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RevolTeens: Look for the Helpers, by Christine Lively

When we’re overwhelmed by tragic and traumatic news stories, social media fills up with stories of loss and injustice – each story seemingly more upsetting than the last. We start to complain and feel that nothing good is or could happen in the world. All seems lost and terrible. Inevitably, people start quoting Mr. Fred Rogers in response to help us regain our perspective.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said to his television neighbors, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

When it comes to teens and young adults, we don’t usually get this perspective adjustment as has been the case this month. As the Coronavirus or COVID-19 began to rage in the US, the news media and social media went into a frenzy over college “spring breakers” crowding beaches in Florida and crassly explaining that they didn’t care if they or others got sick because of it. The adults swarmed with wagging fingers, shaking heads, and outrage. ‘How could they? Those kids are disgusting, selfish and horrible!’ and on and on it went.

Though I don’t condone their behavior, of course, I found the response to it to be predictably vitriolic and all too convenient. These young faces became the emblems of privilege, cruelty, and flagrant disregard for others.

They are not, of course, the only teens. There are many more teens and young adults who are “The Helpers” whom Mr. Rogers described. I didn’t have to look too hard to find them. They are out there working to ensure that people stay safe, get what they need, and are cared for. The just aren’t receiving the same screaming news coverage that the spring breakers are.

One of the most inspiring of these teens is  17 year old Avi Schiffmann from Mercer Island outside of Seattle. According to a Democracy Now interview with Schiffmann on March 13, 2020,  the website he created https://ncov2019.live/data has been visited by “tens of millions from every country on earth. It tracks deaths, numbers of cases locally and globally, and provides an interactive map, information on the disease, and a Twitter feed. The resource updates every minute or so, and pulls information from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere.” The website is incredibly helpful because it offers raw numbers, rates of increase, and shows trends that help you see the virus without any lens or particular point of view. Schiffmann started the site in December as a way for people to get raw and up to date information without requiring them to download information that might be out of date when they get it. It’s a remarkable way to help people. Avi Schiffmann is absolutely a teen who is revolting and helping us all take control of the information that we need to make decisions and get through this crisis. That you have probably not heard of him tells you that adults are much more interested in maligning selfish teenagers than lauding the brilliant, selfless, and hardworking ones.

Teens are also maligned as spreading, believing, and falling victim to rumors and bad information on social media. While it’s true that they do sometimes believe false stories they hear, adults do too. There’s an awesome group of teen helpers who are committed to teaching other teens how to find reliable information and identify “fake news.” MediaWise https://www.poynter.org/mediawise/ From the Poynter Institute website:

“The MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network is a group of dozens of teens fact-checking misinformation and disinformation they find on their social media feeds. These teens have continued their fact-checking work despite unprecedented challenges — school closures, classes moving online, SAT testing, grades, final exams and even delayed graduations.

The TFCN has reported on whether you can catch coronavirus by touching money (our rating: needs context), if China is seeking approval to kill patients with the virus (our rating: not legit), if wearing a mask will protect you from COVID-19 as many videos on TikTok claimed, and the teens even debunked a claim that weed can kill coronavirus.”

The Poynter Institute is committed to teaching media literacy and helping people find the difference between fact and fiction. Their Teen Fact-Checking Network is a group of eighteen fierce teenagers who are fighting misinformation where teens encounter it most – on social media. They’re creating videos to show other teens how to debunk misinformation online. This group of RevolTeens have collected their debunking information about the Coronavirus here: https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2020/how-the-coronavirus-is-creating-chaos-for-teens-and-why-theres-hope/ The article includes profiles of the fact checking teens and information to help kids learn more about the virus without bias. They have a pretty cool group of social media and traditional media ambassadors, too!

Then, there’s Shaivi Shaw from Rancho Santa Margarita, California. This 15 year old has recruited her high school friends to help her assemble 150 sanitizing kits for homeless people which include hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, lotion, and reusable masks that she bought with her parents. This RevolTeen isn’t waiting for adults to take action.

‘”It’s important for people to step in and just do whatever they can, even if it helps just one person,” she told CNN.’ https://www.insider.com/teen-makes-sanitizing-kits-for-homeless-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-2020-3

Shelters are struggling to keep up with the needs of their residents, and Shaivi’s efforts are surely making a difference. She’s launched a GoFundMe that has already raised over $17,000 to create more of these kits for the homeless in her own state of California and she hopes to expand to worldwide distribution. https://www.gofundme.com/f/covid19-sanitation-kit-for-the-homeless-community

Then there are the teens who are focused on helping the elderly who are sequestered during this quarantine period.

Cathy Free got a call she never wanted to get. Her visits to her 79 year old mother would be canceled for the next several weeks or months to protect her mother and the other residents of her Utah care center. Free took to FaceBook to write about how anxious and fearful she was about her mother’s spirits and loneliness now that she won’t have family visits.

RevolTeens took action.

Ms. Free’s high school friend is now a Middle School teacher and high school softball coach. She asked her students if they could imagine not being able to see their families for weeks and maybe months. They decided that they’d write letters to Ms. Free’s mother and the other residents in the care home and deliver them.

Each letter is addressed to “Dear Special Person,” and they are so sweet that they’ll restore your faith in humanity.

‘“I’m so sorry that you can’t see your families,” wrote Ryan Christensen, 14. “If I know one thing about humans, it’s that when they go through some bad part in their life, they are strong. I believe that you can get through this bad part in your life and will be strong all the way through.”’ The full story can be found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/03/21/mom-is-stuck-inside-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-these-teens-i-have-never-met-gave-us-hope-amid-hardship/

These Revolteens and many more are “The Helpers” that Mr. Rogers’ mother told him about. Though we may be frustrated and angry at some teens’ behavior during this crisis, but when you believe in teens’ capacity for compassion, action, and thoughtful change, you just have to “look for the helpers” and there you’ll find the RevolTeens. They don’t accept the world as it is, they’re using their big brains, hearts, and resourcefulness to change the world – for the better and for all of us even in this unprecedented crisis.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

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