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Vanaski: Teens seek approval through social media, find shame

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 12:29 a.m.

Dear Jolie:

You are almost 7 months old as I write this and too young to read it. But one day, you'll be snooping around on the Internet and you might come across this. I hope you do, because I'm a little worried about you.

Granted, all you do right now is crawl under tables and couches, shriek at your brother's antics, and raise neighborhood hell with your screams at 4 a.m. because you want to be held.

So it's not your fault that I'm worried — not yet. My employer, the Tribune-Review, reported recently that someone hacked the social media accounts of a few girls attending Norwin High School in Westmoreland County. Nude photos — or “selfies” — they had posted appeared on a porn website.

What concerns me is why teenagers would take or post nude photos of themselves anywhere. I'm not afraid that you will do something that foolish because, sweetheart, you won't be allowed near whatever the next electronic fad device is until you're 26.

A Pew Research Center study found 80 percent of teens use social media. Of those, 91 percent post photos of themselves. Teens who took part in this study said they post their photos to seek approval. If they don't get enough positive reinforcement, they take down photos and try for a better one.

Teens acknowledged that popularity gained through social media tends to translate into offline life. It's not fair to be judged long-term by stupid mistakes you made as a youth, but you can avoid this by not engaging in such behavior.

Now it's human nature to want to be liked, and you may be thinking: “If everyone's doing it, could it really be so wrong?”

Here's reality: If you open the door for people to judge you primarily on your outer appearance, it will be hard to make them stop.

You could be 50 years old and be trying to be a serious performer, but everyone will remember that one time you made a short porn flick and tried to pass it off as music video. (See: Madonna. ... Actually, you know what? Don't.)

Many young girls don't understand what truly makes them valuable. It can be difficult to determine that in a world where you can read stories dedicated to how quickly some celebrity's body becomes rail-thin again, five months after giving birth.

You have great attributes. I can tell by the way you eat anything lying around that you're a curious kid. Once you stop trying to gum through our furniture, this will become a great quality. And you should be confident about your body, but you don't need other people's opinion for that.

The fact is teens do stupid things, especially when everyone around them is doing stupid things. Don't worry — I'll help you resist that urge. And before you complain, just be glad it's not your grandmother laying down the law. You don't want to get her involved.

Nafari Vanaski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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