Championing healthy relationships

and sexual wellbeing

#WorldEmojiDay July 17th 2017

In 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary made 

 (the tears of joy emoji) their word of the year. It was the first time a pictogram had earned the title and, whilst some dismissed the choice as a publicity stunt, it is worth considering how emojis are used by increasing numbers of people to aid their communication with friends, family and partners. ‘Emojis’ as distinct pictograms are technically different to ‘emoticons’ which are letters and punctuation used to create shapes that resemble a face.

:) is an emoticon

 is an emoji.

This difference is mainly aesthetic as they serve the same purpose of giving emotional context to plain text. The emoji development of written language creates the opportunity for people to colour the written language with emotional tones that they feel improve the accuracy of their message. Just as ? allows a writer to indicate a question is being asked, emojis can express that someone is happy, excited, angry, sad, tired, bored, or more about the words in the message.

A lack of emotional context of the written word has long been a criticism of email, text and messaging. with many people calling for a return to older communication methods to ‘get’ the context. “If people just picked up the phone and talked, it would be easier to communicate” or “People need to talk face to face to really understand each other.” It is definitely true that these methods of communication allow tone of voice and facial expressions to communicate much more than the words can by themselves.

acet UK wants to help young people develop their personal communication skills , to help them form healthy relationships. But young people persistently enjoy messaging each other as their primary method of communication. Messaging is more popular than social networks for young people and shows no sign of slowing down, with emojis a common feature of their communication. Some people may find the 2,666 official emojis a confusing mass of pictograms, hard to decipher and understand. Yet young people are growing up saturated in the language of emojis and are fluent in expressing complex and nuanced emotions through them. We have worked with a number of young people who were able to list more unique emojis than names of emotions. This is an exciting opportunity for educators.

Emojis are another route to help young people connect with their emotional state and to develop their emotional literacy. The names of emotions have always been vague shadows of the true emotional feeling they represent. Emojis are equally poor reflections of the emotions they are trying to represent. Yet they represent another point of conversation, another way to engage with young people, as they navigate the complex emotional highs and lows of growing up. This World Emoji Day take a moment to check out the emojis in your phone. What emojis do you use regularly? What emotions do you struggle to express and can any of the emojis help?  How can you use emojis to help young people express themselves?

If you share our passion for working with young people, check out our Esteem training which will enable you to join our network of relationships and sex educators.

Want to know more about emojis? Check out this paper.

Gareth Cheesman, Esteem Network Director