Stephanie Hopkinson, MA, CCLS
The 21st Century continues to bring many forms of communication and we find ourselves having access to innovative technology each and every day. The ongoing expansion of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat creates spaces for communication around the world. The intersections of personal and professional worlds meet in these spaces. Companies use them to send messages about their products and services while people choose to share their lives, their stories and their adventures in life. Often these platforms are used to send positive messages and teach others about many topics, including the topic of child life.
Although I recognize the importance of all these platforms for communicating to express thoughts, share life stories, and provide avenues for personal and professional opinions, I have become profoundly concerned about several of the posts that are appearing related to child life. I have read very negative comments about specific individuals, programs, child life services, multidisciplinary teams, and families. These comments are often anonymous and people openly respond, often reposting these, further spreading these harmful messages. It both saddens me and moves me to action as I have been taught to be an advocate not only for children and families but for the field that I hold in high regard. I strongly offer a deep call to action as I find that the posts, memes, and words some people are sharing are often judgmental, critical, or derogatory and seem to come from or embrace bias.
How we choose to engage in social media and public communication can have a direct impact on our professional credibility. What does this mean for us in the community of child life, from emerging child life professionals to practicing Certified Child Life Specialists to child life educators and child life leaders? It is an opportunity to think about what the intent of our message is and how we engage in/with social media. Ask yourself the following: What do we want others to learn and know about child life from these communications? How do we use our words, images, and stories to express our thoughts, perspectives, and experiences in our work with students, staff, children, and families?
Laws, policies, and governance practices in several countries around the world protect, support, and encourage freedom of speech. The questions for us to think about are: where does freedom of speech move into slander? what is speech that might be painful for or harm individuals or groups? where does freedom of speech misrepresent what we want others to know and understand about who we are, especially in our professional world? In child life we are asked to uphold and maintain objectivity, integrity and competence while exhibiting compassion in our work as Certified Child Life Specialists (Child Life Code of Ethics
, March 2, 2022, www.childlife.org).
Through the lens of professional responsibility and integrity, I ask you to hear my call to action: to maintain the highest level of professionalism in all communication including that on social media. Our communication will impact and influence our identity and how others see us in child life. Think about the images, memes, and words we choose to use both in public forums and on social media. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” It is our professional responsibility to take a stand even when others may choose to move into an area that can be perceived as harmful to our professional identity and integrity. We do not know who is taking in this communication. For example, after a long day, to decompress, a child life specialist might post a meme that expresses a frustration they might have had during a patient encounter that day. This post is then re-shared and circulates around social media. A family may read that meme and experience a level of hurt or harm, thinking it applies to them. A family member’s emotional well-being, ultimately their emotional safety, can be impacted when they see these images and words.
Heed this call to action and hold people accountable for their behavior and actions. Speak up. When we remain silent about the harm to others and ourselves, we communicate that we agree. Use your voice, including written voice and images, to speak your truth and advocate for communication that upholds strong values of who we are.
In healthcare and in the community, child life is looked to for our expertise. As a community of practice, let us honor the foundation of who we are, work together, and continue to lead the way in representing child life with integrity, objectivity, cultural humility and strong professional practice!