I chose to watch the documentary Sext up KIDS this week. I’d like to quote Ashley from her blog Taking a Closer Look at Sexting when she says, “I was a little sad, sympathetic and somewhat worried but I was definitely NOT shocked” to also describe my similar reaction to it. The video examines the issues of girls growing up very fast and quickly transitioning from ‘princesses’ to ‘objects of desire’. I don’t want to say I didn’t view this particular issue as a problem before watching this video because I certainly did, but I was a little ignorant to just how deep of an issue it is and at how young girls are being bombarded with certain messages and how intense those messages can be. It is so pervasive in our society and throughout media I think we get conditioned to expecting it as the norm. In Taking a Closer Look at Sexting, Ashley raises a lot of good points and provides some of the legal aspects of these particular issues and I would strongly encourage you to read her blog, but as a teacher and a father, my thoughts went to trying to think about how we can help young individuals with these particular issues. The video focuses on the pressures and expectations of girls, but it does also mention that even boys face certain pressures as it points out that boys are always exposed to certain images of the ‘ideal male’ as well, but I think we’d all agree that the pressures facing the female gender are generally more intense than those that face their male counterparts. Certainly reducing these pressures would be great, but changing all of society seems slightly daunting and out of my control. So perhaps if we cannot change what these kids are exposed to, we can work on changing them and by changing them I mean focusing on their self-esteem and on educating them about the media and what they see.
A lot of the problems that face young boys and girls is that from very young ages they are shown in all forms of media how the perfect male and female looks. Well, not just how they look, but how they walk, talk, dress, behave, etc. In Sext up KIDS, they refer to bratz dolls as an example of how at a young age, girls are being exposed to certain images and attitudes that they are then in turn adopting for themselves. Take a minute and think of a few music videos that you have seen that feature females, and then think of a few that feature male artists. Is the emphasis in how they are portrayed the same? I doubt it!
There has been some progress in changing this I think. Lately, I’ve been hearing about quite a few female celebrities who are deciding to have photos taken without make-up and looking more natural. Unfortunately, this has done little to really shift societies morals, but it’s definitely progress and a start.
While society at large gets its act together, we can help students become more aware of and think critically about these pressures and at the same time help them feel better about who they are and that they don’t have to be someone that they feel society expects them to be. Meaghan Ramsey of the Dove Self-Esteem Project discusses in her Ted Talk that many kids have difficulty in distinguishing “between what’s authentic and what’s digitally manipulated”. This reminded me of the story of Madison Holleran who ultimately commited suicide due to depression from being exposed to the perfection that many people put forth through digital manipulation or digital selection at least. We can help kids think more critically about what they view online and through the media and understand that what they are viewing is not always, and is often not, an accurate portrayal of a persons life or image. If we can help them understand this, then they may be less influenced by the images and stories that they see. A lot of what Meaghan speaks about in terms of helping students to be happy with themselves as who they are have been topics of discussion in our class. It includes such things as discussion with kids about the images and comments they are posting online and becoming more critical of digital media. An important component of feeling good about oneself is feeling that you are successful at something. When we’ve discussed 21st century skills we’ve discussed the importance of collaboration and learning communities. I think there’s many students who struggle with traditional school and the narrow range of skills that are really examined and so they don’t feel successful and this can be damaging to their self-esteem. These students are particularly vulnerable to the negative pressures discussed in Sext up KIDS. One thing that I particularly love about the connectivity of the internet is that we are all talented in different aspects, and there are others out there who share or appreciate our talents, but they may not be right in our backyard. Online learning communities provide an opportunity for students who may not have been successful in a more traditional setting to feel that they have made meaningful contributions and are successful. When everyone, but kids in particular, are happier with who they are, they are much more able to withstand the pressures that society is constantly throwing at them.
There are many avenues for improving self-esteem. I always feel that being a part of a sports team is a great way to feel better about oneself. Perhaps it is another avenue for you to achieve success, but I think it’s more than that. I think that sense of belonging, the community that is built, is the key factor here. Not everyone is going to be playing sports though, but with good digital citizenship and 21st century instruction, and allowing kids to explore other avenues for success in school, I think we can help arm kids with the power to resist those negative pressures in their life, and with enough resistance, society at large can change.
I know I’ve included this John Green video before, but I absolutely love it. He talks about how he was a less than stellar student until he felt a part of a learning community, and then his success took off. When he found that life events had taken him beyond having a local community, he took to the internet to fulfill his needs and desires. Enjoy!
Live long and prosper