Just saying … Ping. Ping. Ping. Are you there? Are you my real friend? Where R U? I was a girl in elementary school when the computer mainframes hit the schools and we had computer rooms. We started to learn how to program and print out pictures of animals and other stuff. At Stanford, we learned a computer program and spent nights in the computer building trying to code. Years later, coding is still part of school curriculum, but at a different level, with children learning HTML and CSS to create websites and apps.
With this evolution, newer generations which include many different age groups, are participating in the “ping, pings” from computers, smartphones, and tablets. The field of behavioral health is also going down this path and may begin to experience “upgraditis”, the need to upgrade to the latest and greatest information technology systems to support treatment and services.
What are the “ping, pings”? They are the alerts from “real” friends and family who are sending emails, texts, appointment reminders, and social media posts.
What do studies say about these types of friendships/relationships?
There are a lot of surveys that just give estimated numbers, but The Pew Research Institute has done several studies on technology that provide “sound” data.
For teens, we will focus on a 2015 Pew study. This study found that close to 60% of teens have met friends through social media, but only 20% have met an online friend in person. Thus, most online friends remain solely online. Interestingly, the 2015 data notes that about 65% of social media users feel that they have been supported by online friends through a challenging time.
But on the negative side:
88% of teen social media users believe people share too much information about themselves on social media.
53% of social media-using teens have seen people posting to social media about events to which they were not invited.
42% of social media-using teens have had someone post things on social media about them that they cannot change or control.
21% of teen social media users report feeling worse about their own life because of what they see from other friends on social media.
The questions today are about the use of a virtual world to develop friendships, relationships, etc., “Are you my real friend (s)?” or “Will I ever meet the person who is living in that virtual world?” or “Would you ever want to meet the person face-to-face?”
Authors Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane, speak to these questions in their book, Growing Up Social: raising relational kids in a screen-driven world (2014). They offer answers, and I firmly believe these same issues and answers can be applied to behavioral health clients. Can we utilize screens to help clients integrate back into communities when recovering from serious mental illness or substance use issues? Screens can be used as employment tools, but what about achieving satisfying functional relationships? Is a screen the correct tool for this? Will clients become isolated?
You want your adult child [client] to have all the skills necessary to succeed in relationships. The training necessary for growing up social isn’t found on a phone or tablet. There’s no app or video game than can replace interactions with other human beings. Social skills must be practiced in real-life …” (Chapman & Pellicane, 2014)
Or even yet, what about client safety? Will they fall victim to online predators? What if they experience cyberbullying?
Harassment of Adults
I assert that online you can say whatever you want and you don’t have to “see” the reaction. You can completely lie and not get called out. You can bully from a distance and not think it is really “a problem”… “Roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem.” (Pew Institute, 2017)
Is this why older adults are “staring at their devices”?
I had a church member tell me she had to learn how to use social media because she needed to “watch” her grandchildren’s use of social media so they would not fall prey to predators. Thus, many different ages and generations can be involved in the virtual world of relationships.
Behavioral Health Field
Advice to the behavioral health field: although the trend is to “stare” continuously into your current and updated device while surfing the internet, sending texts, and using social media, it would behoove behavioral health staff to help clients learn how to effectively use these devices to promote recovery and wellness. Behavioral health professionals can help clients understand the impact of cyberbullying and only having online friends. They can help parents understand how parenting might at times be undermined, as well as the importance of watching for online predatory behavior.
Although you may want behavioral health to join this new online world where “upgraditis” is an addiction … we must continue to offer these opportunities in such a way that we do not lose our goals of behavioral health treatment and services being … all about that hope.
Chapman, G. & Pellicane. (2014). Growing up social: raising relational kids in a screen-driven world. Northfield Publishing: Chicago, IL.