A recent article in the Villager titled “LPS Takes on Bullying and Bigotry” focused on a message from the school superintendent stating that “the district’s schools should be safe and welcoming for everyone.” The letter came as a response to two teen suicides in the district and a series of racially motivated incidents. Both suicides occurred late August and apparently both students, an Arapahoe High School Junior, and the other, an eighth grader from Powell Middle School had posted messages on social media, a potential causal factor the superintendent didn’t address in his letter.
According to a report published in the journal Pediatrics, suicide is second only to accidents as a leading cause of death for adolescents, passing homicide for the first time. What’s behind those factors differs for every case, but Internet use exceeding five hours per day has been linked to depression and suicidal thoughts. Also, the parts of an adolescent’s brain that control impulsive behavior are not yet fully developed and teens are more likely to act on the spur of the moment without realizing the consequences.
Grieving teachers, parents and students in the Littleton community were determined to find strategies to prevent further adolescent suicides. Several parents challenged their teens to determine whether social media might have been a factor.
A team of concerned classmates, Joe Roberts, Cason Kurowski, Carly Spotts, Chloe Schilling, Caitlin Hearty and Chloe Hemphill, all Heritage High School students, took the challenge. They determined that most students from middle school and high school spent an inordinate amount of time consumed with social media on their I-phones apps i.e. Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat. They further believed that suicides resulted from hatred and were a negative consequence of social media.
Working together they created a website called OfflineOctober.com whose sole purpose was to challenge their peers to be offline for the whole month. Initially 25 students decided to take the challenge and became the “Action Group.” As of today, 1,320 pledgees from 200 schools across six countries and 26 states have joined, all through word of mouth and social media. Students can join anytime during the month of October.
A five-minute before/after Happiness Survey goes out to all new pledges. For many adolescents (and adults) social media is not only an addiction but often becomes a validation of oneself. Users already have feelings of self-doubt and experience FOMO (Fear of missing out).
One teen explained it like this. Teens who are heavily dependent on the internet frequently begin to feel they are “out of the loop”. They have difficulty forming deep friendships with people and “miss the whole story”. They are jealous of the people who post on social media and compare themselves to others. It can be very stressful. The OfflineOctober group anticipates that the majority of students who participate for the month will feel somewhat liberated knowing they can experience life in a more real way without social media.
The kickoff for OfflineOctober took place at Clement Park in Littleton, October 1st where several hundred students gathered to join in festivities and games.
At 10 AM they took out their phones and systematically removed all their social media apps.
The group’s interesting website is easy to follow and requires little effort to “pledge”. It focuses on three issues:
- Suicide Prevention. Suicide is what prompted the idea of Offline October. Social media plays a negative role in teenagers lives and is a factor contributing to depression and anxiety
- Peer 2 Peer conversations. Students have lost the art of talking face-to-face with one another.
- Events and Hangouts. Take away social media and students will spend more time hanging out together. The website posts a bucket list with almost 80 ways to hang out.
Several of the phrases scattered throughout the website support the Offline themes: “Stop Posting Stories—Start Living them.” “Meet People. Don’t Tweet to People.” and “Stop worrying about your followers and Start thinking about your friends.”
The momentum of this project is “going viral”. Students from Littleton and across the country and world remain committed to the OfflineOctober challenge. Human relationships are important and direct human interaction can yield happiness.
Be sure to check out OfflineOctober.com and consider making a commitment to go offline for the month. “It’s never too late to do something.”