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Using Online Platforms to Reach Kids Who Need Help

If you can remember the advent of online social profiles and learning to use them, you probably belong to the millennial generation or an earlier generation. Those of us who learned to use technology as it was introduced are known as “digital immigrants,” as opposed to today’s youth, who were born into an online world and are known as “digital natives.”

Mental health issues

These digital natives never made the decision to establish an online footprint themselves; their parents created entire albums, pages and websites dedicated to documenting their lives from the moment they were born. So it’s no wonder that young people often trust Google and other online resources more than the adults in their lives, and are willing to reveal things behind the veil of anonymity. One such thing is the admittance of depression or anxiety, and feelings of doubt and loneliness.

These are all major topics of concern for today’s teenagers. As problems with bullying and drug addiction continue to increase, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among teens. On average, 1 in 5 teenagers has contemplated suicide, and suicide rates for U.S. middle school students have surpassed the rate of death by car crashes.

Seeking help online

Children and teens may turn to a community online to put words to their struggles. When they do, they may use slang phrases on forums like Reddit, Quora or Google — even accessing suicide instructions or penning suicide letters on school-owned devices — without ever overtly using these terms.

This is of particular concern for schools, who are tasked increasingly by state governments with screening for and delivering mental health services. That’s why many education technology companies have become more proactive in supporting mental health efforts in schools. Student safety once meant ensuring physically safe campuses. Today, that scope has become more complex and intertwined with digital citizenship issues.

Destigmatizing mental health while extending an early hand is where schools can have a substantial impact on students who may be looking for help. This is why it’s important for educators and children’s mental health professionals to meet kids where they are, speak their language, understand the platforms they are using and know that they may be more likely to trust the voices at the other end of the search engine than at the other end of the table.

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