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. Recognizing 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.