Category Archives: activism

Wandering the World Wide Web

By Nisreen Galloway, Editorial Intern

Photo by Anh Ðào Kolbe for Teen Voices

Have you ever found yourself sitting down at the computer and before you realize it, you’ve spent more than 20 minutes just on Facebook?  According to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, 80% of teens use the internet for social media, with girls ages 12-17 using it the most. Social media can be a great way to build and keep in touch with friends both near and far, but it’s not the only thing on the Internet! Entertainment, news, and culture are all a part of the world wide web. Since we can all access the world with just a click, there are plenty of opportunities we can take advantage of on our home screens. Whether it’s inspiration in the form of artwork or learning how to make your own pillowcases, there are lots of safe, fun, and enlightening things do online.  Here are a few suggestions.

News
www.news.nick.com

For an easy way to grab the news and stay up to date on current events that you care about, check out Nick News. Originally a television show, this website is updated weekly with national and global news that incorporates the voices and viewpoints of teens. It offers both videos and articles so you can experience and learn about the news in a digestible format. It also has video links where Linda Ellerbee, the host, discusses current world events with teen panelists. On this site you can gain insight into what’s going on in the world and you can form your own opinion about national and international issues. As important, you may see someone you think is worthy to look up to as a strong, powerful female role model!

Other news-oriented sites to check out: www.timeforkids.com/news

DIY
www.craftgawker.com

Through sunshine and rain, finding online do-it-yourself (DIY) activities is a great way to get creative and use your hands to make something entirely unique. Craft Gawker compiles different blogs with tons of DIY tutorials and projects. The website is mainly images of finished projects; it is easy to use—simply click on something you like to find a step-by-step tutorial on how to create your own. Recycle earrings missing a match, make a funky ring, or grab those t-shirts you don’t wear anymore and make a new scarf.  With these tutorials, you can be green and create something unique that reflects your own sense of style and creativity.

Other creative art sites to check out: www.psimadethis.com

Blogs
www.rookiemag.com

As social media becomes ever more popular, so do online blogs. Even our own Girl Talk that you’re reading now is a great way to hear other people’s perspectives and thoughts. While some people choose to write about their passions for food or fashion, others create pages that speak to individual beauty and empowerment. One blog we really like is Rookie magazine, a teen-focused fashion and lifestyle blog started by 16-year-old Tavi Gevinson.  Her online blog is funny and it’s a fun place to read about the perspectives of other teens on school, growing up, and fashion. From Tumblr to WordPress, blogs are a fresh way to make your voice known to the world while exploring some new perspectives.

Other blogs to check out: www.neverseconds.blogspot.com

Videos
www.tedxteen.com

If your favorite part of class is when you get to watch a movie, then TED talks might become your new favorite place on the web. TED is a conference of intellectuals in Technology, Entertainment, and Design where people of all different backgrounds give lectures on innovative ideas and offer thought-provoking questions. While both women and men give lectures on really cool ideas, their visual aids beg viewers to follow along. TED also offers a section specifically sectored for teen viewers. Whether you choose to check out the original www.TED.com or www.TEDxTeen.com, you will be opening yourself up to a host of new theories, ideas, and some really unique people.

Other video sites to check out: www.youtube.com

Though these websites are just suggestions, there are plenty of other things to do online besides social media. Let us know what your favorite sites are!

** Note:  Even if you’re not using social media online, it’s important to make sure you follow through with internet safety procedures and you have your parent’s permission to go to the specific online sites you want to visit.**

Texting and Driving: The New Drinking and Driving

By Raven Heroux, Editorial Intern

We’ve all heard about the dangers of drinking and driving, but did you know that texting and driving can be just as dangerous? How many times have you joked around with your friends about being unable to walk and text at the same time without bumping into others or tripping? If it’s difficult to walk and text it should be obvious that it is much more difficult to drive and text. Using a cell phone while driving, whether you are calling, talking, or texting, delays your reaction time the same amount as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit (University of Utah, 2009).

Driving is already hard enough when you’re new to being in the driver’s seat and on the road; adding distractions such as alcohol, phone calls, and/or texts does not make it any easier. Driving in bad weather (snow, rain, sleet, etc.) or in the dark creates especially challenging environments when all senses need to be fully alert. Although many teens believe that they are fully capable of staying alert when drinking and driving, or texting and driving, the number of accidents due to distractions is increasing (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Study and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Study, 2007).

