The campaign against sexualized online behavior #облечисебе (Dress up) was presented at the ninth annual national youth conference, which was organized by the Youth Parliament of Gorna Oryahovitsa between March 11-13.
The conference was dedicated to the role of young people in the resolution of global problems facing the civic society. The experts from the Applied Research and Communications Fund, who took part in the event, were accompanied by Anna-Maria Klianeva and Elena Stamenova, members of the youth panel, which came up with the idea for the campaign and the hashtag #облечисебе (Dress up).
The three-day event began with a video statement by MEP Maria Gabriel, which was dedicated to all young people who took part in the conference and helped with its organization.. An address by Dobromir Dobrev, the mayor of Gorna Oryahovitsa, followed. He highlighted the great work of the Youth Parliament of Gorna Oryahovitsa and expressed his wish for continuous cooperation with its motivated young members, due to their skills and willingness to improve the life of children and teenagers in their hometown. Over 10 youth parliaments from all over Bulgaria, as well as other NGOs, working for the rights of young people, presented themselves and their activities.
After the introductory session, Dr. Luiza Shahbazyan and Kristian Braykov presented the main activities of ARC Fund, related to the different dangers that young people could face online, as well as the ways for dealing with such threats. The discussed topics included the sexual exploitation of children online, sexting among teenagers, cyberbullying, violence in teenage intimate relationships, personal data theft, and different kinds of computer and mobile viruses.
Afterwards, the participants engaged in a lesson, developed by the experts of ARC Fund, on the topic of early sexualization. They were split into 6 groups. Each group had to think about the ways and methods, in which children and teenagers (1-12 grade) seek online popularity. 2 groups thought about the ways and methods used by boys and girls between 1st and 4th grade, 2 discussed what happens between 5th and 7th grade, and the remaining 2 considered how online popularity is sought between 8th and 12th grade.
All groups came up with a number of positive, as well as negative ways in which young people try to collect likes. In grades 1–4, many boys and girls (share pictures with famous people and use the Internet to make new friends. On the negative side, many boys behave rudely towards their peers and watch pornography online, while many girls share chalga music and publish more personal information online than appropriate. The participants shared that the girls between 5th and 7th grade start sharing pictures, which present their interests, hobbies and talents, they begin manifesting their intelligence and displaying growing self-confidence, while the boys share many citations, demonstrate their talents and often take pictures of their food. The negative practice, typical for both boys and girls of this age group, is the taking and sharing of provocative pictures online.
For boys between 8th and 12th grade, the sharing of pictures from the gym, the discussion of contemporary issues, the sharing of good causes, as well as going to the mall or to the cinema, are among the acceptable practices, according to our groups. Girls in this age group share interesting articles, promote positive campaigns and share blogs. In the same time, many girls share provocative pictures, they gossip and they tend to be arrogant too. Last but not least, the boys between the 8th and 12th grade are often very brutal in their statements, they gather likes simply for the sake of it and they take pictures in which they smoke and drink.
One of the most dangerous practices that children start with as early as in the 5th grade, according to our participants, is taking and sharing provocative pictures or selfies. This means that the environment, in which children grow up, not only at home or among their friends, but also the media environment and the Internet, pushes children and teens towards such dangerous actions.
In the light of this troublesome conclusion, Anna-Maria Klianeva and Elena Stamenova from our youth panel introduced the alternative to this phenomenon - #облечисебе (Dress up)!The two girls presented the campaign, shared how the panel came up with the idea for the hashtag and told the audience about the forthcoming steps for its popularization. At the end of the event, the participants entered a small competition, in which they won t-shirts, pens, posters and rubber bracelets of the campaign. They took pictures and uploaded them with the hashtag on social media and they made collages, which show how boys and girls can look cool and be liked without getting undressed.