The thoughtful New York Times story begins with a 13-year-old New Jersey girl posting her “Am I pretty?” video on YouTube. I won’t steal its thunder, so I hope you’ll read it. But I do want to highlight the points most helpful to parents of young teen girls:
- Ages 13-15: “Nearly all the people in these videos” are in that age range.
- Developmentally normal: The videos’ sources are in that age range because that’s “when children struggle to understand how their emerging selves might fit into the larger picture.” They’re exploring and developing against that backdrop instead of the family one.
- “Objectivity” via YouTube. To them it represents the general anonymous, unbiased global population (they’re right about general and anonymous, not so much about the unbiased part, as we know).
- See it in context. The question is not just a gender thing. It’s not runaway narcissism or superficiality. It’s about what their society and media culture say about the importance of appearance.
- Education needed! They may’ve been born with the Internet in their houses but they were not born understanding the consequences of using it in various ways.
- It could become self-harm. Some young people are self-destructive and need extra vigilance and care where digital media is concerned. An “Am I pretty?” video can start as the posting of an honest question and then lead to self-destructive encouragement of the kind of social cruelty that typically turns up in comments.
- Getting in front of the bullies? The Times suggests that some of these videos are “a pre-emptive strike against bullying, a way to say hurtful things about themselves before others can” or a show of bravado, a way to show that they can hack it.
- It’s not all trolls. There are some helpers on YouTube too. The Times reports that, “like so many big sisters, a handful of video bloggers have responded with their own clips, explaining to girls why they should stop seeking validation from strangers – or shaming the commenters who insult them” (the Times links to examples, so check out the article).
So what can a parent do? 1) Help your kids understand that they’re loved best and most for who they are, not how they look (knowing it can take a lifetime to get to full understanding of that); 2) make sure they know the potential nasty consequences of putting their innocent selves “out there” for anyone to judge; and 3) help them develop resilience, which will help protect them all their lives.
- Several posts touching on resilience and how to develop it
- “Balancing external with internal Internet safety ‘tools'”
- My 2 posts on this in late 2012: “‘Am I pretty?’ videos by teens” and “Teens, social media & trolls: Toxic mix”
- “Individual and social embodiment online: Important eating disorders study”