The good news: The number of alcohol-related car crashes is decreasing.

The bad news: The number of young adult car crashes does not seem to be decreasing.

The problem: Texting and driving accidents are increasing, replacing the drinking-and-driving-related crashes.

Sitting in traffic is boring, yes, and maybe you “only text at stop lights,” but the temptation to answer a text while driving may be too much, and that’s where the problem lies. Even if you are the only one on the road, that doesn’t make it OK, because you can easily swerve off the road and get a little too friendly with a tree or telephone pole.

No one wants to listen to the “driving safety” speech parents and other adults give, but they need to. And this concern/article about texting isn’t your typical “be careful!” speech. This is a BIG problem—big enough to warrant a campaign, all in the name of texting and driving! Campaigns against drinking and driving have been around for many years, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), which has worked to stop drunk driving since the 1980s. MADD suggested a solution that’s become widespread: assign a “designated driver” if you want to drink heavily and/or find yourself unable to drive.

LIkewise, the new “Stop the Wrecks. Stop the Texts” campaign implores you to get a “designated texter”! If you are driving with a friend, there is no reason for you to be texting as well. Drinking and texting are two serious issues that young adults partake in while driving, and neither is safer than the other. With new distractions like cell phones, it is important to see the underlying message in both campaigns: Be safe!

According to a 2008 study at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University, “Brain power used while driving decreases by 40% when a driver listens to conversation or music.” Forty percent—and your eyes are still on the road for this! Imagine NOT looking at the road. Your peripherals might be useful when trying to find your friends at lunch, but they aren’t going to be as useful when driving, whether you are looking at your phone or inebriated.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a hand-held or hands-free cell phone; distractions of any kind can decrease your reaction time, and sometimes, a fraction of a second is all that matters. According to the Ad Council campaign, Stop the Wrecks. Stop the Texts.: “Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field.”

Did You Know?

  1. Of those killed in distracted-driving-related crashes, 995 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction (18% of fatalities in distraction-related crashes) (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—NHTSA, 2009).
  2. The age group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the under-20 age group. 16% of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving (NHTSA, 2009).
  3. 22% of teens who drive while distracted say it makes driving less boring (AAA and Seventeenmagazine, 2010).
  4. 21% of teens who drive while distracted say they’re used to being connected to people all the time (AAA and Seventeenmagazine, 2010).
  5. While more than 90% of teen drivers say they don’t drink and drive, 9 out of 10 say they’ve seen passengers distracting the driver, or drivers using cell phones (National Teen Driver Survey, 2006).
  6. A texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. (Virgina Tech Transportation Institute—VTTI, 2009).
  7. 36% of teens say they have been involved in a near-crash because of their own or someone else’s distracted driving (Pew Research Center, 2010).

Next time you try to text “C U in 5!” to your friend, make sure you’re actually going to see them.

Stop the Wrecks. Stop the Texts.has several websites that you can check out for more information, including Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and a campaign toolkit on their main site. Click to find out what you can do to spread the word!

Vote for Healthy: School Lunch Campaign

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

A lot of attention in the media is currently focused on the importance of healthy food for children and adolescents. Coverage ranges from Michelle Obama’s presidential initiative to lower childhood obesity in the nation from a staggering 20 percent to just 5 percent by 2030, to more local initiatives with new school regulations for serving healthier food. Since teens spend a great deal of time at school, healthier food in the cafeteria is an important change.

According to Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based organization working with Latino youth and families to end destructive cycles of poverty, health inequities, and lack of educational and professional opportunities among the Latino community, there is definitely much left to be desired in the average school cafeteria. For example, a recent crackdown in Cambridge Massachusetts for lax inspections in public school cafeterias yielded numerous health code violations, including animal droppings around the storage rooms of a cafeteria and a school freezer that was rusted and rotting.

While this situation may be extreme, it’s very common for the food offered in school cafeterias to be less than ideal in terms of being healthy. In response, youth activists at Sociedad Latina have taken on this issue and they are working to create healthier food options in school cafeterias in Boston public schools.  Vickie Miranda and Achly Esparra are two teen representatives for Sociedad’s School Lunch Campaign. According to Miranda, the School Lunch Campaign was launched with a mission focused on “eating healthy in schools because that’s where we spend most of our time, besides home. If we don’t eat [at school], we don’t have the energy to learn.”

