What are those teens doing anyways?

The other night I was at an event where a writer/teacher was presenting. Since I did not ask her permission to quote her here, I am going to say her name is Adele. It's not really, but that will suffice for now. Adele is a 50-something poet of remarkable skill. And she is a teacher who for years has gotten her students to out perform their expectations.

Adele thinks differently. She says that to make her poems she "demotes" stories into images and then let's them flit about her brain until they match up with another, seemingly unrelated, image and when that happens she begins working on her poem.

I wonder if this is why she appeals so to her students. Teens are a collection of disjointed stories and images that bump into each other and sometimes the results are pretty. Sometimes they are not.

But the reason I bring up Adele is that she and I have been noticing a change. A change in how teens are living, breathing, creating, doing stuff. "I can't get them to join your site," she said, referring to youngwritersproject.org, our civil, vibrant community for young writers. "I can't get them to do much of anything outside the classroom."

She explained. She said the kids were so "busy these days." But she surprised me. These kids, she said, are not busy because of helicopter parents or too many outside activities to boost their chances of getting into college. "Social media," she said. "They are spending so much time on all their social media channels they feel busy all the time. And they do spend a lot of time on it."

They do. And think about it, before email, what did adults do with that time? And before social media, what did kids do with that time? And how much time do they spend on social media keeping up with the communications and friends' shares and comments on SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook and ...

According to the Pew Research Center, and aided by smartphones, "92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” Facebook is still king, but Instagram is gaining. And teen girls are the most avid users. 

Well that's cool. You are not going to find me getting up on a soap box (now that dates me!) warning of the eminent destruction of the world.

But combine this with what we continually hear from teens we work with -- and we work with a lot of them. My question: "Why do you go onto Facebook?" Their answer: "To fill time. ... And to stalk someone." Huh? Yes, they say, if they see a dreamy boy they friend him and then find out where he is going to be and "bump into" him.


But let's get back to the first response. To fill time.

That, I think, is opportunity. Because if we, meaning those offering classes or digital education alternatives, can offer those teens something more substantive, something that challenges and intrigues and makes them feel more worthwhile and alive AND that is social, then we have a chance to engage them.

Just Write It

Journey fans: Taking a few days hiatus to a) lead Young Writers Project's Fall Celebration of Writing (more here: youngwritersproject.org, b) I need to plan it out a bit and c) I need to get some of my slides converted to digital.)

In August 2006, when Young Writers Project came to be as a nonprofit, I created a Web site and within weeks it was out of control AND had become a community. Before Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram, this was a social media site before anyone had heard the term.

The site, the community, was based on trust: No moderation, treat people with respect. For teens, respect and civility means safety, the safety to take creative risk, the safety to write how you really feel and think and not worry about getting slammed. The activity exploded with posts and commenting and collaborations. I was, in all this, an afterthought, a ghost, as in "who's gg?" Cool.

What I saw there, what I see there now on the new site that is open to youths anywhere in the world, is that they know digital writing. They feel it in their bones. They know there is an audience of peers to help them shape, change, improve, expand, continue their ideas. This gives them motivation. They jump in. They know, too, that professionals may come by and offer additional help or will help them gain certain skills through informal live workshops. This gives them confidence. And they also know that their best work will get presented to valued audiences -- in newspapers, on radio and TV, on stage, on other Web sites and/or, in our digital monthly magazine: The Voice, the gem, the Holy Grail.

This is such, sweet, sauce.

Our vision: Help youths gain the confidence and communication skills they need to shape their world.

Our motto: Just Write It.

Like this:

Our method is simple. And it comes in three parts:

  1. Explore the idea, gain enthusiasm for it, own it.
  2. Take in feedback, consider it, re-explore your piece. Polish it.
  3. Find audience for the best to affirm the ideas, the voice, the effort.

All in a civil online space.

So below is a prime example of what happens. What began as a poem, became a poem with a photograph, became a digital story with narration, became a digital story with the author's own created music.

Digital writing spurs the evolution of expression.

Enjoy this:


Her words:

The author/videographer/photographer/musician is a high school senior. She's been working with us since fifth grade. Her name is Erin Bundock and she is from Shelburne, Vermont. Remember the name.

#digiwrimo 6 -- The Ideas

Sometimes, maybe all the time, I feel like this picture.

 The inside of my brain

I always feel like I'm in a rush, swirls of wind and color and noise all about me, trying to keep up with the voice within to do this and then that and then the other thing. Everything always seems so damned urgent. Why is this?

Perhaps it comes from years in the news business. Or from running a nonprofit. But I suspect it's genetic, too, just the way I was put together.

The blind rush forward takes me down unexpected paths to unexpected ideas and-- some good, some, well, less than good. But that's OK; there are always plenty.  Often I find something that needs more money, or more expertise or more time. It is difficult to breathe in and give the idea some care and feeding. To figure out how it can actually be done.

In the newspaper business I used to plan for three possible stories: There was the go-outside-and-breathe-and-then-come-back-in-and-write-it story. There was the story where you go out and most everything works, you find most of the people you need, you gain an understanding, you see the framing question and story. And then there's the fun level, when you go out and find something totally unexpected, something far more interesting than you imagined.

In the nonprofit business it's figuring out how to do it with what you've got, the resources that are available. How can you execute the idea to the best level possible? In a word, how can you nurture the idea -- with all urgency -- and find the resources you don't have, to take the idea to the level you really want. The level of cool.

Now that's a challenge.