Have you heard of the “How Ugly Are You” app? It is another app that has gone viral where people submit their pictures to the inter web and they are given feedback by complete strangers as to their rating on an ugly meter. These apps are not new, and if I remember right, this is how the founder of Facebook first became infamous at Harvard. (according to my limited memory from the 100% truthful documentary, The Social Network.) While these apps and websites are not new, there is continually a new generation of kids who wade into these waters and with often awful results.
This app has gotten a little bit of buzz lately in the Twin Cities are and on the Howard Stern Show. And I was asked to give my opinion by our denominational news service. These were the two questions I was asked:
Do you know whether any of the kids in your church have used this?
Why would kids set themselves up for damaging comments?
Below are my answers to these questions. I would love to know how you would answer these questions based on your context.
1) Do you know whether any of the kids in your church have used this?
There seems to always be some sort of app that makes its way through student culture and into our ministry. There was the hot or not fad and now the ugly meter. For most of our students this is a silly game and an opportunity to make fun of friends and to tease one another. it seems that where kids get crushed is on the jr high level. They are just now beginning to be socially aware and then drink from the fire hose of social networking only to get crushed.
Where these apps are a problem are among our younger students and our small group leaders end up spending a lot of time working through self esteem issues and identity issues with our students. Apps like this are the beginning of understanding how the outside world thinks of us and so younger students are incredibly interested in getting feedback. But, unfortunately, they have little practice or stomach for the cruelty of their friends.
2) Why would kids set themselves up for damaging comments?
Like I said above, these apps are much more popular and also much more damaging to our younger students. Developmentally they are beginning to think abstractly and can reflect on what others think about them. They are sponges and want to gather as much information as possible. So their need for feedback and their hope for positive feedback often lures them into putting themselves out there into the big bad internet.
The problem is that there is no accountability for words on the internet. What is often meant as a joke with no intention for pain or bullying, is taken personally and felt deeply by the person being judged. For students who struggle with self-esteem issues and often find themselves on the receiving end of social bullying, these apps and the Facebook groups that are started for people to mock someone cause so much damage.
It is sad that so many kids are starving for feedback, and will take such a risky gamble in order to get some. And almost always, this gamble is a losing bet. We have an opportunity as the church and student ministry to fill this gap. By providing real feedback, both positive and negative through strong relationships filled with love and grace, we help fill this void.
Bullying is not new. Being mean is not new. Saying stupid things is not new. But for students entering adolescents, developing a social life will always be new. While the landscape continues to change and become more complex, the issues in of themselves never do. Thankfully the church has and will continue to have great answers and solutions for the deepest needs and brokenness of our world.