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Jess R ls

How representation impacts young people's online connections

One key issue that young people keep returning to is they feel that adults failed to recognise is the need for representation and the impact that has on how we connect and engage with the online world. 

Jess discusses how representation is key in young people connecting with communities and what they need most when it comes to sharing online safety advise. 

Jess R ls

A significant part of IN REAL LIFE is the reimagining of online safety education as framed by young people themselves. In the research by the Young & Resilient Research Centre young people indicated they saw adults defining the problem with online spaces and not listening to young people’s understanding of their problems and issues. This disconnect can see young people disengaging from current online safety messaging.

One key issue that young people keep returning to, which adults did not recognise or even see as an issue, is representation and the impact that has (both positive and negative) on how a young person connects and engages with the online world and how it bleeds into all other parts of their life. 

We’ve engaged with one of our creative advisors to tell us more about that…so, let us hear from Jess.

Teenager watching In Real Life on their mobile phone
Teenager watching In Real Life on their mobile phone

The online world can be an equally isolating, and socially fulfilling place. This is to say that it is so rich with different communities and groups of people who have found each other from across the globe, coming together to support each other. 

This is true for all types of communities, some are as simple as connecting over a TV show everyone in the community enjoys. In these communities you can find people you relate to, people who you otherwise would have never met and who provide you with a sense of belonging and friendship.

Despite this, online safety is often viewed in very limited ways that make connecting with others or finding friends or communities online as 'less than', negative or even worse - dangerous. 

This general approach to experiencing the online world may work for some - things we learn in school like "just block the people you don’t like” or “don’t talk to people you don’t know”. But what happens when you’re in a certain community where you can’t just 'block' these people, and you’re being targeted based on something you can’t change? 

What are people to do when they don’t have a chance to socialise outside of the internet, where talking to strangers is their only form of connection? 

In discussions with other young people as part of IN REAL LIFE we felt a shared sense of frustration at the way the internet is represented as so black and white, when in fact it is all grey.

In my personal experience, due to a period of isolation and challenges with my own mental health, I became heavily reliant on the connections I made through the internet. 

This was a really beneficial and terrific experience in many ways, so much so that when some relationships became toxic, or dangerous it was incredibly hard to distance myself from them, or confront them. It felt like cyber-safety tips weren’t made for me in this situation - I simply couldn’t follow the ‘easy’ steps. 

Eventually, though, I figured out what did work for me; and I think this tends to be different for each person and each situation. However, through IN REAL LIFE we have learnt that sharing and discussing these issues and our experiences is really beneficial and, might help others have a healthier experience in their online communities.

In these situations, a better way to approach helping young people with online safety is both to accept that they will understand their situation best, and that having people like them  portray the advice will have much greater impact. 

Whether that means seeing another young person, someone from their culture, a gender diverse young person - anyone they can connect with - they know that their personal struggles and individualities with the internet will be well understood and taken into consideration.

It is so important as a young person to see others like yourself, and in this case, have a ‘role model’ of sorts in shared situations. There is an understanding that the world as it is, is catered to a specific type of person. 

In my youth, I came to the understanding that there were things I simply could not do, or could not fix, because of who I was and how my brain worked, which seemed to be fundamentally different to the people who were giving advice. 
But, through the internet and finding people who were like me, I came to see that there were solutions.

Another thing of note is that the advice, in some situations, could work for somebody - but if they are so used to the rest of the world not including them, or understanding them, they might be wary. 

For young people, having someone who has a similar identity or experience as them is someone that they can relate to. And to have them share advice can be a reassurance that it does apply to their situation and context, they have been considered, and that the advice has been ‘quality tested’ and proven to been helpful.

The thing is, you cannot feasibly include every experience that exists in the world down to the letter - so how do we make something broad enough that it works for everyone, but still specific enough that the advice doesn’t seem empty? 

It is the ongoing challenge and commitment we need to make to be representative and inclusive of everyone.

Jess, IRL Creative Advisor
Jess, IRL Creative Advisor

Jess Rettalack is a Creative Advisor for In Real Life. Head to In Real Life view the full video library.  


Want to see more about In Real Life? Check out these other articles written by IRL Creative Advisors and resources to learn more:

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