Child Mental Health Week: How Communication Skills can Help Young People in the Internet Age

It’s Child Mental Health Week here in the UK, and the question of social media & the internet’s impact on young minds has been raised, particularly how they manage their interactions with peers. Young people are testing themselves against everything they see and hear online and it’s not surprising that this can have an overwhelming effect. 

It’s difficult for those of us who were brought up before the internet to imagine how much more complicated childhood and adolescence must be in the age of social media.  For my part, I still struggle to express myself clearly online, and frequently get frustrated at what I read, and I’m a relatively robust 36-year-old! 

Could communication skills tuition in schools help kids to adjust to the pressures of the information age? 

Definitely.

When I was a young teen, I experienced bullying at the hands of some of my closest (former) friends for several months. Totally isolated, I was sure I was just unlikeable. I felt weak and exposed, not just when I was being targeted, but all the time. 

It finally came to an end when I called the main culprit on my family’s telephone (the one attached to the wall in the hallway of my house) and tearfully told him, in the only words I could find, that the way he and the others were treating me was hurting me, badly.  

He was shocked.  He had no idea of the impact of his behaviour.  He apologised profusely and explained that he was only doing what he did to get back at me for turning away from the group. 

Hearing the truth of his explanation, I was able to forgive him, and it was the beginning of a reconciliation that lasted to this day. We are still very close friends.  

I called my friend on the telephone because there was no other way to arrange a heart to heart. Would and could such a confrontation, and reconciliation, be achieved in the age of social media? 

My friend was remorseful because he could hear the truth of my pain in my voice, and because he had no audience to save face in front of.  I forgave him because I could hear the truth of his shock and remorse in his voice. None of these things are true of most social media interactions. 

The written word is, unfortunately, an extremely difficult medium in which to express human feeling, subtext or emotional context. Only the greatest writers can do it, and most of us are not that! 

The historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has said: ‘In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power’.  One of the great tools we as a society are learning to use to achieve clarity is Mindfulness. It’s fantastic that the authorities are rolling out Mindfulness tuition in Britain’s schools. 

Mindfulness is a deeply rewarding practice, enabling focus and a calmer approach to decision-making. It helps us to process information that we receive online and in our lives in a less impulsive way, and be more deliberate in our decision-making. 

As mindfulness cultivates self-awareness and self-possession, interactive communication skills enable people to be active, confident and fully expressed in our relationships, to filter out meaning from the “deluge of information” we encounter in our personal and online interactions.  

My experience as a teenager, as an actor and as a coach, tells me that just a little of this kind of training would support children immeasurably as they learn to manage their lives, both in person and online.

Imagine if your student or child were able to calmly and coherently express their deepest feelings to their peers, confident in their ability to make themselves understood. Imagine if they were able to listen deeply to others, to identify the intentions behind what is said to them or about them in the playground, in the classroom, on WhatsApp, on Instagram. Imagine if they were fully conscious of the power of their words to change others, of their voices to move and influence people, and how to interpret the true meaning of what they hear and see. 

Would that help?

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