Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Ditching Normal, Seeking Amazing

Sticking out from the crowd isn’t always fun. Just ask any kid, especially one in middle school. Taking an unpopular stand, joining a weird club or merely looking different can be uncomfortable, painful even. Trying to fit in, trying for normal, can make life smoother in some ways. As a psychologist and a mother of three I know well the benefits of normal and the daily struggles some face in trying to gain acceptance. It’s easier to fit in and not draw too much attention to oneself. Kids know it too.

Maya Angelou, the great champion of social justice, certainly knew it. The late author and poet, however, also learned the awesome benefits of speaking up, following her gut passion and going beyond normal. Fortunately she also had the courage and fortitude to reach for something else, not only in her own life but for countless others.

Her words give me goosebumps, chills up and down my spine!

To me, her words affirm that every person deserves to be seen and respected as an individual with their own gifts, passions, limitations and quirks. This includes both children who struggle to fit in, the ones who are bullied, alienated, persecuted, discriminated against as well as the normal kids, yes, whoever they are, whatever normal means. Every child has their our own unique talents and traits. Each should have the opportunity to discover and develop in their own special way, in other words, to become amazing.

Plenty of obstacles arise on the road to amazing. You name it. The media. Peer pressure. Academic pressures. Athletic pressures. Even well-meaning loved ones. We moms and dads bring to the task our own complicated set of expectations, hopes and fears. It’s amazing that kids can and do glimpse the amazing within themselves with so many influences trying to shape them or persuade them to be one thing or another.

Thank goodness some brave souls have taken a chance to stir up normal. If nobody bothered venturing beyond normal, we’d still think the earth was flat or that girls couldn’t be astronauts. Or that polio and measles couldn’t be prevented. It’s not easy asking a lot of questions or going against the popular crowd or accepted convention. True, for most people amazing doesn’t mean curing a terrible disease or flying to the moon but simply living life on one’s own terms and seeking something meaningful. It also means letting kids follow their interests, instincts or relationships however messy, ill-advised or unconventional. Please feel free to remind me of this in a few years if my daughter decides to major in medieval printmaking.

My wish then is for more amazing. For more kids to be amazing. And for more kids to have a chance at being amazing.

This summer you can help a child on the other side of the world be amazing. Here’s how. This month, during Shot@Life’s Blogust 2015—a month-long blog relay - some of North America's most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share inspirational quotes for their children. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or take action using the social media on this website, Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, one vaccine will be donated to a child around the world (up to 50,000). Please join me in giving more children a shot at life and even a shot at amazing! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Femvertising. A round of applause for brands?

There's a new word in social media. Femvertising. Think Dove's Real Beauty campaign. 

BlogHer 2015, the social media conference behemoth, announced it will bestow an award for sponsored content (i.e. branding or what we used to call advertising). Sure the SheKnowsMedia people dressed it with a feminist angle, a cute name and of course, a hashtag. The conference, taking place next month in New York, home to many brands and social media mavens, will introduce the first ever #Femvertising Award. 
"Just as the Voices of the Year community keynote has always been about representation and inclusion of all types of people in social media, the #Femvertising Awards will honor brands that get it right, challenging gender stereotypes by building awareness-generating, pro-women messages and images into ads that target women." SheKnows Media
I'm all for wiping out gender bias and promoting female-friendly ads, I have three impressionable children and a Certificate in Women's Studies, but the merger of blogging, branding and supposed feminism doesn't sit well with me for a number of reasons. I can't help but wonder whether a media company, folks pushing content at you and me, should be in the business of honoring brands. Even if it is to encourage positive messages about women. It's maddening somehow, two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward, one back, bow to the brands, now shimmy to the right, shimmy to the left.

Maybe this is the new norm for media companies, marrying content with brands in unique and maddening fashion. At the very least these 12 ad promotions (under consideration for the #Femvertising award) make it clear where the sponsored content and original content begins. For that I am thankful. I suppose.

Other times in social media it's not always easy to tell which is the unique voice, the original content and the branding. How does this affect the content? That there is a relationship between the blogging world and brands is no secret, at least to those in that world. It's less clear how outside readers perceive it. 

