Cyberbullying Expert Challenges Denair Students

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Collin Kartchner didn’t set out to be an expert on cyberbullying. He was a full-time video producer who posted satirical sketches on Instagram, where he has a big following.

Collin Kartchner didn’t set out to be an expert on cyberbullying. He was a full-time video producer who posted satirical sketches on Instagram, where he has a big following.

But in 2016, the Utah man ran into an old friend. Her name was Roxanne. He asked about her daughter, Whitney, whom he had known when she was a child. Tragically, Roxanne said Whitney, at age 23, had committed suicide. Sadly, Kartchner learned, Whitney had become heavily involved in social media, which her mother blamed for her death.

“When she was 14 or 15, she was spending all her time social media and she was scrolling through these beautiful, curated photos of models and perfect people and she started feeling really bad about herself,” Kartchner told students at Denair High School on Tuesday. “And it led to depression, which then led to self-harming, which then led to addiction, which then led to her death.”

Kartchner felt he needed to do what he could to prevent similar tragedies.

“If we don’t stop this problem, it’s only going to get worse,” he said in one of his videos. “Adults can more easily understand that photos are manipulated or touched up, but kids don’t see that. They look at it and say, ‘Why is my life not like that?’ I shared that and I was flooded with hundreds of stories saying, ‘That was my daughter, that was my neighbor, that was my grandson. This same thing happened.’ ”

Kartchner decided to use his own social media platform – he has nearly 100,000 Instagram followers – to warn teens and their parents about the dangers of cyberbullying and social media addiction.

He created the hashtag #SaveTheKids to amplify his message. He produced videos aimed at teens and adults, and began to speak to audiences around the country. It is that campaign that brought him to Denair on Tuesday.

Everywhere he speaks, he asks teens to accept what he calls “the Collin Challenge:”

  • Take a week off social media each month to “reset your brain”
  • Get/give eight hugs a day for a minimum of 8 seconds
  • Start sharing more authenticity and positivity. Show others it is OK to be real.
  • Don’t participate in any kind of cyberbullying. Cut it off when you see it.
  • Do something awesome and DON’T share it
  • Fail at something and SHARE it proudly
  • Unfollow every account on Instagram or Snapchat that doesn’t make you happy

“My challenge is for teens to connect in real life,” Kartchner said. “Put your phone down. Don’t let social media tell you what you are worth. You will never be happy if you are chasing numbers and followers. You don’t have to follow accounts just because others do. Don’t follow accounts that make you judge yourself or make you feel less or inadequate.”

He readily admits he’s not a counselor or a psychiatrist, but said experts he has talked with are convinced there is a link between social media use and an increase in the teen suicide rate. He equated the addiction to social media to cocaine and said it “ruins lives.”

“They say giving a smart phone with social media and untethered access to all these apps with no training and no guidance is like handing the keys to a car with no driver’s ed,” Kartchner said. “So how do we sit here in shock wondering why kids are crashing and burning every single day.”

He emphasizes to teens that what they read and see on social media often does not reflect reality.

“We want to change the narrative with social media and how it’s affecting us to make us feel like we’re not enough,” Kartchner said. “To be able say that you are enough, that you are perfect the way you are. That you don’t need to compare yourself to people who are putting perfect photos that have been staged with an entire team, with professional makeup artists. That’s not real. Let’s just be happy with who we are.”

One of his main messages is that parents and their children must reconnect.

“What are we doing spending all day scrolling through other people’s photos that we don’t know?” he asked. “Why are we spending eight hours looking for validation from strangers we’ve never met? Let’s put our phone down. Let’s spend time with our kids. Let’s go make memories. Let’s go enjoy life.”

Kartchner held a separate meeting just for parents Tuesday afternoon at Denair Middle School. And he spent lunch talking about social media with Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger, school administrators from Hilmar and Keyes, officials from Sierra Vista Children and Family Services and Legacy Health Endowment, and about two dozen other adults.

“My big takeaways,” said Metzger, “were that he stressed the need to help build empathy in students, how we can empower students to use social media to share positive messages and how can we help parents.

“He talked about the ‘trust dance’ between parents and children, and how taking phones away or giving them back as a punishment or reward doesn’t work. He emphasized there is no shaming or blaming of parents, but that we must be real about the world we live in and that kids need parents to help them navigate social media.”

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