Jordin Sparks, Alyson Stoner and Others Talk Mental Health in the Digital World: 'Keep Evolving'
"Social media can be very beautiful... and on the other side of things, it can be very devastating," Jordin Sparks said in the third of a four-part panel series on mental health
This week, PEOPLE and the non-profit organization Bring Change to Mind, which was started by actress Glenn Close, is hosting a four-part virtual panel series on mental health and young people, called Conversations with Bring Change to Mind in Partnership with PEOPLE.
The latest panel, called Digital Life and Mental Health, was led by PEOPLE Editor at Large Janine Rubenstein and featured singer Sparks and actress Stoner, as well as content creator Bethany Mota and TikTok stars Ian Paget and Chris Olsen.
During the candid conversation, each of the stars opened up about their relationships with social media.
Mota, who rose to fame on YouTube, said she started making videos when she was just 13 — and although it helped her shaped her identity, she also struggled with criticism from others.
"Growing up, I was always very shy... so I credit so much of getting out of my shyness to social media," said Mota, now 25. "But when you're so young and you're putting yourself out on social media, there's a lot of people that can be negative."
"I dealt with that for a few years — of not letting those opinions get to me and dealing with physical insecurities," she continued. "Although it was difficult, I think that it has really shaped me into the person that I am today."
For Sparks, who won the sixth season of American Idol in 2007, it was difficult for her to establish an online presence while also being a young, public figure on the show.
"It negatively and positively impacted my life," Sparks, 31, explains. "It was really insane just to see all the opinions. I feel like since then, I've definitely grown. You have to have a thick skin when you put yourself out there and you can be vulnerable and do all of those things, but you still have to be able to let it slide right off your back."
"Now at this point in my life, [being on social media] is more of a pressure than it is fun for me," she added. "It can be very beautiful and life-changing, and it can bring so many people together. And on the other side of things, it can be very devastating."
TikTok's Paget and Olsen — who were recently nominated for the first-ever TikTok x GLAAD Queer Advocate of the Year — also spoke to the struggles of documenting their relationship on social media.
"It doesn't get easier to receive hate on the internet, but you know how to navigate it with a little more grace and space," said Olsen. "It's really just been a huge learning experience."
Added Stoner, 27: "Having an online presence where people not only have a front-row seat into your personal life, but can also directly reach out and express their opinions, it really magnifies the areas of my personality and psyche that are fragile and vulnerable."
Though there have been downsides to the digital age, the panelists acknowledged how there have also been benefits, such as connecting with fans and seeking professional help virtually amid the pandemic.
"I'm a big fan of therapy. I also downloaded Talkspace and I'm a strong proponent of Violet," Stoner shared.
"I would recommend and encourage everyone to take advantage of tele-help because it really does help," noted Sparks.
Olsen said he was able to reconnect with a therapist he once had through TikTok and has been seeing her virtually since.
"That usually would not be able to happen, but to be able to do tele-help with a therapist, who knows me inside and out from that full year together, I think that has been an absolute breakthrough of the year," he said.
Added Mota: "I've done meet and greets where I get to meet one person that is coming up to me in tears that I've impacted them through doing something that I didn't think was that impactful," Mota said. "That's what it's really all about... if you want to compete, just compete with yourself and keep evolving because that's always going to feel the most rewarding."
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As they wrapped up their conversation, Stoner left the panel and its listeners with something to consider.
"I think if we want to create community-driven social digital spaces, we might want to think about what it means to create opportunities for depth, for authenticity, and being able to focus on a topic for more than 0.8 seconds," she said. "Instead of viewing social media and technology as a replacement for real-life interaction or an escape from reality, how could they be tools that enhance and enrich a deeper mind, body being connection with yourself, with others, with the world?"
"We're all co-creators of the future," she continued. "And so if we have a vision for how we can use social media in a positive way, we actually will shape what it becomes. It will change how we use the features. And then the companies who build the platforms will go, 'Oh, no one likes this thing about trolling, but they really love when we're supporting each other meaningfully. Hmm. Let's boost this.'"