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Can Social Media Help School Phobia?

By Tara Meehan / August 2010

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Can Social Media Help School Phobia?

August 24, 2010

Didaskaleinophobia, more commonly referred to as school phobia, is a panic disorder affecting roughly 1.4 million American adolescents. For these children and young adults, e-learning and other learning grounded in social media tools may provide some of the best opportunities for them to succeed in their education.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, school phobia is broadly categorized as a childhood social anxiety disorder and afforded DSM-IV status as such. The physical symptoms are nothing short of harrowing: hyperventilating, chest pains, dry mouth, shaking, crying, dizziness, nausea, and seizures. Though the terror of panic attacks is palpable and seemingly impossible to overcome, most people affected by the disease claim their toughest obstacle is a cynical public.

Twenty years ago, school phobia was unchartered territory for educators and psychologists. As someone who was diagnosed with this disorder in the fall of 1988, I know from experience how difficult it can be for young learners to cope. I was often accused of knowingly misbehaving. People said I was a troublemaker, that I craved attention, or that I simply refused to attend school.

These are the kinds of accusations thrown at children experiencing the severe physical and mental trauma caused by the idea of having to face another day at school. What was perceived as extreme truancy was, in actuality, a young girl in daily, irrational fear for her life. I believed that going to school would kill me. My symptoms were not unlike other school phobics but one episode has stayed with me. My fear was so overwhelming on a particular morning that I literally lost time. I froze by the front door, catatonic, unable to move or speak.

It's important to note that people with didaskaleinophobia are not truant students whose parents simply need to force them to attend school (although those kinds of students certainly do exist, too). School phobic students experience debilitating stress and anxiety that can block their ability to learn even if they are forced into a traditional learning environment. The origins of my school phobia were theorized at great length. Was it the stress of living in a single-parent home? Was it peer awkwardness? Was it caused by a dangerous school environment? These theories were bandied about by school officials and psychologists. Ultimately, the causes were outweighed in significance by the mental strain of not being able to something as basic as attend class.

Two decades since my first school-related panic attack, pioneering advances in technology have paved the way for a viable, cost-effective alternative to the traditional scholastic setting. Broadly categorized social disorder, meet social media.

Social Media as Solution
Social media has seen an undeniable and unprecedented rise in popularity and significance in between 2005 and 2010. It has been used by educators mainly as a networking tool. It has also been leveraged by teachers union to garner community support in labor negotiations. The New Jersey Teachers Union has driven effective results with social media in its dispute with Governor Chris Christie's pay freeze through a robust Facebook campaign.

Resolving labor battles is one thing, but positing a strategic educational link between school phobia and social media may, at the outset, inspire more overt scoffs than online searches.

Those who refute school phobia's status as a legitimate panic disorder might surmise that Facebook and Twitter would be used by "truants" to play Farmville and mindlessly tweet. But high-ranking educators like Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia and Dr. Mia Moody, assistant professor of journalism and media at Baylor University, who are both utilizing the power of social media, would likely disagree with that allegation. These two educators are actively calling for the implementation of social media into modern day curriculum.

And they are not alone. The number of teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, and school board officials utilizing social media as a supplemental learning and development tool is increasing exponentially. The YouTube inspired TeacherTube is a site designed to enable teachers and educators to share educational resources such as video, audio, documents, photos, groups and blogs. In July 2008, the site contained around 26,000 videos. Compare that to March 2010, when TeacherTube featured more than 525,000 educational members and 200,000 educational videos. Clearly, social technology is acknowledged among educators to be a beneficial and vital addendum to learning. This lends credence to the notion that distance learning or remote education could become a reality for school phobics and non-school phobics alike.

For the most part, when one thinks 'social media', Facebook and Twitter immediately spring to mind. The popularity of Facebook among students 12 through 18, the prime age demographic for school phobia sufferers, makes it amenable to learning at a highly interactive level. Its robust email capabilities, commenting and instant messaging features, and user-friendly approach to posting and sharing information would facilitate collaborative learning. And lest we forget about apps. More and more teenagers are joining the smartphone revolution. Mobile applications created solely for optimized learning and academic growth could make education a 24/7 enterprise.

Beyond 'Social': m-Learning and Microblogging
Ashley Wilbur, a high school teacher with the Howard School of Academics and Technology in Chattanooga, Tennessee was not fond of the idea of her students using year-old English textbooks. She formed a partnership with Emantras and Hamilton County Virtual School to utilize Mobl21, an application that enables teachers to create and publish text, video, and audio content as quizzes, flash cards, and guides. Teachers subsequently incorporated Mobl21 into their courses, which could easily be integrated through social platforms, iPhone or iPod Touch. Indeed, such an application could potentially facilitate around-the-clock and offsite learning.

Facebook isn't the only social network that could be of use to school phobics in need of educational resources. Teachers could use Twitter for scheduling class discussions, rescheduling exams, or referring students to a posted lesson plan. They could also tweet thought-leadership articles focusing on a specific topic to class groups or individual students.

As for students, they may view Twitter as a means to create community in and out of the classroom sharing tweets on assignments, quizzes and extra=curricular activities. This level of engagement would be of enormous benefit to school phobics who cannot foster these relationships the way non-phobic children can.

School Phobics Want to Learn
The desire to learn doesn't fade with school phobics. If anything, it makes the condition even harder to comprehend. These children are not malcontents. They are not rebel rousers. Most were above-average to very good students before the panic disorder started. Opening up the education-based social media funnel to these children doesn't endorse laziness. Employing school media's academic functionality is an increasingly accepted alternative to knowledge building. Why draw the line with school phobia?

It bears repeating that social media presents school phobics with another underlying benefit — socialization. Peer pressure, the need for children to blend into cliques at any cost, is a phenomenon very much alive and well in schools. Children suffering from the panic disorder feel alienated from other children. On days when they are able to attend class, their unease can be exacerbated by name calling and other forms of bullying.

Before it became a multi-channel business tool, social media was about community, creating connections with others. School is as much an experiment in structured socialization as it is an institution of learning. It's not the primary reason for attendance but socialization is a factor. Following that logic, school phobic children could leverage social media for both education and socialization.

Theories abound as to the cause of school phobia. Some attribute it to separation anxiety. Others believe it has hereditary and environmental roots. Debating the causes is an inefficient and ineffectual response to the problem. Should children attend school? Yes. But if they can't, shouldn't a plan for continuous academic improvement be implemented and enforced regardless of how the student advances from year to year?

About the Author
Tara Meehan is freelance writer, filmmaker, consultant, and blogger, as well as an advisor on school phobia. Currently, she is a copywriter for online performance marketing agency MediaWhiz, focusing on social media and digital advertising. She holds a bachelor's degree from University of Massachusetts and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Smith, N. May 4, 2010. "Teachers Embracing Social Media in the Classroom." TechNewsDaily. Accessed August 10, 2010.

Moody, M. Spring 2010. "Teaching Twitter and Beyond: Tips for Incorporating Social Media in Traditional Courses." AEJMC Magazine. Accessed August 10, 2010. [PDF].

New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christies Pay Freeze. (n.d.). Facebook. Retrieved August 20 2010, from

"TeacherTube." (n.d.) Wikipedia. Accessed August 20, 2010

Kum, S. August 18, 2010. "Blackboards to Blackberries: Mobile Learning Buzzes Across Schools and Universities." Learning Solutions Magazine. Accessed August 20, 2010.


  • Sun, 05 Dec 2010
    Post by Jayne Tiedemann

    Great example of using technology for responsive,compassionate and inclusive education for students with the very real condition of school phobia.