A Virtual World
When considering what topic would be fitting to start my blogging experience, never would I have guessed video games would sprint to the top of my list. Gaming by itself, isn't what has peaked my interest, but the modern use of technology and the language found within. Gaming and social media are only a few modern examples of how students receive content that shapes identities. News is a constant fixture in many households, but it's typically not positive news that's shared. One melded example of popular culture in the news was evident by the recent publicized deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. News of their untimely deaths demonstrates that no one is immune to mental health challenges: Hurting can indeed be silent.
The unequivocal exposure, both positive and negative means students will inevitably hear about, and internalize devastating events just as adults do. This is a pivotal time for mental health and school practitioners to take notice and act; the CDC has noted a rise in suicide according to a 2017 report. One recently published study found that suicidal ideation, attempts, and completions in youth are highest during the school year.
How do we, as professionals, provide a safe space for students to explore feelings and reactions about suicide without feeding into this cultural fascination that's propagated among America's youth evident by terminology used, games played, and shows watched.
One of my first weeks on the job I was faced with an investigation into what 'KYS' is and means. After a quick Google search, and some research, I learned 'KYS' stands for, 'kill yourself.' The slight variation of this acronym is 'KMS,' meaning, 'kill myself.' This is lingo that's commonly used in chatrooms, especially in the online gaming world.
After attempting to explore this 'KYS' culture, and realizing there is little research on the topic, I decided to hold an optional discussion group with my middle school students. The room was polarized in beliefs and understanding. Some students had never heard of 'KYS,' while other students spoke out in honest outrage that such language would be communicated to another human being. The most professionally and personally challenging group of students were those who insisted that telling another person whether you know them, or not, to kill themselves is a perfectly acceptable; if not, a called-for statement.
This juxtaposition of values, morals and beliefs leads me to consider if the art and power of language and action is being lost in the veil of cyberspace. It would seem consequences feel less real when living online.
Do we, as the messy guides that help children along in development, perhaps contribute to this idea that, 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.' We must teach that words and language matter both in and out of the classroom. Words, in any form have the potential to be powerful.
A cultural climate in which bullying takes place is one that needs attention. If adolescents feel comfortable and entitled to dictate a wish of life or death upon another peer, or oneself, it should be read as a cry for help. Indeed, it would seem some of the gaming industry is working to end this side effect of virtual worlds.
Part of my School's response included: Facilitating our first screen free week, Revisiting our tech policies on campus, Bringing this dangerous use of technology to light As an organization we have the knowledge and ability to act as mentors: It's not a matter of dictating right vs. wrong; it's a matter of conversing with those who don't understand and teaching those students how to become more empathetic individuals.
"Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right"