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New art aims to start conversation about online teen exploitation

Posted at 6:59 PM, May 03, 2023

Two pieces of art unveiled at Arizona State University on Wednesday are designed in part to take your eyes off your phone for a while and keep you engaged.

The murals aim to start a conversation about the exploitation of teens online.

Kelsey Syms with the McCain Institute says the topic can be an uncomfortable one.

Syms said when they started to talk about online exploitation she saw, “Just blank faces, we don’t want to have a conversation. But as you start working with art, you start to see those expressions those conversations flow a little easier.”

That conversation starter comes the McCain’s Institute’s "R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t" campaign. As in, real friends don’t pretend to be something they’re not.

The institute urges families to raise the topic of online exploitation, educate on the platforms youth are using, act if something is wrong by reporting anything suspicious to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and remember it’s not a one-time conversation.

“They love social media, they love gaming, they look to their parents they look to their teachers, they look to trusted adults in their life, to know how to use it properly,” said Syms.

Amplified by the pandemic from all the online use, one in three teen girls have seriously considered suicide according to a CDC study.

Federal lawmakers have taken notice by relaunching a bipartisan bill called Kids Online Safety Act.

The bill would give parents new tools to monitor their child’s activity on certain apps, provide more transparency on targeted ads, and allow users to report certain harms.

“Each scenario is going to look so different, that’s why it's so difficult to prepare and prevent for an online grooming instance, every time it’s going to look like something new,” said Syms.

One way to start this conversation with your teen is by asking why they like a certain emoji or why they posted a certain picture.

For more tips, R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t provides resources for both caregivers and teens.