Teenagers worrying about their looks and struggling with self-esteem issues is nothing new. Many adults can recall exploring exactly these emotions in the pages of a diary after a tough day at middle or high school, whether it was 10, 20 or 40 years ago.
But take those emotions from the page to the video screen—and ultimately to thousands of Internet viewers—and new problems emerge, said Jon Mattleman, Needham Youth Services director.
Mattleman talked with Patch recently about the new trend of young women posting videos on YouTube asking viewers, “Am I pretty?” and seeking comments. Mattleman said that the sentiments behind these videos are pretty common for teen and preteen girls, but that the permanence of these videos is concerning.
“What did the past generations of girls do? They wrote in their diaries. It was very cathartic and it was very private, and that was great,” Mattleman said. “This new generation uses YouTube as kind of their diaries, so they have that cathartic part but clearly they don’t have the privacy.”
Battling with self-esteem and body issues is “completely age-appropriate” for teens, and Mattleman said he wasn’t surprised by the feelings expressed in the videos he has seen online. But he worries that the makers of these videos don’t realize the far-reaching impact of their minute-or-so posts.
“The adolescent brain doesn’t really think through the implications of doing these sorts of things,” Mattleman said. “It’s sad to me that they are using a medium to express themselves that is so public, and when they’re feeling better about themselves or they’re feeling worse about themselves in five years or so, they’ll have this public record.”
A quick search for “Am I Pretty” on YouTube yields dozens of videos of young girls asking the question, as well as a more recent surge of responses from peers advising them against making these videos. Many of the videos have pulled in thousands to hundreds of thousands of views.
Though the videos ask viewers to respond, teens may suffer further blows to their self-esteem when anonymous Internet users weigh in.
“Some of the feedback is really blunt and really hurtful,” Mattleman noted.
He suggested parents have a conversation with their kids about these types of videos and what it means to post something on the Internet.
“Parents can play a role in saying to their kids, when you’re having these feelings there are better ways to deal with them that are not as public,” Mattleman said.
Needham Youth Services recently wrapped up its Safe Surf program with sixth graders at in which educators discussed some of the dangers and pitfalls of the Internet, including its permanence.
“We talk about the good parts of the Internet and the parts that are a little tricky and get the kids really thinking about all of those aspects of it,” Mattleman said.
The program also looks at “cyber friendships”—both those relationships developed purely online, and the dangers of sharing personal information with a virtual stranger, as well as what it means to continue a real-life friendship on the Web.
Another related program Needham Youth Services offers is “Extreme Looks,” a four-day seminar that explores how images portrayed in the media might distort girls’ self-esteem, body image and perceptions about relationships. The program is typically offered the first week after school lets out in June.
Both programs add to a community conversation that could help steer teens away from outlets like the “Am I Pretty” videos.
“Part of them really wants people to see and part of them wants people to write and say, ‘You are beautiful’ because that’s really what we all want. But part of them doesn’t really think about it,” Mattleman said of the teen video posters. “I feel bad for these kids, because that’s going to stick with them for a long time.”