Time To Stop Blaming Social Media & Stigma?
I have to start by acknowledging the importance of the breaking the stigma. Stigma is still very much an issue that needs addressing in many different areas of our society. A particular example is in the working environment, the idea that it is ‘OK not to be ok’ is still an ideal not yet reached in most working environments. I would point to the amazing work of Geoff McDonald to see just how damaging stigma can be, especially in preventing people seeking the vital help they so often need.
I would also like to highlight that I recognise just how damaging misuse of social media can be. Important here to emphasise the word ‘misuse’. There is a whole bunch of different ways that misuse of social media can, and does, cause huge harm to us as people. I don’t want to get lost in what they all are, as that is not the purpose of this article, so I will point to the well known video by Simon Sinek that does good justice in explaining the negative impact of social media.
So what is my concern?!
Stigma and social media are both ‘outputs’ of our mental health struggles. They are symptoms of a problem, both of which can further harm the problem, but neither are the primary cause.
Stigma, quite obviously, is not the direct cause of mental health struggles. I am not blind to the terrible impact it can have of worsening peoples struggles and how it can greatly speed up the process from struggle to illness but I wonder if we can all agree that it is not the primary cause, certainly not in most cases?
I would go much further with social media. We seem to have all fallen into this trap of blaming social media in every way. Day after day, I see people discuss how social media is the primary cause of peoples low self worth. With the children’s mental health epidemic in particular, I see people continually point to social media as the main reason for young peoples low self worth. I have fallen into this trap because I get it. It is relentless, we are bombarded with images and paragraphs of how amazing everyone else’s lives are and that is tiering. But there is something we forget. It’s like we think that before instagram or Facebook, we all walked around openly expressing all our emotions. That before the introduction of social media we always presented the most honest and authentic version of ourselves to the world no matter what! This is, of course, ridiculous. Social media is actually just how we were, but magnified. I see how this can cause an issue, I can see how this can become addictive but we have had addictive things in our society since the beginning of time. We have to look at why we have become so addicted.
This is where my explorative nature begins to turn to a rant. We are failing our young people. This is our fault.
Schools and colleges are under an absurd amount of pressure to make sure that students and young people achieve. Grades are more important than any time before, such is our desperation to measure success. Teachers are under that much pressure to cram it all in, time for real and meaningful connection and interaction with young people shrinks by the day. So what happens to the children who, for whatever reason, are not having their needs met at home? There are lots of these children and for a million and one different reasons, most of which have nothing to do with ‘bad parenting’. Children find themselves with no adult meeting their needs emotionally at home or at school and so they turn to instagram to have their needs met and guess what we do?? We retweet lots of posts about how we ‘didn’t turn to a device in our day’ and how we are ‘simply powerless to help our young people because it is all social media’s fault’.
And here’s the really dangerous part. Politicians are ALL OVER THIS. They love campaigns about breaking the stigma. They love the idea that it is social media’s fault. Why? Because it doesn’t cost anything. An MP stands up, talks about breaking the stigma and we all applaud. Another MP tweets ‘#TimeToTalk’ and we cheer. We hear endless talk of the damage that social media causes and we shrug our shoulders and the impossible task of where to start regulating the internet. NO COST.
So it is the politicians fault, right?
It is our fault.
We have become so depressingly obsessed with seeing stats and results we have lost the importance of connection for our children. We have become hell-bent on finding blame rather than seeking cause. The idea of having our tax money fund things like youth workers has become alien to us because we don’t see instant results. So we have pulled it away. Not everything of importance can be measured and not everything that is measured is important. Our young people are making it to adulthood confused and lacking in self-worth and every time that happens, we have failed. I am not going to give you a stat because I don’t have one but I ask you what percentage of young people are not having their emotional needs met today and so are getting lost in social media? What are we doing to tackle that? The world is changing at is greatest rate, as adults we are struggling to keep up and we all need so much more support and yet we continue to take the support for our young people away. Shame on us. When did we get so lost?
It is time we stopped, took stock, and went back to basics. It is time we looked at ourselves and asked what we are doing for our young people? It is time we looked for cause instead of looking at the symptom.