Kids, Tweens, Teens On-the-Field Talking-Trash

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 03, 2013 @ 09:23 AM

200225711 001Sports might be one of our favorite topics at YouthBeat – we’ve written about the Olympics and sportsmanship, soccer and head-related injuries, LeBron James and loyalty (from kids’ perspective) and more. We’ve also written about the state of sportsmanship in a blog on winning and on discussions of Silent Saturdays (a designated day in which soccer parents and coaches are asked to keep quiet on the sidelines) , the shifting role of the sports dad in conference presentations and in our YearBook. So, naturally, we felt compelled to weigh in on New Jersey’s recent decision to treat teens’ on-the-field trash-talking as a Civil Rights violation.

The new rules enforced by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association and the State’s Attorney General require that “obscene gestures, profanity or unduly provocative language or action toward officials, opponents, or spectators” be reported to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. The rules fall under New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act and make it clear that the Act extends not only to locations outside of school (as originally stipulated) but specifically to the fields and courts where high school athletes play.

While educators and coaches will likely debate about how to enforce this Act, it’s likely that another debate will soon surface: whether a ban on trash-talking shows consistency and sensitivity or an over-regulating of children’s lives. Put another way, is “handling” trash-talking something that marks a mature athlete (i.e., one who can block out distracting fans or competitors’ chatter) or is on-field harassment as dangerous and damaging as a vicious Facebook campaign or a taunt in the school hallways?

In full disclosure, I should reveal having partaken in some trash-talking in my day. Some of my most bitter rivals from my soccer playing days were both the subjects of my in-game goads, and, years later, bridesmaids in my wedding! A few are neighbors whose kids play with my kids on the playground. For all of us, trash-talking was part of the game and it was easily forgiven after the fact.

But for today’s youth, bullying isn’t something that they’re permitted to accept as being part of childhood. Today’s youth know that words can be weapons, and weapons whose cuts can last. So it seems increasingly difficult to identify places where verbal punches should be seen as permissible. And while adult athlete might temporarily cringe at the sanitizing of sports in this way, it’s hard to argue that respecting others should stop once you walk on to the place where, for those same athletes, the goal is to be one’s best self.

Tags: Education, bullying, Sports, free time, school

Cyber Sincerity: Teens Turn the Tables on Online Bullying

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

When we think of teens and tweeting or teens and texting, we might tend towards an image that’s far from friendly. The discourse surrounding teens’ digital doings includes a significant strand related to the ways that teens often turn communication tools into ways to tease (to use a euphemism). Over the last few years, bullying has been elevated to the level of national youth crisis. Adults and teens alike acknowledge that social media of all sorts can amplify subtle snipes and can put personal conflicts on the public stage.

But three boys in Iowa City were recently caught in the act of using Twitter in a way that turns the tables on these simple notions of teen torment. 9d006ee4c6e8728d33b589f334f9f94bRecognizing that a tweet can carry great weight, they created a Twitter account from which they send messages meant to lift their classmates up, not tear them down. A tweet from the westsidebros might compliment one’s disposition, a recent achievement, or simply a new element of their style. The criteria that these crusaders hold themselves too is a simple one: the compliment must be sincere. And while three boys began this initiative, many more have paid it forward. Good works, or rather, words, have gone viral at this school, and this feel-good story has gotten noticed by media outlets across the country.

And what does this say about teens in general?

First, the fact that a good deed done digitally has received so much attention suggests that we might, as adults, be underestimating the altruistic tendencies of teens. Of course, we know that bullying or exclusionary behavior happens, and when it does, it hurts. But many more teens use technology to build rather than destroy. This story shows that kindness can be as viral as meanness, even among teens.

Second, teens transform their tools to fit their needs – not always the other way around. Teens are not mere victims of technology, but they are also active agents, influencing the way that technology affects their lives, and ultimately, ours.

Finally, teens aren’t only concerned with themselves, but feel connected to their communities, their classmates and the culture in which they live. Since the year began, we’ve come across a number of articles on teens and technology (good ones, in fact) that have, alas, reiterated the notion that teens are a narcissistic bunch. Of course, identity development (which can seem like a solo endeavor) is important during this life-stage. And friends can fuel this process by reflecting who they are, and allowing them to experiment with new self-concepts via “sampling” the many possible groups to which they might belong. But friends are far from simple props. Teens are on their way to creating relationships that might not always stand the test of time, but that are real and meaningful, regardless of whether technology takes a part in them.

For brands and organizations, it’s as critical to catch teens on good behavior as it is to bemoan the ways that some can abuse the tools they have.

Tags: internet, cyberbullying, bullying, digital drugs, culture

Why Back to School Should Start with an Understanding of “School”

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 @ 09:09 AM

Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?

for web 57447358In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.

