Teenagers can be bullied, teased, and taunted online – just one of the unfortunate and frustrating side-effects of living in a technologically advanced age. However, one of the saddest components to these trends is the number of children who are in essence seeking out these reactions, amid others, by asking a world of strangers, “Am I Pretty?”
As a woman, mother, and aunt it is painful to hear of the new numbers – one YouTube video garnishing some 4 million+ views – of girls in particular who are seeking some sort of response to this question. Girls who are even younger than the supposed restricted age minimum guideline of 13 are posting videos on YouTube accounts where they pose, some suggestively, and ask viewers to let them know if they think they are pretty or ugly. The responses are for the most part ugly.
Insults, threats, and degrading comments such as “You need a hug.. around your neck.. with a rope..” are just some of the thousands of responses these young girls are getting. Some commentators are obviously hoping to do more than insult these young posters, writing invitations to show more provocative pictures and engage in inappropriate behaviors.
Why are children posting these videos?
In order to help stop this trend before it becomes an epidemic, as parents we need to understand why these kids would post videos asking the world to judge their physical attributes. While not all of these kids post for the same reason, many of the reasons overlap.
Kids know the internet is a great way to get attention, and as much we might not want to admit it, attention feels good. Unfortunately kids more than adults also seem to thrive on negative attention, because any form of it is better than no form at all. While we might cringe at the idea of a stranger on a different continent commenting on the dimple on our face in a suggestive way, kids can learn to get a euphoric high from having people, especially those who might seem more mature online, paying attention to them.
Adolescence is a time of change and sometimes that change can be overwhelming. Living in a virtual world allows our kids to feel safer, meaningful, or more powerful. However, these false worlds that are created often don’t build their self-esteem or character.
This goes for children as well as parents. Children just don’t understand the implications of opening up oneself in the online world, especially in such a personal way. The consequences are not tangible to them until it is all too often beyond repair. Parents are also ignorant – of their children’s online activities and the repercussions of unfettered internet access for youth.
What should parents do?
Many parents aren’t even aware of what their children are doing, which is a huge portion of this problem. What perhaps bothered me most when I heard of this new trend was the reaction of one mom who did find out what her daughter was doing. Naomi Gibson, whose daughter is in one such Am I Ugly? Post, was at first unaware of the situation. However, when news sources brought it to her attention, she wasn’t going to commit to requiring her daughter to remove the post.
What? I tried to imagine myself in her position as a parent. It is frightening enough to think that I wouldn’t even know my child was posting videos like these that are being viewed by thousands. Then I have to ask myself a question: Would I really be OK with my child leaving such a posting on YouTube? Absolutely not! For her safety, self-identity, and future implications that posting would be removed sooner than I could unplug the computer and find the camcorder.
My kids have computers and internet access, and I can’t even count how many times my younger kids have asked for a Facebook or YouTube account like their older siblings. But I don’t give in to the pressure, from them or society. There are reasons why there are age restrictions, and there are reasons why I even go beyond those in my own parenting rules. The rules aren’t made to make my children’s lives more exciting or boring – they are there to keep them safe and experience the world through age-appropriate lenses.
We might tell our kids that the opinions of strangers shouldn’t matter, but this isn’t enough. We need to find ways to take away the power that comes from acceptance by these strangers. We need to help our kids find healthy, safe, giving activities that enrich their lives and the lives of others. They can use technology safely, with guidance and diligent observations by us – the parents.