Blogger Hollee Actman Becker is making headlines for her blog post on a disturbing Instagram trend: the ‘beauty pageant’, wherein tweenaged girls post collages of their friends and ask readers to vote on which is the prettiest. The girl with the least votes gets Xed out of the picture, and the game repeats until only one girl is left.
Her reaction to the discovery that her own daughters were playing these games was swift and surprisingly heart-felt: she posted an image about beauty being only skin deep (which has since gone viral), and used her daughter’s account to publicly ask girls to stand up for each other and end these beauty games.
Meanwhile, another story has been hitting the news here in Canada about yet another bullied teen who sadly took her own life this past week. Amongst the many injuries Rehtaeh Parsons suffered at the hands of her peers was the public circulation of a photograph her abusers took of the damage they had wrought.
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I know these are not book-related stories. But I posted two stories yesterday about the growing technology creep in our reading world. Between e-textbooks and Amazon-owned social media networks, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. Even very young children may be posting online without even realizing it, now that social media sharing is being embedded into toys, games and reading devices.
So where does that leave us? As a trusted adult to many beautiful kids—my students—my instinct is to cut them off and say, ‘No, not now. Wait until you’re older before you brave the online world.’ Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to hand out iPads to kindergartners just so they can learn phonics.
But I recognize, too, that progress happens, whether we try to stop it or not. The cat is out of the bag. And burying our heads in the sand isn’t going to magically teach these kids the skills they truly need if they’re going to survive in this brave new digital world.
I don’t have the answer here. We need a new common language we can use to explain these things to kids before they go online. We need to make sure we don’t hand off the cell phone or the tablet to our kids without explaining what those devices can do. Rehtaeh Parsons was only 17 years old. But Actman Becker has a seven-year-old who is active on Instagram. It has to start from day one.
Ms. Parsons’ father has posted a heart-breaking statement which is making the online rounds. It ends with these words:
My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police.
She was my daughter, but she was your daughter too.
For the love of God do something.