We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.

Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)

Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.

Tags: preschool, bullying, Sports, Teens, free time, reading, school

“Am I Pretty?” Tween Girls and the Need for Feedback

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 01, 2012 @ 02:55 PM

A tentative face of a twelve year old girl fills the screen as she leans forward to adjust the webcam. “Hi guys,” she says, as if she’s talking to an intimate group of friends. She’s about to ask what might seem like a quite personal question – but she’s asking it to an anonymous audience. She doesn’t know the many viewers who will find this clip on YouTube, but she wants their feedback.

The question: “Am I pretty?” She follows with an assurance, “You can tell me the truth – I can take it.”

Graph of Youth LooksBy now, many of you have seen this story, first featured on the Today Show. This trend – girls posting videos online and asking “am I pretty or am I ugly” might be something that’s familiar to only a few real girls – but it does seem somewhat symbolic of the way girls in a particularly vulnerable stage of development, and the way a cohort who is used to feedback on their every thought might be more likely to do than any generation before them.

Despite girl-power, girl achievement, and girls leading in many domains in which they live, tween girls are still very aware that looks matter. According to data from YouthBeat, while 15% of tweens say they wouldn’t change anything about themselves, 48% of all tweens – boys and girls – mention wanting to change some aspect of their appearance if they could. Only 4% wished to be smarter (and this skewed boy) and another 4% wanted to be rich.

It might be easy to attribute blame to popular culture, and the unattainable images about beauty that dominate their magazines and screens. But some of the women this age group admires most seem to be saying the right thing, albeit from fairly beautiful faces. Selena Gomez challenges, “Who says you’re not perfect?” Katy Perry encourages them to let their light shine…Taylor Swift identifies herself with the girl sitting on the sidelines – not the cheerleader – in her “You Belong With Me.” And Lady Gaga? She couldn’t challenge the notions of conventional beauty any more…

So who is giving girls reason to re-think their self-worth? It’s not news that girls this age feel like all eyes are on them. And it’s also more timeless truth than timely trend that their bodies begin to betray them in ways that make this stage full of awkwardness and angst. And groups of girls have turned to slambooks in which girls write their name at the top of a page, and pass it to their friends, who write what they really think of their best feature, the thing they hate about them, what they should change about themselves, etc. Like “The Book” in Mean Girls,  these tween sleepover mainstays were often filled with less than flattering feedback. It’s clear that this generation didn’t start, and likely will not end, the practice of girls putting each other down.

But what is different today is the public forum in which feedback is given. Posting a picture on Facebook might leave you open to an unsolicited comment from a friend. But even more menacing are sites like Formspring, whose seemingly innocent device of asking a question of the crowd so you can “get to know your friends” can go terribly wrong when someone names names in their questions. And the story described above shows that YouTube can be a space for finding fun clips, or a venue for victimization.

Clearly, some girls offered their peers support. Many girls know that “inner beauty” is supposed to matter more. But for these girls, the reality of crowdsourcing might be countering all the messages they’re getting from those they admire. When it comes to girls’ self-confidence, aspirational images might be much less damaging than the need for acceptance by their peers.  

Tags: girls, bullying, beauty, youth media, trends, tweens, makeup

One Kid We're Really Thankful for This Year...

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 @ 03:51 PM

In this season of giving thanks, we at YouthBeat admit that we're thankful for all kids, tweens and teens! But we couldn't help singling this one 14 year old boy out...Graeme Taylor, an openly gay 14 year old, seems to have the spirit of giving in mind when he puts himself on the line to defend a teacher who was recently suspended after kicking a student out of his classroom who had made homophobic remarks. In this profound and moving speech, Taylor lays out the issue of gay bullying better than anyone we've heard to date. So give this a look, get inspired, and give a little thanks that there are kids, tweens and teens like this out there! 

Tags: boys, cyberbullying, bullying, Youth, culture

Bringing Bullying Back into Perspective

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 @ 11:50 AM

With Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi’s suicide three weeks ago, the anxiety about bullying that has been bubbling up in the culture for quite some time broke the surface. While organizations ranging from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, The Pacer Center and MTV have been on the case for a while, and the CDC has been releasing alarming – shocking even – statistics on bullying for years, the issue has risen to the top of our collective consciousness and has taken on the fervor of a national crisis.