Last year’s controversial finding by councilor-at-large John R. Connolly, that several Boston public schools had been storing foods past their expiration date,and serving them to students, was one of the catalysts that initially drove the Campaign.

Both Miranda and Vickie believe that most Boston Public School (BPS) students don’t even eat school lunch. They explained: “Some students skip lunch altogether and some leave school to go to Burger King or Subway to get food, and then come back to school.” Either way, they aren’t getting a good lunch.

Esparra’s role as a dancer is one of the reasons she feels that working on the Campaign is incredibly important. “I got involved because of my dancing. I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and all things that involve healthy habits…especially eating, because I love food!” Miranda said: “I got involved because I eat school lunch. I eat at school because I know I won’t be able to eat anything else during school hours. And for me, I want to eat healthy. And if the food at school isn’t healthy, meaning that the food that I eat most of the time isn’t healthy, then I’m not healthy.”

The girls would like to see more healthy and great-tasting foods in their cafeteria. Esparra noted that they “want healthy food that tastes good, not just healthy food that tastes awful.”  Miranda added, ”In my school we have fruit, such as oranges and apples, but I would prefer more variety of fruit. Like at one point we had grapes, but then they disappeared.”

You may wonder how a teen-led campaign facilitated change in public schools. First, the teens started talking about what they wanted to change, and how they thought they could make that change. From there, Esparra and Miranda passed out 300 surveys at schools and in the community that asked students directly what kind of food and changes they would like to see in their cafeterias.  More than 70 percent of the respondents were in favor of establishing a salad/fruit bar in their school. Esparra and Miranda, alongside their peers, then began having conversations with their school cafeteria managers and principals to build support. In the early fall, they presented their idea to expand the salad bars in high schools to the director of the food and nutrition services.

The Campaign has been very successful. It has established salad bars in two new high schools, with more planned for the future.  In fact, Miranda and Esparra have secured a commitment from the BPS director of food and nutrition services to establish salad bars in all BPS high schools.  Miranda believes that they are off to a good start, but said:  “There are millions of others schools, millions of other students, who are still not eating healthy, not eating while at school, or leaving school to eat.  It is really important to try to get healthy foods and to try and keep students in school and keep them awake in classes.” In addition, Esparra would like to more see more food prepared in the cafeteria, as opposed to microwave meals, because she believes that “cooking real food is also part of eating healthy.”

Miranda and Esparra attribute much of the success of the School Lunch Campaign to Sociedad Latina’s genuine concern for the health of young people.  And they feel it’s important for girls to be activists in their own communities because “it shows that we’re trying to do something—we’re trying to make a change [for the better.] When people see that a girl is doing something about [a problem], it makes them think that at least someone cares about what’s going on in the community.”

Miranda complemented the thought: “Since we’re teenagers, people think that we don’t take anything seriously.” Miranda often sees the ‘she’s-not-gonna-take-this-job-seriously-because-she’s-a-teenager’ mentality. She stated: “But then, people see what we do here and they see how we take it seriously, so they see that the stereotypes aren’t correct.”

Sociedad staff member Melissa Luna reflected:  “I think it’s very important for adults to act as allies for our young women and encourage their leadership and participation.  In most schools, students and their abilities are taken for granted.  Every youth has the potential to become a leader and make their school a better place.  These young women have take on this charge and created a positive change for both themselves and their peers.”

Esparra advises: If you want to inspire change in your own community, whether it’s in your school cafeteria or elsewhere, “find an interest…My interest is me; I want to be healthy; I want to be fit. I think that finding motivation is the first move, the first step that you need to take to move forward.”

So do some reflective thinking, girls, and decide what you want to change in your community, then figure out your first step.  By moving one step at a time, in collaboration with others, you too can change the negative stereotypes of teens—and create positive change in your community.  Go to it!

For more information on efforts to increase healthy lunches in schools, see “The Secret Life of Lunch: Teen Voices Goes Beyond the Mystery Meat” in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the Teen Voices print magazine (pp. 19-21).

