Expressing Emotions Online, How Do We Help?
So what happens when we see something about a child in conflict online?
In between the Facebook posts about what people are eating for dinner, Rob Gronkowski's ankle and requests for a reliable plumber, you might see a post that indicates a child is in some sort of pain.
It might say something vague like, "You shouldn't hurt the ones you love." Maybe an outpouring of support will pique your curiousity. You might see posts that say, "We're with you" or "Be strong."
These are obviously kids in some sort of confict, but there is usually not enough information to know the exact problem. Is it the heart? Maybe a breakup of a young romance? It might be minor. I once saw an adult express a vague but deep sadness on Facebook, prompting people to think his elderly parent had died, but he was only upset about the Patriots losing a game.
This is a strange time in the world. Young people, and some not so young, turn to their social media and announce their emotions to world. Things that might be somewhat private are hinted at enough to sound an alarm.
People use social media to vent anger at unfair situations, bad restaurant service and their parents and friends.
It can be a powerful tool. This past week, we saw an outpouring of anger against the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In just hours, so many people were able to express anger, organize fund-raising, mobilize action and get results. The depth of the damage remains to be seen.
So what happens when we see something about a child in conflict online? Is this child in real pain or is this just a little spat with a parent, a boyfriend that will be over in an hour?
Sometimes, it is clearly real. Maybe the parents are divorcing. Maybe someone in the family is ill. Sometimes it is an injury or sickness to a family member. And should we, the creeping parent, respond? Is this different than if a child had come to you and said the same thing that they wrote on their wall? In that case, it would not be ignored. We would sit and talk with the young author of these emotional phrases and try to help. But in cyberspace, we are not the intended audience. Part of me thinks these are incredible breaches of privacy. I almost feel nosy reading something even though it was put out into a vast social network. Should we tell our kids to keep their emotions off line?
I don't know. We don't want too much drama or oversharing. However, putting emotions out there allows friends to reach out and support one another. It gives adults knowledge of a situation that might have otherwise been handled in a bedroom with the door closed for hours.
I just hope this generation learns to go beyond the "we're there for you" online and recognize when a phone call or visit is what's really needed.