About a year and a half ago, author and University of British Columbia creative writing professor Tanya Lloyd Kyi read a headline about girls’ use of social media being linked to increased rates of depression.
She says it made her think about how people often hear about the negative side effects of social media, but don’t always get to see how young women and girls use it as a tool to create positive change.
She approached her daughter, Julia, about writing a children’s book on this topic. She says her daughter rattled off the names of several activists that could be featured in the book.
She says she asked her if she wanted to write the book with her, and Julia agreed.
The Vancouver-based pair say they wrote Better Connected to show the positive aspects of girls’ online experiences and how social media can be used to bring attention to social justice issues.
Lloyd Kyi says it can be overwhelming looking at the issues young people face in the world, but allowing them to advocate for themselves can lead to powerful outcomes.
“Young people are in no way powerless,” she said. “And if we give them a chance to use their voices, they can do amazing things.”
The book’s release is timely because children and youth are spending more time than ever online compared to pre-pandemic times, says Stuart Poyntz, professor and director of the school of communication at Simon Fraser University.
He says youth are being exposed to the negative aspects of social media, such as ongoing surveillance of their actions and anxiety caused by “relentless self-evaluation” — constantly rethinking and doubting their looks, their interests and how they’re seen by other people.
But, he adds, there are positive aspects to the digital world like allowing young people to form connections with others across the globe who have similar interests.
He also says social media is a low cost way for youth to spread awareness about social justice issues and to brainstorm ways to act on those issues to try to help solve them.
Kyi, a soon-to-be graduate of Prince of Wales Secondary, says she did most of her research and writing for the book at nighttime, while her mother worked on the book early in the morning. Kyi says they scheduled meetings to discuss edits and structure.
“It was a lot of fun. I definitely thought we’d argue more than we did,” Kyi said.
The book took about six months to write.
It features young women like Canadian Indigenous water activist Autumn Peltier, who uses platforms like Instagram to raise awareness about water rights and the need for access to clean, safe drinking water, and Ecuadorian environmental and human rights activist Helena Gualinga, who also uses social media to bring attention to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Kyi says these young women, along with others, have inspired her to use her voice to bring attention to topics like climate change and feminism.
Last year, Kyi joined Project Patriarchy — a nonpartisan group encouraging youth to get involved in politics — and has written articles for their magazine and now works as their events co-ordinator. She says it’s allowed her to connect with people she never would have met otherwise.
She says the book also features research conducted about social media and its effects on young girls, resources and tools readers can use to be better informed when using social media, and conversations between her and her mom about the online world.
Lloyd Kyi says she hopes parents also read the book so they feel more comfortable teaching their kids how to use social media in a positive way to bring attention to the issues they’re passionate about.