Student Life

Is Facebook a source of your student’s stress?

College freshmen students’ emotional health is declining, according to a recent survey by the Higher Education Research Institute. More than 200,000 students from 300 colleges compared their own emotional well-being with that of their classmates, and only 52 percent rated themselves highly, down from 70 percent 25 years ago.

While there’s no arguing that college freshmen experience high levels of stress, social networking sites could be exacerbating the problem. They may be affecting students’ perceptions of themselves and others, which would help explain the disheartening survey results. A different survey conducted by Stanford University (PDF) found that the college students often thought they were more alone in their emotional difficulties than they really were. Because students communicate and mold their virtual image through status updates on sites like Facebook and Twitter, these sites contribute to this phenomena.

If your student falls into the category of average or below-average emotional health, share with him/her the following survey findings:

The grass is always greener: People consistently underestimate how often other people have negative emotions, while overestimating how often they have positive ones.

Put on a happy face: Reporting on positive and negative experiences, students concealed negative emotions or experiences 40 % of the time and kept them to themselves.

Dishonesty breeds discontentment: The more people suppressed negative emotions and put on the façade that they didn’t have them, the more isolated and depressed their peers felt, believing the façade. Also, as they perceived positive emotional experiences for their peers, their own life satisfaction decreased. As parents, you can’t shield your students from stress or unhappiness or even protect them from the deceit of social networking sites. But you can remind your students of the following during tough times:

  • They’re not alone. Everyone gets lonely, depressed or anxious at times.
  • It’s good to talk about it. Finding a trusted group of friends will remind your student that he/she isn’t alone.
  • Comparisons make things worse. By comparing himself/herself to others, your student will invite in feelings of insecurity, envy, superiority, isolation and/or loneliness.
  • Take Facebook with a grain of salt. People can tailor their online presence perfectly using edited pictures, deliberate status updates or tweets and carefully planned profiles. That isn’t real life; it’s just a created image.
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