If I were to scroll through my Facebook feed right now, it would not take long before that familiar anxiety and overwhelming sense of helplessness would come creeping back. I say that because I am all too familiar with recent news events, that in and of themselves are anxiety provoking for me, but amplified in Facebook, they become even more traumatic. Case in point, the wildfires raging out of control in Australia. Since I follow multiple news agencies on Facebook, I have been bombarded over the past few weeks with articles covering all aspects of the fires. While the debate rages on as to the effect climate change has had on this disaster, lives are being lost, people are being displaced, millions of acres of land has been ravaged, and in some estimates, a billion animals have been killed, pushing some species to the edge of extinction. My heart has broken a thousand times over the past few weeks as pictures of kangaroos trying to outrun the flames, partially burned Koala bears, and weary firefighters have flooded my newsfeed. In some cases, it is the same picture, over and over again.
While Facebook and other social media platforms quickly became popular ways to keep in touch with family and friends, they soon morphed into a major source for the way that we get our news and information. Now, mixed in with updates from your “friends” you’ll find all sorts of other information, such as sports and entertainment news, recipes, parenting advice, etc. Since I am a news junkie who is always on the go, I get much of my news from Facebook. While social media platforms have increased our access to real time information regarding world events, I would also argue that they play a role in increasing our anxiety, and in some events, the trauma that we may sometimes feel in response to them. To use my own example, every time I see a picture of an animal escaping the flames, it reignites in me the feeling of brokenness I feel for the destruction that is happening all over our planet due to climate change.
As an adult, I find it difficult to digest all that I see on social media, but I am learning how to walk away when it gets to be too much. I worry more about the resilience of our children growing up in a world driven by the number of “likes” the picture they post or the comment they make gets. My own daughter began asking me around the age of six how many likes her picture received when I posted it to Facebook. Under a certain number and she would look hurt, her ego already being trained to evaluate her value and sense of self by the number of “likes’ she received. She is eleven now, and although she has been pressured by friends to open a social media account, I have told her no. I have talked to her extensively about social media and the responsibilities that come with having an account and have tried to prepare her for a cyber world that is often cruel and unrelenting.
However, like so many aspects of parenting, it takes a village. .That’s why I am so excited that the leadership of my church, Coral Gables United Church of Christ, is responding to the concerns of so many parents by hosting a viewing of Screenagers: Next Chapter. This important documentary teaches parents how to help their teens build the necessary skills for navigating the digital world with resilience. This includes learning how to develop skills for handling the stress and anxiety that often come with increased screen time. My church has a history of being on the forefront of issues pertaining to mental health and recognizes the importance of addressing the impacts of increased social media and internet exposure on our children. It is just one of the ways that we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to be a church that is Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with regards to all aspects of mental health challenges.
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.