Listen: Dr Hayley Watson from Open Parachute chats to Laura Bennett
Social media is a complex beast.
On the one hand it’s a comparison trap and can really diminish our mental wellbeing, but on its best days, it offers a way to connect with friends and family from whom we’d otherwise be isolated.
During the COVID crisis – where social distancing can wreak havoc on our mental health – new data from Snap Inc. shows young people are turning to social media platforms in droves to maintain digital friendships.
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Dr. Hayley Watson, Adolescent Clinical Psychologist and CEO of youth mental health program Open Parachute, says while we need to monitor our teens’ social media use, in this time it’s proving to be invaluable.
“Using [social media] platforms to reach out and connect to people and form small virtual networks is really valuable,” said Hayley, “because they mirror what we’d experience in real life.”
According to Snap Inc., 66 per cent of Snap Chat users had been using the platform to stay connected to loved ones, with the majority saying the pandemic had increased their concern for their family and friends.
Developing Resilience in Young People
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While young people have their own concerns for others, Dr. Hayley says they’ll also be experiencing their own emotional challenges, and can start learning the skills to overcome them now.
“What teenagers feel whenever they go through something hard,” said Hayley, “is that they’re the only one who’s ever felt this way and there must be something wrong with them. The first skill they can learn is to recognize that what’s going on with me is not bad, or wrong or strange – it’s ok and it’s normal. That sounds simple, but it’s a real mental skill to shift ourselves away from that isolating mindset.
“The first skill teens can learn is to recognise that what they’re feeling is not bad, or wrong or strange – it’s ok and it’s normal.”
“The next skill, is [working out] how we actually embrace those feelings rather than running from them. We can learn to sit with our feelings and say, ‘I’m feeling ashamed about that, why is that? How can I acknowledge those feelings and learn from them?’ That’s the skill that gets kids though anything – that’s resilience.”
Despite the limitations of lockdown, finding ways for teens to maintain peer-to-peer connection is something Hayley sees as a priority.
Tips for Helping Young People Cope
“When we experience trauma,” Hayley said, “which is what were all in right now [with] this crisis, there’s uncertainty, there’s all sort so of things happening, and we’re cut off from our social support networks; which is huge for young people… because they’re at that age where they really relate to their peers.
“What that will do is trigger any earlier traumas that they’ve experienced. So that means if they had anything happen when they were younger, or they had symptoms of anxiety or depression before – or any number of other stessors – that same reaction will be triggered again and it will get more intense.\
“The internal process is all about connect to your feelings and naming them… asking, ‘What am I feeling, what am I thinking, and how am I reacting?’ That self-awareness helps us see what’s going on, to accept it, and realise we’re not alone in those feelings.”
“That, combined with the fact that all of their normal coping strategies are not there anymore, is sort of the perfect storm.”
To help young people cope Hayley suggests they become aware of both their internal and external responses.
1 – Become Aware of Your Thoughts and Emotions
“The internal process is all about connect to your feelings and naming them, whether through a journaling practice, or drawing. It’s about asking, ‘What am I feeling, what am I thinking, and how am I reacting?’ That self-awareness helps us see what’s going on, to accept it, and realise we’re not alone in those feelings.”
2 – Notice Your Behaviours and Habits
“This is where we ask how we can relate to other people – because we’re not connected to our normal social support groups… Using social media platforms where we can directly contact people – not mindlessly scrolling or gathering content, but using those platforms to share how we’re really feeling, and how we’re going to change that – is helpful. It’s a great way to hold each other accountable because we can’t [do the tough stuff] alone.”