is always, always available.
This constant access and ability to talk to anyone has its perks, but it also has the very high chances of us encountering people and information that will affect us negatively. Being able to go online whenever we want also means that we may encounter this when our emotions are already high, we’re already feeling vulnerable, or are experiencing the intense negative effects of mental illness, so when we run into people and things that we don’t like, our chances of acting out and engaging in negative interactions can increase. Most of our interactions on social media are text-based, so we don’t realize just how much our words can affect others when we lash out at them, because texting and typing is so much more difficult to interpret than face-to-face interaction. It can feel harsher, colder, and so much more meaner than we already feel, and we can’t delete or take back the things we send once they’re online.
As we all know now, it’s impossible to avoid going online, especially this year. While difficult, it was still easier to go off the grid and take breaks before classes and work were all online. It was easier to put our phones on “do not disturb” when we just didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone, but this year, our only way of talking to people is over the phone and online. And in a year of bad and stressful news that constantly has us doomscrolling and refreshing, our likelihood of snapping is even higher. This is particularly true for adolescents who already experience heightened emotions – especially those who experience mental illness symptoms.
So how do we avoid leaving a nasty comment on someone’s post, DM’ing someone to criticize them, or saying something that could be hurtful in the middle of an online class or meeting? There are many ways to take a step back and collect ourselves; closing your eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths, even turning off your video and muting yourself for a few seconds can give the opportunity to briefly calm down. If you’re already in a negative state and want to go on social media, ask yourself what you want to do online and what sites will help you best avoid content that you don’t want to see. These are just a couple of examples, but it’s important to keep in mind that when we’re already on edge, one single thing or comment can have us acting in a way that we might immediately regret. We hope that you can share this with your child, who is likely already constantly connected, both because they want to and have to.
Have you ever lashed out online? Have you ever been tempted to? Have you ever seen your child lash online? What advice do you have for keeping your emotions in check when you encounter things you don’t like on social media?