A few weeks ago, a scary NPR article was all over my social media. Because my community was reposting, sharing, and conversing about it, the article kept rising to the top of my news feed. I couldn’t get away from it no matter how hard I tried. But the title did me in: A Rise In Depression Among Teens And Young Adults Could Be Linked To Social Media Use. And I decided that burying my head in the sand was not a solution.

So, my two lovely kids nestled safely in their beds (sans devices), I grabbed a glass of wine and started in. I read the article from top to bottom and then poured myself a second glass of wine.

They found the rate of individuals reporting symptoms consistent with major depression over the past year increased 52 percent in teens and 63 percent in young adults over a decade. Girls were more vulnerable than boys. By 2017 one out of every five teenage girls had experienced major depression in the last year.

Is social media really to blame? Is cyberbullying as prolific as people are making it out to be or is it just the latest trend being over dramatized by our 24-hour news cycle? I don’t know for sure but the experts make a compelling argument. You can read the article and see for yourself. Regardless of the reason for this high influx in depression and self-harm, my big takeaway was the advice that the college students wanted to pass along to younger students: “Phones off. Friends on!”

I agree with the college students’ simplistic view of problem-solving, but I think we can’t ignore that devices are in the hands of nearly every teen. The elephant is bombarding it’s way in to the room and we can’t ignore it. Turning devices off won’t change the fact that they are running apps that never sleep and when we reconnect, we’ll be inundated with the posts that have been accruing in our absence. This is a particularly sensitive issue for teens and tweens whose temporary absence from social media can impart social segregation or a feeling of isolation.

So let’s deal with that obtrusive elephant. Since we can’t get rid of it, I propose we deal with it by bringing back an old solution. This is one that I didn’t invent, but one that needs to resurface in the world (and particularly in our schools). Let’s flip the script on social media and instead of using it to perpetuate bullying, let’s use it for good!

About 5 years ago, I came across my first “Compliments” page after reading this Mashable article. These compliment pages began popping up all over Facebook and Twitter. The premiss of these pages was simple. A moderator would organize a page and people would direct message the moderator with compliments for others in their community. It was amazing to be in school environments where students took the initiative to create this buzz.

As I look around social media now, things look different. I’m not sure if it’s because the moderators graduated and didn’t pass the baton, so to speak. Or maybe students just became more blasé about the activity. Maybe the demise of these compliment pages can be attributed to our self-absorbed selfie culture (thanks Kardashians) as “influencers” took over social media. I don’t know why the’ve vanished and I can’t seem to track down an originator to find any different answers. But alas, I will not give up hope!

So I Googled and came across the next iterations of this idea. One link led me to Rachel’s Challenge name after Rachel Joy Scott who was killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. But…

After her death, many students that Rachel reached out to shared stories with the [her family] about the profound impact her simple acts of kindness had on their lives; even preventing one young man for taking his own life. They soon realized the transformational effect of Rachel’s story and started the non-profit organization that is Rachel’s Challenge today.

In the last essay Rachel ever turned in at school, she wrote:

I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.

Join me (and Rachel’s Challenge) to use social media for kindness.

There are so many offshoots of this idea in a time when (clearly) humankind needs it most:

  • #thecomplimentsproject is an offshoot of the social media version by creating posters with tear off compliments
  • The Compliments Project was established by a teacher as a way to give middle schooler’s a confidence boost in their hormonal, angst-filled lives
  • #thecomplimentsproject is a hashtag which has Twitter abuzz with global compliment projects
  • The Ripple Kindness Project has ideas about how you can take small actions of kindness in your own life. Grab your kids’ chalk and write kind messages around your neighborhood.

I am not naive to think that paying each other compliments will solve world peace and no one will ever be depressed or self harm again, but I do think it’s a step in the right direction and it’s what I can do!

What can you do?