Social Media and Mental Health

Last week, we had the pleasure of having Mary Beth Hertz discuss digital citizenship and media literacy with our class.  What a wealth of knowledge she has!!  I was left feeling awed and also completely incompetent as someone who thinks of themself as i-dont-know-2e2ed5“tech literate.”  Boy, do I have a lot to learn!! Mary Beth brought up so many ideas I never really thought about as an online user and as a teacher.

I have always encouraged my students to be smart on social media, and we always discuss the media world but after listening to Mary Beth, I know I can do a better job.  One of the ideas that really stood out to me and made me think more critically was the ideas of online and offline identities and the blurred line in between – they are the same thing now.  I think the online world is a great place for people to explore their identity and find other people with the same interests and ideologies as themselves, especially in this giant world.  For some small town kids in Moose Jaw, SK, the world can feel pretty small.  Having an online identity can allow teens to explore beyond the confines of our small city and make connections with real people across the globe.  I love the idea that some of my students can be completely different people in the online world, whether it be a persona or finding a group of people they really connect with when they lack those connections elsewhere.  The thing that stands in the way is that they need to be smart and educated about how to interact with people online, and how to protect themselves. I know when I was a teen, I was on MSN Messenger 24/7 and often ended up online playing games or on platforms like Whyville.  I was so vulnerable and my parents had no idea what I was doing, and realistically, neither did I.  We lied about our age all the time to get on chat rooms, or access different parts of a website that were 13+.  Looking back, I was probably dumb more than a couple of times, but the consequences were quite less than they are today.  Teens think they know everything about the online world, and in most cases, they definitely know a lot, but the difficult part is making them listen.

raise your hand

Raise your hand if you’ve felt personally victimized by a teen eye roll?

If looks could kill, am I right?  We discussed a lot about cookies and tracking as well in our class and I couldn’t help but think of ways to make my students listen to this!  I care for these kids so much, and all I want is the best for them.  I don’t want them to fall for some crazy scheme, be catfished, stalked, or tracked by any hooligan online.  Nor do I want my students to feel bullied, or worthless just because some model on instagram can pay for high quality photoshop or hire someone to follow her around snapping pictures.  Mental health is a huge issue for teens, and I agree with Mary Beth when she said social media is a huge influencer of this.  In fact, there is an actual list of the top 5 worst social media apps for mental health — instagram being at the top of this list.  I feel for children growing up in this era, as it must be difficult to see so many people online “living the dream” when the reality is so much different.  As we discussed in class, things aren’t always what they seem, and FOMO although feels real, is not all there is to life.  It is so important to teach students about these ideas and concepts, and also allow them to know it’s okay to feel a certain way, but compartmentalize it, and go back to the real world.  You live there, not online.

Most of my students feel like they get preached at for being safe online.  They “already know” or “learned this already.”  In my grade 12 ELA classes, we discuss media and the messages out there.  This semester, I asked them to pay attention to the advertisements they saw online for one day and find one to bring to class.  We then analyzed it using Aristotle’s Appeals.

Aristotle’s Appeals

I made them dissect these advertisements and we talked about why they are great ads, or why they are fake, why they call to the person, and what they really want.  Of course, lots of people have done this in classes, but I think the trick to getting students to buy in is to get them involved.  I cannot lecture them about how to be safe online (let’s face it, I’m young — but not THAT young), instead I have to involve them in the practices and let them discover WHY they need to be safer online.  We need to talk about the dangers and the facts together, and hopefully through these experiences, they learn why it’s important to fact check, why it’s important not to send that picture, and think about why it’s important they protect their digital identity.

Until next time,


7 thoughts on “Social Media and Mental Health

  1. Thanks for the great read. I agree with your assessment with how vulnerable youth are to social media and online advertising. I would also argue that many adults are just as vulnerable. Many ads are targeted in such a way to appeal the some of the most vulnerable and gullible of our society. If I were to help every foreign prince who needs my bank account number to transfer me millions, I could have a full time job. How many people fall prey to such scams that have migrated to the online world? We must be persistant at all ages and that is why we as teachers are so crucial in establishing those habits of self reflection and critical thinking. If we are successful early on, we will have done much to help our students. Keep up the good fight and thanks for the analysis. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Daniel and you are absolutely right! I know adults that have fallen for those scams, and honestly some of them can be very convincing. It’s scary! I think you are right, we need to start early and hope it makes a difference for future generations.


  2. Shelby,
    It makes me feel VERY comforted to know that you had similar feelings after our class with Mary Beth. As I wrote about in my blog I was interested, inspired, and also extremely intimidated. Like Daniel said I feel like I am relatively conscious and thoughtful online person when it comes to my public posting or promoting – but I have no idea how vulnerable my data and personal information truly is. It makes me feel like I have so much more to learn in regards to this considering my connected identity is not something I have carried with me my whole life – as we know our students will.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dean Vendramin

    Great point on ‘making them listen’ … not sure if you can make them but if you include them in a discussion and let them come from different entry points it is possible to at least reach out to a few. Looking at ads using Aristotle’s Appeals was/is a great idea to get the conversation started. Very cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shelby, I love the Aristotle’s Appeal approach to analyzing an advertisement. I won’t lie that not every kid is going to be super excited about online tracking, but when you frame it in their own experiences (that pair of shoes that seems to follow you around the Internet), or use media that reflects their experiences, their natural curiosity mixed with a little teenage angst that someone else is in control can help. No one wants to be tricked or feel dumb, so I find that, while the work is hard, they are interested in knowing whether the stuff they are seeing online is real/opinionated/accurate.

    The other hard part is that there is no black and white. Kids (and adults) just want “The Answer”–can I trust this. The answer always ranges from most likely to definitely not, but there really is no yes or no. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection! We all have a lot to learn as new information comes out constantly about how companies are (mis)using our data.


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