Lesson #2: Managing Online Emotions

“Students come to colleges loaded with emotional baggage” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 83), unable to “escape anger, fear, hurt, longing, boredom, and tension. Anxiety, anger, depression, desire, guilt and shame have the power to derail the educational process ... [and] these emotions need good management” (p. 46). Therefore, educators must encourage and assist students with their exploration of such emotions both in-person and on the Internet. This is where a Digital Identity Coach may come in handy.

Student affairs professionals must acknowledge distress signals that students post online and guide them toward appropriate channels to release their irritations. Professionals should consider modelling healthy emotional expression online and educate students surrounding self-control, self-expression and belonging. Managing emotions digitally means engaging students to further hone self-assertive tendencies.

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Students frequently post their experiences and emotions online, and, as part of many institutional missions within student affairs, professionals’ main objective is to develop the whole student. Therefore, the Internet must be a place professionals are willing to travel to spark such development.

Acknowledging that students are expressing emotions online, professionals need to be willing to help them find effective ways to navigate feelings surrounding:
repressed anger, unhealed wounds, distorted ideas about sex, festering self-doubts, old resentments, [and] unmet needs ... anxieties of new instructors, new subjects, new challenges ... excessive anger, anxiety or depression ... frustration, fear, boredom, or desire ... date rape, violence, bias-related incidents, suicide, theft, vandalism, and alcohol and drug abuse. ... All members of the college community are affected by the emotions of the students as they live out their dramas inside and outside of the classroom (pp. 83-84).

Without help from professionals, students may think that they only have the Internet, their social media profiles and online “friends”, to assist them with exploring the source of feelings surrounding how to transition out of their virtually emotional dwelling. The role of the a Digital Identity Coach is to intervene and educate students on appropriate ways to express and manage their emotions, both online as well as in-person, and to make them aware of the dangers that come along with constant use of the Internet.

The Internet can be viewed as a place to hook-up; where students can connect for sex (Heussner, 2011; Reddick, 2012; and Mastrodicasa & Metellus, 2013). It can provide a venue for cyber-stalking, cyber-grieving and cyber-bullying (Kruger, 2013; O’Shea, 2013; and Twenge, 2013). Some “college administrators have applied student codes of conduct to harassing behavior on social media sites” (Mastrodicasa & Metellus, 2013, p. 26), but it is the false assumption that anonymity exists online that can inspire low-levels of personal accountability (Solove, 2007; and O’Shea, 2013), resulting in poor emotional management. The Internet acts as a catalyst for the expression of mixed emotions, which seem to solicit an unawareness of the impact online behavior can have on a student’s future.

Couple Texting The more and more college students express and “manage” their emotions online, the more concerns educators should have regarding increasing mental health issues, as well as the negative impacts poor self-esteem, low self-efficacy, shaming, cyber-bullying, and narcissism can have on a person.

These emotions, whether displayed on the World Wide Web for all to see or kept silent, if left unattended, could have irreversible impacts on the student experience and the development of the individual.

“We can conceptualize development along this vector as first becoming more aware of feelings and then as learning flexible control and appropriate means of expression or integration. Development also entails finding ways to balance negative or painful feelings with thought and action” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 88). Fear and anxiety, coupled with toxic feelings and anger that leads to aggression can result in students experiencing depression, guilt, and shame, and/or dysfunctional sexual or romantic attraction. These emotions can be controlled through an increase in digital identity awareness, and a sustained willingness to “to identify and accept feelings as normal reactions to [the] life experience” (p. 97). When students can finally begin to “understand and amend outdated assumptions that amplify negative feelings” (p. 97) they can effectively manage their emotions in-person and then, tackle them via social media. Being purposeful about what one posts online will help to increase awareness of their emotions, and can further help a student to understand the intense consequences of acting and posting on impulse. The more autonomy students have to post online the more they may express their emotions across social media.

Coaching Students Through Emotional Dissonance Online

Digital Identity Coaches can help to facilitate purposeful sharing and positive relationship building across the Internet as they serve as a role model who is actively trying to help the student move through this vector. A Digital Identity Coach will create an open, flexible and confident relationship with the student, while also challenging them to take appropriate risks with an intended benefit of shifting perspectives regarding what a student chooses to chare online, and WHY they choose to share it. Understanding the hopeful outcome of an emotional posting can help a coach better work with a student who is having difficulties managing their emotions across their social media networks. Through using powerful questioning approaches, coupled with direct communication and active listening (to name a few), Digital Identity Coaches can create awareness for students about the positive and negative impacts of the content they choose to post online.

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Helping students to create tangible and measureable goals, along with an action plan, together, the coach and the student can manage the students progress and decisive accountability standards to help keep them on track towards reaching their goals, further promoting the students’ self-discipline and efficacy (International Coaching Federation, 2017).

Looking at it from a Gestault perspective, a Digital Identity Coach “is interested in facilitating the mobilization of energy for action” (Simon, 2009, p. 236). The energy exuded by a student to post about emotionally distressing or sensitive topics can also be used to focus on their goals, and to then, post with purpose, rather than for attention or validation. Similarly, the concept of Positive Psychology naturally provides a lens to approach coaching students thorough this Virtual Vector.

Students can benefit from a Digital Identity Coaching for a number of reasons, as “Positive Psychology provides important empirical underpinnings to the techniques and strategies that coaches use to help [students] realize their goals ... Positive psychology also suggests specific interventions and practices that can be effectively integrated into the coaching relationship.” (MentorCoach, 2017). From emotional intelligence to posting with purpose, and practicing living a genuine lifestyle, coaches can help students “explore what helps [a student] lead happier, more successful lives and become their own best selves” (International Coaching Federation, 2014).

The ultimate goal of Digital Identity Coaching is to help the student navigate their relationships, manage their emotions, help them identify what they want their brand to become, and to provide them with the support and positive dissonance to help them achieve their goals, while learning how to post with digital integrity.

To connect with a coach, and to find out how to bring one to your campus, you are encouraged to visit QuestCoaches.com and explore how you and your students can navigate these seven virtual vectors, while striving to lead a digital life that is genuine and congruent. Stay tuned for our next post where we will dive into Lesson #3 of our Coaching Playbook: Moving through Autonomy, towards virtual Interdependence.

References can be found by following this link!