Social Media and Grief Support
September 2015, Volume 39, Issue 1
When a child loses a loved one, educators are uniquely positioned to offer their support and understanding to grieving students. Although nothing can replace face-to-face human interaction, today there are more channels of communication through which people grieve and express condolences. Social media is a powerful influence in young people’s lives. Grieving students can use it to gain support from peers and the school community. It is important for school professionals to consider how to optimally use social media when a death occurs. Here are a few areas of consideration:
While the immediacy of information sharing on social media channels can seem intrusive, it is a simple reality of today’s world. Teachers may not have advance preparation and may find themselves responding to student reactions without having a chance to confirm the accuracy of information or receive guidance on messaging. The school’s mental health staff may not be immediately available to provide support. Educators should prepare to proactively deal with the role that social media can play in notifying students and their families about a death in the school community.
Social media can offer a way to reach out to grieving families or students in the initial period after a death, especially if the family is not yet ready to accept calls or visitors. Information that is shared among students and staff through social media can offer insight into how families are responding to a death.
Any information posted through social media can easily be forwarded and re-posted repeatedly. Therefore it is essential that all content be suitable for public distribution. Audiences may include individuals and groups well beyond the school community, including the media. Potentially sensitive messages sent by schools should be reviewed, not only by an administrator and/or someone overseeing public relations, but also by a mental health professional in the school who may be attuned to the sensitivities of those who are grieving.
Social media is a powerful tool to share accurate and timely information as well as socially appropriate messages after a death has occurred. Schools should review policies related to the use of social media with an eye to how these might best support grieving students and the broader school community. Maintaining a strong social media presence helps schools stay prepared to support students, staff, and families.
Adapted from “Grief Support Is on the Way,” Principal, March/April 2015 and Reprinted with permission from the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.
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