I remember being 13 years old so vividly. The constant pangs of awkwardness and anxiety following me around everywhere I went… How could I forget that?! While I certainly had some fairly significant “run-ins” with tough groups of girls, ultimately I managed to stay healthy and happy thanks to my interest in photography, music and performance, my love of Camp, and the support of my parents. However, I can’t help but think that if Instagram and Facebook were available when I was 13, my self-esteem would have certainly suffered tragic losses.
I recently came across an article discussing “The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram,” It became crystal clear to me adolescent and teenage behavior hasn’t necessarily changed for this young generation, but the tools available to them certainly are in many ways more powerful. In the period of life where self-confidence is often the most vulnerable, social networks have made public the private process of evaluating where someone fits into the world around them. The number or likes (or lack of likes) a post gets, inclusion in group photographs or selfies, or trying to interpret comments and emojis (on top of the typical face-to-face challenges of adolescence), are certainly a recipe for the potential derailment of any child.
Then of course there is the ever present notion of the bully, and it’s youngest sibling the “cyber-bully.” Since 2005, 49 states have adopted anti-bullying legislation and much attention continues to be brought to “The Bully” and prosecuting his or her actions. What’s interesting is that the apparently the rate of bullying has not changed since this legislation was enacted. Approximately 28% of children ages 12-18 continue to report experiencing some kind of bullying.
So if bullying continues to be present, and the powerful tools available to our kids are not disappearing, what can we do as parents, educators, and youth development professionals to help this generation become more resilient, and more confident?
While I think that there are a myriad of answers to this question, I believe that part of the answer can be directed right back at the powerful source of all this angst…the internet. Take for example, this article about Caitlin Prater-Haacke’s positive response to cyber-bullying. In response to a cyber-bully’s hurtful words and actions,Caitlin put 800 post-it-notes with positive messages on every locker in her high school. Not only did her efforts go “viral,” her initiative took off and has inspired thousands, through online networks, to start their own “Positive Post-Note Campaigns.”
Similarly, Operation Beautiful is a site that inspires it’s viewers to end “negative self talk” with positive messages through post-its. These are just a few examples of the way that young people are using the internet to build resiliency and confidence. An added bonus of these online campaigns is that they all have social media pages including facebook and instagram. So if one “follows” these pages their positive messaging will fill one’s newsfeed.
There are also several sites that youth can engage with that allow them to be part of something bigger and make a positive difference on the world! DoSomething.org is a site geared toward youth that can be used to find the perfect movement for the individual. Being part of global movements for social change is certainly something that can help build one’s confidence and inspire a sense of purpose. Only have a short period of time (like a bus ride, or when watching commercials)? Check out www.freerice.com. For each answer you get right on a vocabulary quiz, rice will be donated through the World Food Programme to help end world hunger.
Then there is one of my favorite websites, which is somewhat of a combination of many of the above sites. Amy Poehler created a website and positive campaign website called “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.” The Smart Girls organization’s motto is “change the world by being yourself.” (Talk about a positive message!) The site offers community, “call to action” campaigns, and “ a healthy alternative to so much that is being marketed to young people on the internet.” Check out this quote from their website:“We emphasize intelligence and imagination over ‘fitting in.’ We celebrate curiosity over gossip. We are a place where people can truly be their weird and wonderful selves.” – Amysmartgirls.com
This sounds kind of like summer camp doesn’t it? I always found Camp a place where I could “be my best self,” and many who are part of the Camp experience express it the same. The strength and resiliency built by Summer Camp is certainly something that isn’t easily duplicated, but with the right direction, the internet is filled with “clicks” that have the potential to build-up and support our young people and can combat the negatives that there are out there.
What other positive sites and online resources have you found for yourself and/or your child?