Our longing for belonging Words are powerful – they can motivate us to be better than we ever thought possible or send us plummeting into despair. Words shape our behaviour, and the way we speak (and are spoken to) directly affects our ability to connect with everyone in our lives and ultimately shapes our relationships. At Bath Rugby Foundation we engage with upwards of 3,500 children and young people every year, and every day we see the damage caused by cruel words. As a result, a large part of the work we have carried out over the last 18 years has centred on emotional and social wellbeing – we build communities and in person communication is at the heart of this. It’s no longer sticks and stones that break people’s bones, it’s words that are hurting us. Young people have never had so many opportunities to communicate alongside so little ability to communicate. Social media has amplified verbal abuse to an appalling level and the law is lagging so far behind it’s laughable. If someone followed you on the street shouting abuse, you’d phone the police, if someone follows you on social media and then lays into you, you’re on your own. There is no hiding place for the younger generation, because social media not only amplifies the noise, it fuels the self-deprecating voices in their heads. More than any generation before it, children today are bombarded by other people’s opinions as well as their own thoughts. We crave connection and social media can fool us into thinking because we have 1,000 followers we have 1,000 connections. It’s safe to say thanks to the advances in technology we have never been more connected, but the feedback we get is young people still feel isolated and alone. How many of you have been in the same room as someone who was paying more attention to their phone than they were to you…and how many of you have been that person? Social media is impossible to escape, and it’s no wonder since the start of the pandemic mental health issues are marching in one, frightening direction. We know the law is lagging far behind, and shows little sign of ever catching up, so what can we do to help the children and young people in our lives? We can’t turn back the clock, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but what we can do is spend time with children and young people. When you take part in sport you can’t use your phone and when you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing your phone is the last thing on your mind. A virtual hug will also never replace the real thing.