I’m one of those crazy adults who really enjoy hanging out with middle and high school students. Since you are reading this post, my guess is you are too. Which means you know how much your heart hurts when you see a student being teased or made to feel less than. We can’t always – okay, we almost never can – provide answers for why high school is so hard. But we can cheer students on.

About a month ago, I was driving to meet a friend for coffee when my phone dinged. It was a message from one of my small group girls, a senior in high school, wanting to let a few of us know about how a new app called Burnbook was being used to attack another girl in our group. My friend I was meeting had received the text too, and we sat and wondered why people treat each other so poorly sometimes. Burnbook quickly became an epidemic, the focus of national news networks and the #1 problem for local school districts. The stories I heard didn’t match up with what I believe to be true about the students you and I know, which is why I wrote this public letter on my blog:

My Dear Middle and High School-aged Friends,

Burnbook sucks. If you have it on your phone or mobile device, I beg you to delete it. It’s just not like you to hide behind anonymity. Your generation is honest and brave. I don’t think you are as sneaky and malicious as news reports are saying.

It’s hard for me to understand why this app has been so widely adopted by you and your peers. I know some of you argue that Burnbook has the potential to be used for good, but face it, the app is called Burnbook.

I’ve known about burn books since Mean Girls introduced the idea in 2004, before you had experienced how uncomfortable and lonely the hallways of your school can be. When my generation was in high school, our world revolved around drama. The movies we watched were things like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, The New Guy, and American Pie.

We had a hard time seeing anything outside of the daily struggle of high school, trapped inside the four walls of our schools. That was our world, and we acted as though nothing bigger existed. It’s not that we were selfish. We just didn’t know better. Without WiFi, smart phones, and MacBooks, we weren’t aware the rest of the world was waiting for us to join them.

But then you came along. Your world is connected. Even from small hometowns, you are actively involved in changing the lives of people around the world. You share your stories on Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. In your movies, you embrace heroes like Katniss, Tris, and Peter Quill. Your stories and ideas are beautiful; they reflect your generation’s creativity and generosity.

Which is why Burnbook doesn’t make sense to me. I know as many of you as I do adults my own age, and my respect and admiration for you is vast. But in the past couple weeks, I have been barraged with messages and Facebook statuses of people who have either been hurt by, or are trying to help a friend who has been hurt by, peers through Burnbook. If you have Burnbook on your phone, I want you to ask yourself…

Is this really who you want to be? In the movie Mean Girls, the inventors of the burn book are known as The Plastics. Sure they are popular, but they are also cruel and insecure. And let’s be honest, The Plastics are the villains in this story. Nobody likes them. Nobody trusts them. In the end, their group self-destructs because of the burn book.

Jonathan Lucas, the founder of Burnbook, is not one of you. And it seems to me that he is messing with your collective and individual identities. Part of me wonders if he is one of my generation, still hooked on drama (exhibit a: the JOBS page on Burnbook’s website reads like it was written by Adam Herz).

I feel like Lucas looked at your generation, alive and outwardly focused, and thought, “How can I turn them against each other?” I don’t know if this is true. He claims it is not. But why would he name the app Burnbook, and create a logo that drips with the implication of gossip, if he isn’t trying to foster a spirit of spineless competition among your generation. Again, this is just my impression. Lucas has been elusive in sharing his intentions, and I would love for him to step forward and address you himself, with an attitude of care and respect.

Is this really how you want to spend your time? The world is literally at your finger tips. Without leaving your town, you can connect with anyone anywhere. Why are you choosing to bury yourself in an app that, by it’s very nature, digitally locks you inside your school’s narrow halls? Even if you never post a comment, simply reading the content is trapping your brain in a small box.

Do you know why Katniss doesn’t have a burn book? Cuz Katniss ain’t got time for that. The battle for high school status is the least of her concerns. Delete Burnbook from your phone and go chase your dreams. Do something nice for someone. Join a cause for which you are passionate.

Is this really the world you want to create? Negative anonymous feedback is a scary thing. It can make the receiver of it feel paranoid and mistrusting of others. It often creates backbiting, especially among friends.  High school is hard enough without living each day worried about your reputation being marred or attacked by an unknown source.

My generation hasn’t handled feedback well. We are the trolls; the reason many popular blogs have turned off the comments feature on their sites. It’s like we are still stuck in high school, trying to gain status by robbing it from someone else. Don’t follow our example. You can do better. You are smart, connected people.

So I beg you, friends, please turn in your burn books. Delete the app, or don’t download it in the first place. Don’t give in to the temptation to read the drivel other people are posting. It has no place in your generation.

 

By: Steph Whitacre

For more from Steph, check out her website.

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Steph is the Lead Writer for the XP3 Middle School curriculum at Orange. She has a decade of experience leading students and volunteers, including the privilege of leading a group of girls from 5th grade to HS graduation. She recently moved to Atlanta, and is embarking on another 4 years of Leading Small in a high school setting. Steph is married to Tim, and spends her days writing, planning adventures, and drinking coffee. She is the author of the book The Volunteer Project: Stop Recruiting. Start Retaining. You can read more of her thoughts at stephwhitacre.com.

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