Across venues ranging from academic conferences to client presentations to conversations with parents, we’ve often heard the question posed, “what’s wrong with today’s youth?” Indeed, a recent NY Times article featured the opinions of a variety of experts who mostly admitted that they weren’t speaking from data or from real evidence when they suggest that bullying has something to do with watching Beyonce and Jay-Z videos. Other experts quotes in the article blame Hannah Montana, citing this show and shows like it for positioning put-downs as poking fun. And countless articles and broadcasts before this one have demonized cell phones and social networks as the bully’s new bestie.Trevor Project

Reading these accounts, one might expect that most youth go to school in absolute fear. As a parent, taking this data at face value could be paraylizing – how could we send our kids to school knowing that many would be perpetrators or victims, and that violence (verbal, emotional or physical) is lurking at their lockers and hiding in the hallways.

But is bullying new? And is it as pervasive as it may seem?

Bullying has been around forever. Mean girls, physically aggressive boys and rumor-spreading kids, tweens and teens are nothing new. In my middle school years, “Slam Books” were the offline version of labeling or ostracizing your peers and take in an episode of Leave it To Beaver to know that a boy who was smaller than the rest and who had a funny name was likely to get some ribbing. So why has our attention to it changed? First, we know a lot more about bullying. We know that a wound – whether emotional or physical – takes a long time to heal. We also know that the outcome of even one unfortunate event can be devastating. No longer do we accept, as a society, that boys will be boys or that gossip is benign. And rightfully so, as adults, we’re more concerned about these timeless acts of exclusion than ever.

Second, throughout time, adults have tended to romanticize their own childhood and see the acts of today’s youth as more subversive, more harmful and more morally questionable than those of their own childhoods. How many times have we heard, “In my day, we didn’t occupy ourselves with so many video games.” “When I was growing up, we listened to “good” music – not what they’re listening to today.” This mindset can be quite dangerous, and as countless sociologists have pointed out, can bring us to a frenzy over the truths of today’s youth culture. We’re not debating that being able to bully in public, quickly, as in texting and social networking, have not raised the stakes of bullying. The rumor mill moves at cyber speed, and the pulpit for put downs is bigger. But this generation of youth did not invent bullying, they just practice it on their own terms.

And finally, what might be different are the victims. Our YouthBeat data shows that most youth (over 95% of kids, tweens and teens) leave bullying off the list of things they worry about. But bullying has always been confined to a few. And this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention…Rather than looking for ways to statistically prove that bullying affects all kids, let’s just acknowledge that it’s okay to pay attention to an issue that has significant effects on a statistically insignificant number of youth. If today’s extreme ostracizing has been focused on just a few gay youth, shouldn’t we still be concerned? And what is it about the culture at large that seems more tolerant and open to diversity, but continues to victimize youth who are in the minority?

So to put bullying back into perspective, we think that we need to stop pretending that it’s happening to everyone and acknowledge that we can all have compassion for, and speak out against, harmful acts that are affecting just a few. And this issue might rightfully become the cause of the cohort – but not because they made it worse, but simply because they know better than to accept it. 

Tags: parents, bullying, Youth, school, trevor project

Back to School Worries Focus on Books More than Bullying

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 @ 02:27 PM

According to media reports from across the country, kids, tweens and teens’ frets focus on very different topics than in the past. According to youth themselves, homework still scares them the most.

Most experts agree that kids should get about ten minutes worth of homework for each grade they’re in…So that means tweens shouldn’t hit the one-hour mark until they land in 6th grade. But parents and many teachers will admit that kids are often overburdened with post-school studying well before they’re ready.Kids Tweens and Teens Back to School

Kids, tweens and teens are more conscious than ever of the power to perform in the classroom while maintaining some semblance of a childhood (and don’t forget about those pesky colleges who want students to foster extracurricular interests in addition to attending to their grades). In a recent survey we conducted among kids, tweens and teens, homework (54 percent) and having less free time (34 percent) are the concerns that weigh heaviest on their minds. And 39% of high schoolers site increasing academic pressures as something they fear going into the new year.

But what are they most looking forward to? Over 80 percent of older tweens and teens (ages 11 to 13 and 14 to 17, respectively) are most looking forward to a “fresh start” – much more so than kids (ages 6-10) at 39 percent.

And this makes sense. Getting a chance to start the year anew, with a clean slate, not only gives tweens and teens a chance to “try again,” but also gives them a chance to reinvent themselves – a new style, a new group of friends and a new take on their own identities. This desire to begin the school year fresh is a timeless need that we continue to see reflected in these results.

Despite media coverage that might imply that all youth are consumed with fear at school, serious school violence (shootings, for example) does not concern the vast majority of them – 95 percent of all kids, tweens and teens. However, African American youth are more concerned about this issue than their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts, with 15 percent saying they were concerned about school violence, compared with just 8 percent of Caucasian youth and 5 percent of Hispanic youth.

Tags: kids, bullying, homework, Youth, Teens, tweens, school