Words are powerful – they can motivate us to be better than we ever thought possible or send us plummeting into despair.

The power of words has been thrown into sharp focus as the hysteria around the spread of Covid-19, generated by social media, drowns out reliable sources of information.

From the minute we start to talk, words matter. Words shape our behaviour, and the way we speak and are spoken to directly affects our ability to communicate with everyone in our lives and ultimately affects the relationships we form. We copy the people we are closest to. Sadly you could argue that people are closer to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than they are to their own friends and families.

At Bath Rugby Foundation we engage with around 3,500 young people every year, and every day we witness first hand the damage caused to children and young people by badly-chosen words. As a result, a large part of the work we do centres on emotional and social wellbeing and communication is at the heart of this.

Young people have never had so much opportunity alongside so little ability to communicate.

In our experience it’s no longer the sticks and stones that cause the most damage, it’s words (written or spoken) that are the new weapons.

Abusive words can drive you to the darkest place, with social media amplifying this abuse to an appalling level. It’s impossible to keep up with the volume of abuse on Twitter and Facebook 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 Twitter and then lays into you, you’re on your own.

There is no hiding place for children and young people, because social media not only amplifies the world around them, it fuels the self-deprecating voices in their heads. More than any generation before it, children in 2020 are bombarded by outside forces as well as their own thoughts. It’s almost impossible to escape and it’s no wonder 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? In its worst form, if we think of social media as a ‘disease’, it’s essential to treat the cause as well as the symptoms.

What is the cause?

We are of course.

We spend hours and hours teaching our children to speak, but let’s place the same focus on how they speak to each other both in person and on social media.

A starting point would be to stop pointing the finger at others and blaming everyone else for the stinking social media mess we find ourselves in.

It’s important to hold ourselves accountable for the words and language we use. At a time when we feel powerless in many aspects of our lives, it’s something we can all control.

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