Social media: Kids leverage online networks for civic engagement

Social media is a tool that enables kids to engage in issues they care about and bring about real change. Just ask Seventeen magazine and Universal Studios.

Leanne Italie/AP
Julia Bluhm of Waterville, Maine, holds petitions to Seventeen magazine as she leads a protest outside Hearst Corp. headquarters in New York on May 2. Bluhm used to gather signatures and petition the magazine to be more transparent about how they retouch photos of models.

I hope parents and educators have seen these two clear signs of how kids are using social media to “be the change.”

There’s 14-year-old Julia Bluhm from Maine who noticed that friends in ballet class were always criticizing their bodies and spearheaded a protest in front of Seventeen magazine’s New York headquarters. She got 80,000-plus people around the world to sign her online petition at to get magazines to stop digitally altering models so that they appeared in photos “impossibly thin with perfect skin,” an MSNBC blog reports.

“Girls want to be accepted, appreciated, and liked. And when they don’t fit the criteria, some girls try to ‘fix’ themselves. This can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem,” Julia wrote at

Although the magazine said it had “never been guilty of the extreme airbrushing that takes place in some other fashion magazines and advertising spreads,” it will publish a “Body Peace Treaty” in the August issue pledging, among other things to “‘always feature real girls and models who are healthy’ and ‘be totally up-front’ by posting pics from their photo shoots on their Tumblr,” MSNBC added.

And there were Ted Wells’s fourth graders in Brookline, Mass., who launched a campaign against Universal Studios.

They found a glaring omission on the website about the studio’s film "The Lorax:" none of the environmental messaging that was in Dr. Seuss’s book of that name – “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

So they too started a petition at and got more than 57,000 signatures, ABC News reported. “An executive at Universal Studios told Mr. Wells that development was already in the works, and that his class accelerated their plans,” the Examiner later reported.

It’s exciting to see adults supporting and responding to what children seem to understand – how new media allow anybody to participate and make a difference now on a global stage. This is real-world civic engagement enabled by social media.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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