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Am I Pretty? Am I Ugly?: An Unsettling Trend on YouTube

March 11, 2012

A disturbing trend has been sweeping the Internet: teens and tweens, mostly girls, have been posting videos on YouTube asking viewers to weigh in on their looks. The Huffington Postand the New York Daily News have both run articles recently about this phenomenon of so-called Am I Pretty? and Am I Ugly? videos.

So that you know what I am talking about, examples of these videos are here and here. Not being particularly YouTube savvy, I had to go on there and search under Am I Pretty and Am I Ugly?

It is hard to say how this trend started, Joshua Klapow, an associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama Birmingham, told me. He went on to say that this is a natural extension of what teens and tweens do: “There is a natural tendency for tweens and teens to seek out acceptance and popularity, and be somewhat impulsive.” 

Teens WILL experiment. Unfortunately, Klapow explained, they are now doing so in a very public, very potent medium. Before, kids passed notes in class or talked on the playground. The problem is that a note is not going to reach as many people, the record of it is not your face or your voice, and you are going to get anonymous responses the way that you would on YouTube, Klapow said.

It is the comments that are particularly destructive, because they are often cruel. People comment on YouTube and say negative things, because they can do it anonymously, said Alan Kazdin, the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University.  

What Can Parents Do?

Kazdin told me that first, parents should set up time periods in which teens and tweens are involved in activities, such as sports or music, in which they are not vulnerable to such destructive influences.

Both Kazdin and Klapow also suggest sitting down to watch some of these videos with your child. The trick is not to lecture about the evils of the Internet or YouTube. Klapow recommends starting the conversation by saying something like, “Help me understand why you think someone would do something like this,” or “Help me understand what the person was looking for.” Ask the child if he or she feels that way.

This is a great opportunity for parents to find out what their teen is thinking. “You will be amazed at how willing your teen is to open up and educate you about what they are an expert in, which is being a teen,” Klapow said.

If your child posts a video like that, you need to take the video down and talk with them about it. Klapow suggests saying to them, “Help me understand why you wanted to do this. What was it you were looking for?”

Comedian Margaret Cho posted a blog on the Huffington Post about these videos. I agree with what she says. True beauty comes from inside, and how you feel about yourself. NOT what others think of you. Focus doing on the things you love to do, and what makes you happy, and you will truly be beautiful.


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