For more information on Sociedad Latina and their School Lunch Campaign, see: http://sociedadlatinaschoollunch.blogspot.com/p/sociedad-latina-school-lunch-goals.html

Screen-Free Week 2012: Turn off the TV, and Turn On Life!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

How many hours a day would you guess that you stare at a television, computer screen, video game, or cell phone? According to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average, children aged 8-18 spends about seven and a half hours using entertainment media every day. And because so much of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time, it’s really more like 11 hours worth of media content. Furthermore, the average teenager in 7th -12th grade spends about an hour and a half every day just sending and receiving texts!  On average, Black and Hispanic children consume much more TV than white kids–black children watching almost six hours per day, Latino youth about five and a half hours per day, and white kids three and a half hours a day.

A down side to watching TV and using the computer is that you are not physically active (except maybe a little bit with games like Wii Sports). And especially for teens, this is not good. Approximately 12.5 million of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are considered obese. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for not only obesity, but also Type 2 diabetes. Heavy media users also tend to perform poorly in school, usually getting fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower). In addition to that, getting wrapped up in screens can be detrimental to developing a well-rounded social life. TV, social media sites, and video games may be entertaining, but they are no substitute for interactions with real people.

Understandably though, with the irresistible lure of modern luxuries such as DVR-ing your favorite television shows (can you say, Once Upon A Time marathon?), updating your Facebook status, or even spending hours exploring the awesome Teen Voices website (ahem!), it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up off the couch and pursue a more physical or social activity such as taking a walk, riding your bike, or doing Double Dutch.

Luckily for all of us, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is sponsoring Screen-Free Week 2012! Started in 1996, the goal is to give children and families around the country a chance to turn off the screens they use for entertainment, and turn on life! For one whole week, you can use your creativity to think up great new ways to spend your free time, whether it be finally cracking open that book you’ve been meaning to read; taking a walk around your city; playing a game of soccer with your friends; swimming at the beach; going for a hike in the woods with your family; or even enjoying a jog through your neighborhood. The possibilities are endless. The fact that it’s spring will hopefully make it more appealing to go outside.

Another piece of good news is that YOU can help spread the word about Screen-Free Week and inspire others to start themselves on the path to a healthier, more active lifestyle by downloading an Organizer’s Kit at the Screen Free Week website.

So, get up off that couch, and get moving! And start talking! To find out more information about Screen Free Week, visit their website.

Voice Your Verse ‘n’ Open Your Purse!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Are you a poet? Well you’re in luck because April is National Poetry Month! To coincide with this annual celebration of the written art form, She’s the First launched their “Voice Your Verse” campaign. She’s the First is a nonprofit focused on getting American girls involved in raising funds to sponsor the education of girls in developing countries. The campaign aims to raise $10,000 by publishing an anthology of poetry called If the World Were my Classroom.  She’s the First promises that “100% of proceeds from the anthology, published during National Poetry Month in April, will sponsor girls’ education in Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Nepal.”

In March of 2011, She’s the First founder/president Tammy Tibbetts and Hannah Brencher, creator of MoreLoveLetters.com, decided to combine their love of poetry and social media with their passion for girls’ education. Now in its second year, this year’s campaign began in February and will last 90 days, over the course of which She’s the First invites students to host their own She’s the First Open Mic Night to raise more money, and awareness for the project. The campaign will culminate in a spoken-word event in NYC on April 17.

Besides helping to sponsor girls’ education, She’s the First provides several other great reasons to participate and contribute to the Voice Your Verse campaign—the education of girls has greater implications beyond gender equality. Research consistently shows that educating girls and encouraging them to work outside the home raises the economic output and stability of a country.  In terms of the economy, maternal education is linked to lowered maternal mortality rates as well as improved hygiene standards; thus, promoting the education of girls can incite widespread effects. Did you know that approximately 1 in 7 girls are wed before the age of 15 in developing countries, and they often suffer complications or death from pregnancy? In fact, pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and it has been shown that girls who stay in school longer have fewer children and marry later.

To find out more information about the campaign, and contribute to the cause, you can visit http://www.shesthefirst.org/poetry/ or http://www.shesthefirst.org/2012/04/poetryanthologygirlsponsorships/.

Photos courtesy of She’s the First.

“Kony 2012:” What About the Girls?

By Teen Voices Interns Kate Szumita, Raven Heroux, and Mary Gilcoine

Even if you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account, you’ve probably heard something about the Kony 2012 campaign. Kony 2012, the campaign’s 30-minute film, has gone viral and created an unprecedented uproar in social media. The campaign was launched earlier this month by Invisible Children, a non-profit raising awareness of African armed conflict and the use of kidnapped children as rebel soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Simply stated, the mission of the Kony 2012 campaign is to make Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony famous enough that he will be captured and brought to trial.

