Words of Wisdom (since I don’t seem to have any)

This article in the New York Timesby Dr. Perri Klass offers a great perspective on youth online that I fail to have these days. Gems from this article, “Seeing Social Media More as a Portal Than as Pitfall”:

  1. Let’s stop talking in a “danger paradigm” about the internet. I like how Klass makes an off-hand remark about equating being online with driving. I could really go with this comparison: Sure, both can be really dangerous. Or just mundane. Yet necessary. So, you figure out how to drive responsibly, carefully, and intelligently. But there are tons of others on the highway (be it made of pavement or the “super information” kind), and not all are as savvy or as well-intentioned as you. Some are even really nice (especially here in over-polite Oregon). But, really, most are inconsequential.
  2. The internet can actually be used to reach out and help others. The article mentions how Residential Advisors can monitor first year students as they navigate college and being away from home, perhaps for the first time. In my own work, I know how wonderful websites such as ReachOut, Youth MOVE, and MindYourMind can support young people through challenging times. They offer personal stories, resources, and a chance for people to realize they are not alone, no matter what they are experiencing.
  3. Pay attention to youth voice! They are the ones who can tell us what’s really going on, and what we should worry about.

Now, can anyone tell me how to shake this writer’s block?

Cyber self-harm?

This recent post by internet relationship extraordinaire danah boyd has attracted a lot of attention — and with good reason. There has been extensive media coverage on cyberbulling these days; just a quick search on google news brought me stories from Montana, New York, and even Spain posted in just the last few hours. But what boyd and online quiz builder Formspring have uncovered (or at least made public) is something alarming, but perhaps not that surprising:

There are teens out there that bullying themselves online.

boyd as dubbed this “digital self-harm” but comments from readers criticize this term because physical self-harm is often motivated by the relief that follows after experiencing actual pain, clearly not happening online. But, no matter the term used, people are starting to come up with motivations/rationales as to why such behavior would occur. boyd’s reasons from her article include a cry for help, to be cool, and to trigger compliments. Anne Collier, in her most recent issue of Net Family News appears to support the “cry for help” theory more strongly than the others.

However, to me, this behavior is somewhat parallel to some of the behaviors found in some persons who deal with borderline personality disorder, or some other personality disorder. These conditions affect approximately 2% of US adults, typically young women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Such mental health conditions are characterized by unstable, volatile social relationships, and impulsiveness. My Mayo Clinic introduces personality disorders with this explanation:

“A personality disorder is a type of mental illness in which you have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people — including yourself.”

To me, there is a lot of commonality between someone with personality disorder and someone who would post negative comments about herself and await either verification or contradiction.

Now, I am not saying that all persons who engage in “digital self harm” have personality disorder, or any mental health diagnosis for that matter. But, what I do want to bring to light is that this phenomenon might not be the representation of something new, but instead a new way for someone with a certain mental health issue to express herself. Why the need to differentiate? Because it may shape the way we approach this problem (and I do see it as a problem, no matter its cause) and its solutions.

Whatever comes of this issue, you can be sure that this might be the first, but it certainly is not the last, time we will come across this.