Nor is it clear if or how paying bloggers typically nominal amounts of money or in free products, trips or other goodies influences them, their content and their relationship with readers. I have a hard time understanding how it honors women to pay them well below a living wage for using their website and blogs to reach parents. It doesn't strike me as furthering women to say nothing of how it treats their audience. Bloggers, or content creators, aren't quite professionals in the traditional sense. They often don't get the salary, respect or vacation days. 

I struggle with answering whether this approach, the merger of brands and content directed at women ultimately helps women, let alone, as SheMedia suggests, inspires and empowers them.
Femvertising is endemic to our company as we support brands and agencies that seek to inspire and empower women versus shame them through pro-female advertising. SheKnows Media 
Something is endemic but I'm not sure it's women's best interests. Thoughts?

Up next: BlogHer 2015 official tagline - "Experts Amongst Us." 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Anxiety Epidemic: College Students More Worried Than Ever?

Over the past decade there has been mounting concern about the mental health of college students. Survey after survey, article and article, blog post after blog post reports high levels of anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions stalking students in quads and lecture halls across the country. Recently anxiety displaced depression as the most common disorder affecting students in numerous surveys. Nearly 1 in 6 college students was treated for anxiety or an anxiety disorder over the past year according to an annual report by the American College Health Association. The American Psychological Association is worried. College administrators are worried. A 2013 survey found 95% of college counseling centers expressed a "growing concern" about students with serious mental health problems.

Why are colleges students more stressed than usual?

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling. Anxious College Students Strain College Mental Health Centers, New York Times

Yes, did you catch that part about parents?

We over-involved, coddling parents who carefully, reluctantly hand over our precious children who are woefully unprepared for balancing their checkbooks (i.e. checking the balance online) and remembering to change their sheets once a semester.

University presidents, counselors and the media all appear more worried than ever about anxious students. What is not certain - whether students actually are more anxious than ever.

It is reasonable to ask to what extent the seeming anxiety epidemic reflects growing anxiety versus other factors such as better awareness, less stigma, more counseling services and resources or even dramatic, heavily covered campus shootings. It's an important issue but nobody seems to know how much anxiety is on the rise.

Although it's very easy to find news of anxiety and stress among today's college students, it is not so simple to determine if anxiety is increasing. It's not easy to make conclusive judgments about longer term changes in the prevalence of anxiety disorders or for that matter, mental health disorders in general. The World Health Organization reports nearly a third of Americans will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives - making us the most anxious country on the globe. Thus I must  ask if there's a correlation between anxiety and awareness, resources, stigma, affluence, and I'll also throw in the insatiable 24/7 new media, because why not.

Are young adults in general more stressed? Why the spot light on college co-eds anyhow? College students make for an excellent, easy survey pool. Fewer surveys address their peers off campus so it's not clear if the latter face as much anxiety. They're not as easily corralled into either college mental health centers (free stress balls! free smoothies!) or undergraduate subject pools (5 extra credit points!).

None of this is to suggest anxiety is not an issue or not a burden. Nor is it to suggest getting through college with its menu of social, emotional and cognitive challenges is stress-free. If I have to regularly read about anxious students, however, it would be a relief to have their plight put into perspective. I would love to have some data, some evidence to do so. At this point it is not forthcoming.

NOTE: Thanks to Andrea Riley for spurring this discussion. Left to my own devices, I would have bored you with a follow-up on the latest faked data scandal. I just can't stop laughing at the NY Times  advice on how to prevent future scientific fraud:

It can start by ensuring that scientists, especially peer reviewers, are allowed to see the underlying data of a paper, which researchers are typically reluctant to share...The federal government could sponsor studies to determine how much cheating goes on, how much harm it causes and how best to combat it.

Right. Uh huh. It sounds so good, so reasonable (unless you've ever been in a research lab). So peer reviewers (i.e. busy professors/researchers) will delve into the raw data behind the papers under review, the same papers they critique in their spare time for free -  while their own grad students supervise undergraduates who are coding and entering their own lab's raw data. After which the grad students will likely analyze the data,  highlight the good bits and start crafting the incredibly boring methodology section of the new paper the advisors/mentors (the same peer reviewers above!!!) will soon submit for peer review. At which point they will offer up their own data to a fresh set of peer reviewers.

To say nothing about the government sponsoring further research.