"Selfies" seem to be everywhere lately, in cars, grocery stores and even in public restrooms. Something about the concept of posing with duck lips for the "like" race on social media platforms really bugs me. In a society that places so much importance on outward appearances and snippets of the perfect life, I felt a sense of "realness" fading fast. Conversations with eye-contact and depth are quickly being replaced with memes and text messages.
Initially, I wanted to open the assignment with words of "aged-to-perfection" wisdom about the internet and how it has altered how we perceive others and even ourselves but then I remembered why I chose this age group. Middle school is a rough age. Often times they are caught in the middle quite literally, far from babies and yet not close to adulthood either. I feel these kids are far more brilliant than we give credit for. This age group in society goes largely ignored, so why wouldn't they look to social media for acceptance and validation? So instead, I asked them what they thought the positive and negative aspects of social media were and how they felt it played a role in how they were judged.
POSITIVE: You can connect with like-minded people, learn and share ideas, stay in contact with family and friends that you don't get to see everyday, alleviate boredom, and maybe if you are having a bad day you can see other people out having good days and cheer up.
NEGATIVE: Another platform for bullying, comparing your life to snippets of others, always "on" and accessible, those with bad intentions can have access to you.
STEP ONE: I started out asking them to write something that others wouldn't know about them just by looking at them. I had the kids tape them to each other's backs and took a photo of them from behind to hold the attention on the words those chose to use to define themselves. This was the most difficult part of the experiment. Lots of chatter and tapping of feet and pencils filled the room as they struggled to come up with something nice.
STEP TWO: I then asked them to turn and face the camera and think of some things people have said about them online or in real life that judged them unfairly. They were asked to show an expression that would reflect how they felt while hearing these things. I did this in a effort to show how it would feel if they were to say these hurtful things to someone's face. Could they?
STEP THREE: Then I asked them to return to the classroom and write down some of those things that people said poorly about them. This part of the assignment came easily to them and they were quick to fill up their pages.
The words that they etched out on the paper were alarming. This diverse group of amazing kids yet none of them suffered to come up with words used against them. I was horrified to see so many had "Kill Yourself" on their sheets. The mood in the room shifted, they became very attentive and more willing to share their stories of hurt.
I asked them why they thought I chose them for this social experiment. I wanted them to reflect on how difficult is was to come up with ONE thing that they were proud of yet they filled up a sheet full of awful words in under 5 minutes. I wanted them, for a moment not only focus on, but also believe the words they chose to use to define themselves. Looking around the room at so many amazing kids yet not one escaped the judgements of bullying. I wanted them to make sure they didn't give anyone else a reason to write down on their list of cruel words and mostly I didn't want them to believe these things.
"You are not defined by how others see you, you are only defined by what is within you."
What a sad day it would be should these kids believe that these words define who they really are...
"They way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice" -Peggy O'Mara