A brief WBUR segment includes a critically important insight about increases in youth suicide. Speaking about factors contributing to the problem:
[Emory University psychologist Nadine] KASLOW: When there’s abuse in the home, that can be a factor that really impacts children.
[Interviewer Rhitu] CHATTERJEE: As is substance abuse, she says, and the fact that most kids nowadays are growing up in communities that are not tightknit. Strong community ties provide a source of social support, a key protective factor against suicide.
KASLOW: Even if you feel down or badly about yourself or hopeless and helpless, that you feel loved and cared for and protected.
Note that this isn’t just love and care from a family, but from a community. This is where social media may plug in. Any meanness in the community is always there. Every time the phone pings or shows that some app or other has unread messages, it could be another sneer, and anxiety goes up. Kids can’t get away from it because they bring it with them all the time, on the phone. At the same time, not having a phone is a path to exclusion, while knowing that the aggression is still out there, unseen.
The inability to escape manifests in another way, too. Even a relatively small community will have sub-communities into which one can escape. Once upon a time, the kids in math class might not have known what the bullies on the sports team were saying, and neighborhood kids who went to different schools would have no connection to any of it. The families at the church gathering would have been another group, and coworkers at the part-time job came from yet another alcove.
Now social media finds those connections, and it isn’t implausible that everybody in a kid’s life has heard some whisper of a rumor.
A couple of weeks ago, I was helping out at a bingo event in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and somebody mentioned having seen me in the newspaper in connection with the recall in Tiverton. By the time an adult gets to the point of being read about across the region in newspapers, he or she should (one hopes) have a pretty thick skin and a support system.
But just as blogging and social media have flattened and spread out access to audiences, they have also flattened and spread out the reach of whispers, and that’s a lot for kids to handle.