I thought it had gone away, but because of a recent news-wire article picked up by the local paper here I guess the trend is still growing and considered ‘news.’ Tweens and teens are posting videos of themselves and asking the question, “Am I Pretty?” The conversation center piece is a video by “Kendal” asking the simple question regarding her looks. The video went viral and has over 4.4 million views and has spawned a cornucopia (now that’s a fun word) of internet and news media activity, becoming what I will dub a Digital Mirror Mirror phenomenon (remember the magical mirror from Snow White? “Mirror, mirror on the wall – who’s the fairest of them all?”).
While issues of teenage self-esteem, acceptance and perception are not news, what is worthy of note here is the attention, comments and banter that has arisen around this young lady’s video. The Digital Mirror, Mirror effect speaks to our understanding of community and the wide spread technologies that are available for conducting the business of that community – including the raising of children.
Asking the question, “Am I Pretty” isn’t new, especially among tweens and teens. It seems to be a normal part of the developmental process to gather information from your surroundings (family, friends, society, media, ect) and compare yourself to measure of beauty that you find there. So no matter if it is during a birthday ‘spin the bottle’ challenge or through an internet video, having a child seek out other’s opinions seems fairly normal. While I am not a psychologist, it seems that such questions are normal and are often defining moments in the development of someone’s self-esteem. The web, particularly Social Media has brought a more significant volume to this conversation. We are now not only able to ask this question to those near and dear to us, but are able to broadcast this to the masses of a much larger community.
The dynamics of the community are governed by the virtual world, and as such may expose the person gazing into the Digital Mirror, Mirror to something with a larger variant than the localized social community. It would seem that people are somewhat less likely to communicate with the level of respect and care through a digital medium than through a more direct and personal means. Looking at the comment stream on Kendal’s 4.4 million views Digital Mirror, Mirror reveals some very harsh and flippant comments. Ouch.
Technology isn’t going away and I expect it will continue to see exponential growth among tweens and teens, so I don’t think the answer lies in eliminating the technology – although some regulation of access to the technology is certainly in order for younger children. What can we do to help?
Provide Localized Community: It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. That nature of that village has changed over time and now includes the digital community. We do well to make sure that the localized ‘village’ that affect our children includes some positive and spiritually challenging influences. I have never thought of church youth groups as very good at indoctrinating teens into a particular religious system (thankfully!). Pre-teen youths can be taught what to believe and think, but part of the demands of teenage development is to challenge those beliefs and ideas so that individual belief systems can be formed (it gives them a sort of early alert system against indoctrination – Danger Will Robinson!). The role of youth groups and youth trips and youth projects – inside and outside of the religious community – is to make sure that teenagers are exposed to thinking, causes and actions that are driven by something outside of and larger than themselves. We begin to find our unique place within our community by experiencing the community in a larger context. We need to be a part of a community that asks questions about value, purpose and meaning – outside of our immediate personal concerns (like pectoral muscle size, hair color, height, weight, etc.)
Demonstrate Deep Values: Children and youth learn a great deal (more than any parent dares believe) by watching and listening to the adults in their midst. It is about what we do much more than what we say. If we demonstrate loving and caring relationships, hands on volunteering, time helping others and devotion to meaningful causes, it does impact the values by which our children begin to judge and value themselves. If we treat people who are heavier, another race or dressed differently as less than – well, you know the drill.
Teach Another Question: This post began by repeating the questions asked by Kendal, “Am I Pretty or Ugly?” As important as that question is to a developing self, those of us who have endured and survived the superficial framing of life – know that there is another set of questions that need to be asked: “How am I different?” “How can I make a difference?” “What is important to me?” “Am I Creating Beauty for Others?” If we look for opportunities to ask and promote such questions, then perhaps we can influence those around us to consider them, as well.
The community we provide for our children, the things that we do each day for them to see, and the framing of our life questions are all ways we can transform the Digital Mirror Mirror, and perhaps cause it to ask a more life giving question – “Mirror, mirror on the wall…?”