Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More
The latest Internet phenomenon involves young and vulnerable girls and some boys posting videos on Youtube asking, “Am I ugly? Am I pretty? or Am I fat?” These young people range from 11 to 14 years-of-age. Their videos are getting millions of hits as well as countless numbers of thoughtless and nasty responses from other kids posting things like, “Yes, you are ugly, go kill yourself,” etc. The reader can find these videos by doing a Google search, “Am I ugly.”
Why are these youngsters putting themselves in harm’s way?
To answer this question it is important to understand what many of these young people are going through. The onset of pubescence is marked by a demand for greater independence from home. However, life outside the home is fraught with lots of insecurity and anxiety. That is part of the reason for the search for acceptance from peers. Along with this search come questions about body image, especially for girls. For many youngsters this can be the start of tendencies toward anorexia. For example, when my children were in middle school they talked about life in the lunch room. The girls would not eat if there were boys at their table. In addition, there was almost an atmosphere of competition for who ate the least among the girls.
These insecurities and anxieties are exacerbated for those youngsters who come from homes in which there is a loss of the father, especially due to divorce. For many, it feels like dad is rejecting them, especially if there is so much parental conflict that fathers stay away or are told to stay away by the mothers.
Many of these same youngsters, feeling rejected, self conscious about their bodies and convinced about how they appear, have histories of being bullied. One of the recent findings is that kids who are bullied tend to be suffering from depression even before the bullying started. Aggressive kids seem to have the ability to identify and target the weakest in the population.
All of this adds up to the fact that the kids who go on Youtube are seeking approval and acceptance from peers. Of course, what they find is just the opposite. Considering the numbers of young people who commit suicide, this trend is especially alarming.
An additional concern is the presence of predators on the Internet that puts these youngsters at even further risk.
How can parents help?
It is ironic that millions of teenagers are aware of and respond to these videos but too many parents seem oblivious about what their kids are doing. Today, life outside the home extends to the social media as exemplified by Facebook and Youtube. Consequently, families need to be aware and vigilant without being suffocating with regard to these activities, much like they should do any time the kids are away from home. I remember that when our kids were at these ages, we wanted to know where they were going and who they were with. To do this, we made sure that we knew who they were friends with. This included meeting and keeping in contact with the families of those youngsters.
Parents need to keep track of what is happening on Facebook. Several recent articles have reported that Facebook postings can reveal the fact that kids are feeling depressed and hopeless and that parents can intervene in positive ways and help. In the same way, there needs to be a monitoring of what is happening on the Internet in general and how video cams are being used. For this pubescent age group, restriction of computer and Internet use may be needed.
This is an age group that can be so vulnerable, sensitive and fragile that changes in mood must be taken seriously. Along with this is the importance of being aware of your kids’ feelings of sadness, withdrawing from family activity and, in fact, any changes in what was their usual patterns of behavior.
Do not take your kids for granted. Don’t take comfort in having boys instead of girls because they are engaging in similar activities and are also seeking acceptance. Do not fool yourself into thinking, “My child would never do that!”
There are no statements, including those made in this article, that are true of all teenagers. Kids develop in different unique ways from one another. The fact that you have kids who have reached this age does not mean that they will be involved in doing these types of things. Knowing that, it remains important to be involved with your kids by talking to them, asking them questions and listening carefully to what they are telling you. It is essential to listen without making judgments about what they are telling you.
What particularly struck me about the kids in these videos is how “hungry” they look. What I mean by “hungry” is how they seem to me to be calling out for affection. My fear is that, if they cannot find people to really hear their cries for help, many will end up turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to seek comfort.
Your comments are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD