Mental health and online safety

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A rock climber climbing a cliff. Their safety line has big red scissors about to cut the line.
Your safety is not worth the likes. OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay and Mohamed_hassan via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

It’s not just mindless scrolling – pay attention to what you consume 

Staying safe online when so much of our personal and work-related information is available on the internet can be challenging. Social media can be a fantastic outlet to share exciting, alarming, and otherwise important information with friends, distant family, and community members. 

However, because of the different ways a person can share news and the fact that anything posted has the potential to forever be on the web, it is doubly important to be cautious of the content you post and consume.  

Consent goes beyond sex talks and non-disclosure agreements, and is often an invisible part of everyday life. For instance, asking a friend if they are okay with being in a photo you are taking is asking for consent. Getting someone’s consent can be as simple as hearing them say, “Yes,” but remember that consent is contextual, and the person giving it has to understand what they are agreeing to.  

So, if someone says yes to having their photo taken but you intend to post it, make sure they know that. Ensure their “Yes” is followed by, “I am okay with this being posted and available to anyone online.” Depending on how well you know a person, judge whether they understand what you are asking. Also, consider whether you know them well enough to take any nonverbal consent seriously. 

Online safety is not guaranteed by consent, but part of being safe is being responsible in what you post online. As for how old someone has to be to consent, consider this: generally, to make an account with a social media platform, you must be 13 or older.  

On another note, anyone under the age of majority cannot give consent on legal documents and must have the consent of their parent or guardian instead. Think of how a school sends home consent forms to include a student in any post where they would be identifiable. 

Of course, the content being posted should be considered as well. What might seem harmless to you could be something that others will misuse, with or without your knowledge or consent. Putting something online for others to see will most often get you the response you are looking for, but unless you set your account and posts to private, what is uploaded to social media is up for public interpretation.  

People of all sorts use social media and the internet, and no one wants to feel exploited or used inappropriately. Online exposure can be a way to “get yourself out there” by showing off hard-earned skills, but too much exposure can be dangerous. Like in real life, some things can be kept offline and out of the public eye, if only for the poster’s personal safety and peace of mind.  

It is always recommended to keep personal information off public profiles. If you need to post your location when going on a trip or vacation so your followers know just where that awesome view is located, do so after the fact. Although the perceived risk may be low, it will never be zero. So, think before you post.  

Nemours Teens Health recommends keeping your full name, current location, home or school addresses, phone numbers, Social Security Number, passwords, family members’ names, and credit card information private. It also recommends keeping photos private, including those of pets.  

Although this information is aimed at identifying suspicious websites, it is not a bad idea to apply it to social media. However, if you want to have public social media accounts, do your best to keep identifying information and sensitive information offline. 

Another part of being safe is controlling what you expose yourself to online. Children are becoming increasingly exposed to the internet, and while we cannot control what others post, we can control – to some extent – what we see.  

Parental controls and locks can limit a child’s access to websites and applications. Doing so can prevent children from being exposed to unwanted content through search engine filters and media blocks within apps that have been reviewed and flagged for certain ages. 

Depending on what use you want out of your electronics and your budget, investing in specialized electronics could be worth the price. For instance, e-readers like the Kindle do not have messaging online capabilities outside their intended purpose: reading. Kindles come in two sizes, one for adults and another for children, and the children’s version does not have advertisements.  

So, investing in a device like this might be worth the peace of mind. Children can read on the go, and advertisements or questionable websites won’t tempt them if they stumble across them.  

For those who are children only at heart, protecting your peace might mean regulating what you search for within search engines like Google and social media applications. Algorithms are responsible for what you see when scrolling. What you search helps specialize the ads you see on social media.  

Besides this, the media we consume has a real impact on our overall well-being. Most people have a natural urge to fit in and conform, as humans are social beings. This is part of why the online behaviour we see can impact us.  

It can have disturbing impacts on our mental health and influence our behaviour depending on how much violent media we consume and in what emotional state we consume it. When you are in a poor mood, you react differently to upsetting material.  

Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment evaluated observational learning in children. In this experiment, groups of children would be exposed to an adult modelling violent or non-violent behaviour toward the Bobo Doll.  The children exposed to violent behaviour recreated what they saw when interacting with the doll.  

This experiment might be a lesson in limiting and regulating what we entertain ourselves with. Although high-risk behaviours we see online might be exciting and tempting to try to recreate ourselves, understand that what we see influences how we act. See risky behaviour, and you might find yourself engaging in risky behaviour… or harming your mental health.  

Justin Thomas, a chartered health psychologist with the British Psychological Society, wrote an opinion piece for The National on how media we consume can cause “lasting, real-life trauma.” He wrote, “We can develop PTSD symptoms after observing a traumatic event happening to someone else,” known as vicarious trauma.  

Vicarious trauma occurs when someone is repeatedly exposed to violent or distressing images, videos, and content, online or from someone else in real life. This is how therapists, first responders, healthcare workers, and social service workers can become traumatized from working closely with survivors of traumatic events. Self-care is an important part of these jobs, but everyone can use self-care to stay healthy online.  

Take the time to decide what content you can handle, and avoid what you feel you cannot. 

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