“I think that [social media] is the way that students communicate. They’d rather send a text or a tweet or put up a Facebook post than call someone on their phone. And it’s a way for them to reach out to family, too, without going to their door or calling their family up on the phone. I think that’s how students communicate, and it definitely is helpful for them.” (School Social Worker)
This module addresses unique roles social media may play in supporting children who are grieving. It outlines both the challenges and opportunities that characterize this channel of communication. Many of the qualities of social media that cause concern can also be viewed as potential strengths for children. These approaches afford new and different means to provide information and support, and there are good reasons young people choose to communicate in this way.
When teens, and even younger children, experience the death of someone close, most will share information through texting and social media. Education professionals can take steps to support grieving students in these interactions, both to prevent harm and to promote positive connections with others.
Some of the benefits of social media for grieving children:
- It’s familiar. Young people communicate in these ways about all kinds of life events.
- It offers control. Students can decide when to read a message or post. They can respond when they feel composed and ready.
- Others may share more openly. Classmates may share personal responses they might not share as freely in an in-person setting.
Some of the challenges:
- Face-to-face time with supportive peers and adults is also important. Social media interactions are most helpful when balanced with real-world contacts.
- Some communications may be hurtful or inappropriate. Some responders might be insensitive, thoughtless, or even cruel.
Support from education professionals:
- Talk with grieving students about their social media interactions. Ask directly (“Have you posted about your loss? How did that go?”).
- Acknowledge that sometimes these interactions are helpful, and sometimes they can be hurtful or troublesome. Ask about experiences the student has had.
- Offer support and help problem-solve if needed. This might include tech support (blocking a negative poster), referral to counseling, or even disciplinary action against an offender.