There are some truly great benefits of the Internet. It allows us to share ideas and communicate with people all over the world in a matter of seconds. If something big happens in Australia, we can hear about it in the U.S. as it’s happening. However, the Internet is a frontier, and there is a lot that we have to learn, particularly when it comes to how the Internet can affect mental health.
Social media networks are designed to make it easier for people to communicate with each other. You can be at work or in line at the grocery store and see what your friends and family are up to from your phone. You can see that your sister is having a bad day and offer some words of encouragement, or see that your neighbor is enjoying their vacation and give them a little thumbs up to let them know that you “like” what they’re doing. Social media allows you to engage in multiple social interactions in a matter of minutes, or even seconds.
While social media is intended to promote social behavior, it can sometimes leave people feeling neglected or lonely. Suppose your friend gets hundreds of likes and acknowledgements for the picture they took of their run-of-the-mill grilled cheese sandwich, while the photo you took of your expertly crafted boeuf bourguignon goes by unnoticed. It’s conceivable that you might feel a little down. You might even think that a lack of engagement means that people don’t like you.
Cyberbullying is another way in which the Internet can affect mental health. An NPR report explains just how serious cyberbullying can be. “In the past, when kids had issues in school, even on the way to or from school, there was a breakdown period of maybe 10 to 12 hours where you could kind of be left alone. Now it is 24 hours, seven days a week. It is constant bombardment.”
Mental health and the Internet is a relatively new topic. The possible effects that social media and cyberbullying can have on a person’s mental health are still being learned and discovered. As the Internet continues to become an integral part of out daily lives and our level of connectivity continues to climb, it becomes increasingly important to understand how interactions through the Internet can affect us.
In the short term, it’s important to pay attention to your kids’ use of the internet for socializing, and to watch for any signs of cyber-bullying. It’s also important that you monitor your own use of social media to make sure that it’s a positive rather than a negative element in your own life.