Self-described “social media activist” Collin Kartchner will host a series of talks Monday in Idaho Falls, helping teenagers and their parents handle concerns about their online lives.
Thunder Ridge High School student Sydnee Spiers organized the events for her senior project. Spiers regularly uses Snapchat and Instagram and said that while there were plenty of upsides to both sites, she had started noticing more potentially hostile comments and unhealthy anxieties among her friends because of the pictures they constantly see.
“You look and wish that you were living that way and you had all these other things with your lifestyle or your relationships. It’s just a lot of comparing photos and your self-esteem gets lower and lower,” she said.
As the number of social media sites grows and their user base grows, so have the worries about online harassment and mental health. A study from the Pew Research Center found that nearly 60 percent of teenagers had experienced online bullying or harassment. When it comes to getting help with those issues, the students believe their parents have done more to address the issue than any other group, including the tech companies behind the apps.
Spiers’ mother Erika followed Kartchner on Instagram and suggested that his message of social media positivity could be a good avenue for her project. A Utah native, Kartchner has spent the last two years campaigning about the dangers of social media while demonstrating their potential to do good. He crowd-founded more than $400,000 for the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Maria, set up motivational billboards along Interstate 15 in February and tours the country speaking to students.
“I see responses from kids that were at those schools and they talk about how impactful it was in their lives,” Spiers said.
Spiers reached out to Kartchner in October and raised the money for him to give free presentations to students and parents as part of his #SavetheKids campaign. He will spend most of Monday hosting four assemblies for students at the middle and high schools in Bonneville Joint School District 93. After the assemblies, Spiers and other students will be handing out rubber rings that say “Look Up” — a reminder to focus more on the things happening around them than the posts on their phones.
That evening, Kartchner will lead “Save the Kids & Save the Parents,” a free event to answer parents’ questions about the potential risks their children face online, at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center for the Performing Arts. Joining him for the discussion will be a panel including author and Arizona State University adjunct faculty member Katey McPherson, as well as a local counselor and police captain who will offer tips and resources specific to Idaho Falls.
Kartchner then will travel to Rexburg to host similar talks at Madison High School on Tuesday, speaking to students at 6 p.m. and parents at 7 p.m.