I’ve spent the last few days reviewing entries for the Interactivity category of the Prix Jeunesse competition. The age group I was tasked to look at was 7-12-year-olds, and I was amazed -- and impressed -- by how many of the sites and apps proffered for consideration dealt with difficult topics: a mother’s breast cancer, a child’s homosexuality, a social services intervention, and even the death of a classmate.
These are not topics the entertainment industry has historically sought to address with youngsters, but they are most certainly topics youngsters have to deal with, far too often. It seems essential and valuable that children facing some of life’s harder circumstances learn as quickly as possible that they are not alone, that they are not the first to go through what they are going through and that they most certainly will not be the last. There’s the added matter that, in a world of fluff and reality shows, thoughtful treatment of serious issues is not only a breath of fresh air but also a selling point.
And so there’s a gratifying surge of frank, honest discussion about the things we’ve tended to keep secret. I’m not talking about the tawdry, attention-seeking, overdramatic oversharing promulgated by the likes of Snooki and Khloe. I’m talking about people dealing with the same problems that we ourselves have either dealt with or can relate to. I’m talking about them saying, “I’ve been there, too. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s what it feels like. Here are the choices I made to get through it.” I’m talking about social proof that the unmentionable is in fact not only mentionable but far more normal than we are led to believe, and that sharing our troubles will not turn us into outcasts and may instead reveal that we have far more support than we ever could have imagined.
At TED last week, Brene Brown spoke about the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt, she said, is when we feel bad about what we’ve done to others. Shame is when we feel bad about ourselves. Shame is secret’s Siamese twin, and its antidote is sunshine.
The insanely exponential rate of our online content explosion means there is more of, well, everything. We have more gossip, shopping, gambling, and porn; we also have more thoughtful commentary, usefulapplications, and quality interactive content for kids. My hope is that this last category is what kids look to as they’re navigating the Internet ocean. My hope is that they find some honest, calm voice to serve as their North Star as the winds of cyberbullying strive to blow them off course.
If you read my column with any regularity, you know that I am a romantic and a dreamer. I aim also to be a realist. These websites are not any kind of panacea for the world’s ills. But they are a start. They are an alternative to the plastic, unattainable ideals that are so often served to us as “normal;” they are remedy for the false idea that other people are not suffering and that everyone else’s lives are as effortless as they seem. They show our children what it truly means to be normal, in all its heterogeneous messiness. And for that, they deserve our respect.