Building Community: From Apps to Real-Life Eco-maps! | Health's Up

Cleveland middle schoolers in the Circle Scholars after-school program complete an eco-map activity with the Health's Up team, their educators, and mental health counselor Robyn Hill. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Cleveland middle schoolers in the Circle Scholars after-school program complete an eco-map activity with the Health's Up team, their educators, and mental health counselor Robyn Hill. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
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When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy for kids and families to navigate the facts. That’s why we created “Health’s Up,” a new podcast that explores healthy choices through kids’ voices, hosted by Cleveland pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Westphaln. This episode is part of a series all about stress and easy ways to cope. Check out the previous episode here. Teachers - find lesson plans here!

Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension that happens when we experience events in our lives and in the world - and we are all experiencing even higher levels of stress right now.

One thing that kids can do to address stress is to build community, but this can be a challenge when navigating a pandemic.

Cleveland middle schoolers from Mary Bethune School in the Circle Scholars after-school program have some thoughts about how to create community on social media and some great ideas about how to build community in real life.

Socializing online: from video games to TikTok

Social media apps and websites are platforms where people can meet and talk virtually.

Da’Naria, a seventh grader at Mary Bethune School, does not get on social media much, but when she does, she mainly uses Instagram and TikTok.

“We make up our own profile, like Instagram, and people follow us and they like our videos. We find our own song … and you do a dance, and you post it, and people like it,” Da’Naria said.

That sounds fun!

In addition to social media, some of the Circle Scholars kids play video games where they are able to interact with other kids.

Channan, another seventh-grade student, plays Grand Theft Auto (GTA).

“[GTA] is a virtual game, and you can have a house [and] have a car,” she said.

And Travelle, a sixth grader, knows about a virtual game using Zoom, which allows multiple people to videoconference together.

 “You’ll be in a Zoom meeting and something scary happens from each person to another, and then at the end, the last person there is the witch,” he said.

While it can be fun to interact on different types of social media, it can also be stressful.

Da’Naria and Channan have some wise advice for kids to remember about using social media.

“Some social media is good, but you have to trust people,” Da'Naria said. “You have to be careful of who you talk to on there, and who you follow because something could happen," she said.

“When you meet people on the internet, they… can’t actually see you and actually get to know you in real life,” Channan added. “If you say something, they might think it’s mean because you’re not face to face.”

These are good points. While social media can help us make new friendships and build an online community, you can’t always trust that people are who they say they are.

Plus, people might say or do things that aren’t nice online.

Don't get hooked by catfish: people faking their identity online

Social media can be another source of stress, especially if these interactions are ongoing and don’t get better after a few days.

Da’Naria has some more thoughts about people playing pretend on social media.

“People on social media can pretend about their identity and they might pretend like… somebody in your family… and they end up texting you and they’d be like, ‘what’s your address or something,” she said. “And you give it to them, because you think that’s one of your family members and then it might turn into something more, like a catfish.”

A catfish? No, not the ones you see swimming in a pond! Internet catfishing is a slang term to describe someone online or on social media pretending to be someone they are not.

While social media can be a fun way to connect with friends on apps like Instagram and Tik Tok, or interactive videogames like Fortnite, it’s really important to be smart about using it.

Cleveland mental health counselor Robyn Hill has some tips about how to stay safe based on advice she gave her own kids about social media. Her daughter uses social media to display her artwork, but Hill closely monitors the account for safety reasons.

“I do want her to feel like she can show people her artwork and get herself out there, but I do not want strange interactions happening,” Hill said.

Her son uses social media to showcase his weightlifting, she said.

“A weightlifting group contacted him wanting him to become a powerlifter, or something, and the first thing he did was he brought it to me rather than responding to these people,” Hill added.

If you’re ever suspicious of someone talking to you on social media or the Internet, make sure to tell your parent or another adult you trust.

Despite many of the risks in using social media, many of the Circle Scholars didn’t seem stressed about using it and were pretty savvy about social media safety.

“You can make your account private or you don’t have to talk to people on there, you can just post your own pictures. You don’t have to contact anybody,” Da’Naria said.

Mapping your real-life supports

Social media is a good tool to use to build community in your life - especially when we need to stay safe from the coronavirus. But, it's important to realize the social media audience can seem very real, but it can also be imaginary. So, it’s important to remember who is in your real-life community that you can turn to when you’re stressed.

One activity you can try is called an eco-map, which can help you identify who your supports are in your community.

The map is a circle with your name on it, with lines that branch out to other circles. In those circles, you can write names of people that you can go to when you’re stressed or need someone to talk to.

Hill recommends thinking about family members, staff members in your school, or even people in a church or other spiritual group that you attend.

“Don’t feel bad if you only have a couple [people],” she said. “Just recognize that you want to build relationships in your community so that you can have more.”

Even if you are looking at screens all day, creating something like an eco-map can be super helpful. You can look at it and know that there are people in your life you are connected to that are real.

Stress happens. It’s part of life; however, having strong community supports can help. Making safe choices with social media use and connecting with people who are there for you in real life are great strategies to build community.

From exam room, to classroom, to newsroom, to zoomrooms – we know that healthy habits matter.   

Be in the know, stay healthy, and grow!   

Additional resources

Want to try making an eco-map? Follow the worksheet below! We've included some examples to get you started.

Eco-map

Filling out an eco-map, pictured above, can help you visualize all of the people in your life you can go to when you're stressed. [Robyn Hill / Robyn Hill Services]

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