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Youth Well-Being and Online Safety: Reflections from a NoFiltr Youth Innovation Council Alumni

October 26, 2023

6 Minute Read

Young people today deserve a say in the internet of the future. As digital natives, Gen Z and younger have never known a world without social media, online friends, or all the risks associated with being “chronically online.” 

NoFiltr was created by Thorn to empower young people with resources to safely navigate sexual exploration and risky encounters in their connected world. As part of this, NoFiltr created the Youth Innovation Council as a unique space that provides the chance for youth voices to be heard on issues that directly affect them. 

We spent some time in conversation with Jaylin, Youth Innovation Council alumni and first-year college student, to learn more about digital wellbeing for youth, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, and what it’s like to be a content creator. 

Q: Tell us about your experience on NoFiltr’s Youth Innovation Council.

A: I was Cohort Captain and a Content Creator Lead during my senior year of high school. During that time, my community was devastated by Hurricane Ian, water got into my house, my roof was severely damaged, and compared to a lot of my friends- I was incredibly lucky. One of the first things I did after getting power back was check in with the NoFiltr team. Not only were they incredibly understanding, they reminded me that even when everything seems impossible to deal with, things will get better. It was an amazing opportunity to meet new people and help inspire the next generation.

Q: As an alum, what advice would you give someone looking to join the next YIC cohort?

A: Do it! If you’re scared, do it scared!!

Q: You recently spoke at a pretty cool event. Could you tell us more about it?

A: Adele [Taylor, Digital Programs Manager] told me about an opportunity to speak at TikTok’s Youth Wellbeing and Online Safety event as part of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I saw the email while I was in class, and immediately emailed her back! 

I got to speak alongside four other incredible young people from around the world. We shared stories about who we are, what it means to feel seen and heard, the importance of staying connected, finding community, and more.

Q: What does being a responsible digital citizen mean to you?

A: During my time in the NoFiltr Youth council, my views on this topic have definitely changed. Just as it is important to teach young people how to be a responsible digital citizen by being safe and setting healthy boundaries, we need to be proactive and make sure people know that crossing those boundaries is not cool. Your words still matter when you’re hiding behind a screen.

Q: Which social media platforms do you like spending time on? Which do you prefer not to engage with?

A: I have a profile on most websites, so I can stay connected with friends and family, but I have a general rule: if the average user is double my age, I probably shouldn’t engage. I’m comfortable talking and posting content on Tiktok or Instagram, where I know I am likely to find people who I can relate to, but I tend to avoid conversations on Twitter or Facebook, areas where arguments are inescapable.

Q: How did the internet help you explore your identity?

A: Coming from a very small, very Catholic town, I didn’t know the word ‘gay’ meant anything other than lame or weird like the elementary school insults boys like to toss around. 

I got my first phone when I was around 11, and went down this amazing rabbit hole of queer youtube history. Back when minecraft youtubers were popular, I stumbled across Joey Graceffa decorating his house with rainbow wool and mentioning his boyfriend off screen. It was definitely a “wait what” moment, and suddenly it felt like the world clicked into place. 

I wasn’t weird for wanting to hold Hayley Kiyoko from Lemonade Mouth’s hand. The internet provides limitless resources, the ability to step out of my sheltered view of the world, and explore my own mind.

Q: If you could wave a wand and make an ideal online experience, what might it look like?

 A: A significant cultural shift is needed to make an ideal online experience for everybody, but if I could wave a wand, there would be no ‘like count’ or follower status. Just people talking and sharing what they’re passionate about.

Q: More and more kids make their friends online and spend their free time hanging out together. How do you maintain safe and valuable online relationships? 

A: I think the most important advice for kids, on and offline, is to respect yourself. If some weirdo says that you have to do or tell them something, or they say you can only be cool/ be my friend if you do this, remember you have no obligation to do anything you don’t want too. You are your own person even when you’re young, and if you’re feeling uncomfortable, trust your gut and get out of that situation. The block button is beautiful and telling a trusted adult, even if you’re worried about getting in trouble, is important. 

I have to give a shout out to the 2022-2023 NoFiltr crew here, I think we mirrored safe and valuable online relationships perfectly. We sent memes back and forth, had a pajama party, and really grew to trust and respect each other. We got to know everyone, without sharing personal details, and communicated through all of our different beliefs. We did great work together and it was very, very fun.

Q: How has your experience with the NoFiltr Youth Innovation Council shaped your goals for the future? Has it influenced what you’d like to study?

A: My experience helped me outline my priorities, exactly what is important to me and the lengths I will go to to make my dream of a safe, positive experience for kids around the world possible. I was originally considering a career in politics, but I have quickly realized all the good I can do working with nonprofits, directly serving my community.

Learn more about NoFiltr and the Youth Innovation Council in our Prevention collection.

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