ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and experts say in today’s digital age parents need to be up to speed about their children’s online communication.
Messages as simple as Emoji’s children use could hold other meanings pointing to a child expressing negative feelings about something in life. Researchers found the more children express them online and it goes unnoticed, they’re less likely to seek help.
At 15 years old, D’Mya Shaw knows firsthand how essential social media is for work she does as a Youth Organizer for Teen Empowerment. With it comes more platforms for cyber bullying that target young people mentally.
“People will say negative things on social media more because they know no one can find them or they can hide behind a fake account,” Shaw said. “Or some people will post false realities and make it seem like their lives are so great when they’re really going through a lot and that can make other people feel like they’re not enough.”
Last year, Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan and her colleagues at Bark Technologies researched activity from more than 6.7 million online accounts from children. Using artificial intelligence to analyze their communication, they found the more teenagers express negative thoughts online, the platforms’ algorithms automatically feed them exposed to more bad content.
“Algorithms that pull children into deep dark rabbit holes which are not good for them because the platforms goal is to keep them in the app,” Jordan said.
In 2020, the National Institute of Mental Health and CDC found suicide was the second leading cause of death for those 10 to 14, and third for deaths of 15- to 24-year olds. Jordan urges parents to be on the lookout for sudden changes in their child’s behavior and monitor if they post angry messages or negative pictures including Emoji’s.
“The uses for Emoji’s are endless when it comes to dual or triple meanings, but you really need to look deeper at the context, not just the content of your children’s communications,” Jordan said. “One unique emoji is a blue face with ice coming down from the teeth, that can be used in response to a snarky or savage comment.”
Since joining Teen Empowerment, Shaw feels her mental health is stronger thanks to their projects promoting positive change. She believes as dependence grows online to spread their messages, the tech companies should do more in protecting users.
“I definitely feel like it’s on the social media companies because they have ways where they can go out and filter out negative words or videos,” Shaw said.
During their research, Bark Technologies says they flagged Discord, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, and Facebook as the top five apps where kids and teenagers posted about being depressed.
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