Kony’s crimes are undeniably heinous. According to the campaign film Kony 2012, Kony has abducted more than 30,000 children over the course of 20 years, forcing young girls into sex slavery and young boys into warring as child soldiers. As advocates for teen girl empowerment, we’re deeply disturbed by the statistics about girls.

But we’re also disturbed by the lack of attention to girls and girls’ issues in the film. While it’s understandable that Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children and creator of Kony 2012) seeks to hold the attention of the masses—a temperamental target audience that may shy away from stories that are too graphic or disturbing—we have to wonder: Where are the girls? Why is the film so silent about the stories of these girls? Russell mentions only in passing the atrocious sex crimes committed against young African women. It is astonishing and disappointing how much this film glosses over the extent of crimes committed.

So why has Invisible Children shaped the Kony 2012 to hold such a narrow perspective? The girls—and all the affected children—deserve a safe place to tell their stories, and to be heard.

It’s critical that a film and organization seeking to make “invisible children” visible should not render girls invisible and voiceless. In the past, the organization has showcased the struggles of African girls from war-torn areas. Among these girls is Grace, who was kidnapped and forced to become a sex slave. Soon after, Grace found out she was pregnant. Grace is celebrated for her strength as a survivor and her resilience in starting a new life.

Roseline has another amazing story of strength, when she was left to survive on her own after her parents were killed by the war.

While we wish that Russell had given voice to girls like Grace and Roseline, we also must give credit where credit is due. In many ways, the film is moving and inspirational and it’s clearly tapped a vein among many people. The Kony 2012 campaign has, if nothing else, proven the power and influence of social media on mass society. Despite heavy criticism from bloggers and other media, in a matter of weeks, Kony 2012 has undoubtedly grown from a film to a movement. Many well-intentioned social media consumers, including teens, are indeed making Joseph Kony famous.

But, to quote Spiderman’s uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So the questions become: How can we use this film and the tool of social media wisely? How can we harness the momentum that’s building around the exploitation of all children to make the world safer? What changes would you like to see made in the world? And what actions are you willing to do to foster that change, even if there’s a personal cost?

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep

By Kate Szumita, Editorial Intern

Art by Mary Davis, 15
Pennsylvania

In the United States, it is estimated that more than 10 million people of all ages struggle with the adverse effects of eating disorders every day. While the causes of these disorders vary, the effects are potentially fatal, and the National Eating Disorders Association is determined to help eliminate, or at least reduce this statistic.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and access to treatment of disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. It strives to support affected individuals and their families and at the same time combat the causes. NEDA hopes to remove the stigma surrounding eating disorders through community-conscious activism.

For the past 25 years, NEDA has facilitated NEDAwareness Week, the collaboration of volunteers and experts in the fields of health, medicine, and social work seeking to create a nationally recognized support system. NEDAwareness week was last week, February 26th to March 3, and it helped spread the word that eating disorders are not a choice, but a disease, and there is help available. This year’s theme was “Everybody Knows Somebody.” Whether it’s you or someone you know who has battled an eating disorder, or if it’s something you’ve learned about and want to get behind the cause, NEDA wants your help in raising awareness of this widespread illness. Last year’s NEDAwareness Week recruited a record-breaking number of supporters spanning from all 50 states and 29 countries throughout the world

Like NEDA, Teen Voices wants you to love your body! In recognition of our proud partnership with NEDA, March’s theme for our Artist of the Month Contest is “Beauty is More than Skin Deep.” With the media’s perpetuation of the airbrushed, size-zero body as the standard for perfection, we realize that it can be hard to remember to “love the skin you’re in.” We’re dedicating the month of March to healthy bodies, healthy habits, and healthy attitudes in the hopes of raising awareness of body image and self-esteem issues and preventing eating disorders. Help us challenge unrealistic beauty standards and celebrate the things that make us unique—even the things we might consider “flaws.” Each month’s Artist of the Month Contest winner will be eligible to win Artist of the Year, with the prize of a full scholarship, including room and board, to the Pre-College Summer Art Studio in Boston a the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Find out how you can get involved with NEDA, participate in upcoming events, or contribute to our art contest in support of healthy, beautiful minds and bodies.