By Sarah Calatayud, Yellowbrick Staff Writer
Brian O’Connor, founder of the nonprofit Futures Without Violence, described the thinking behind starting the successful 2009 teen-aimed “That’s Not Cool” campaign as a recognition of the potential dangers inherent to teens navigating dating relationships in the iGen era. In the video describing the program he states, “The more people we talked to, the more we realized that young people are actually developing their relationships online. Those same tools that really help us grow and advance our relationships can open us up to certain vulnerabilities that we really need to address.”
O’Connor and his team developed a way for young people to create awareness and community involvement in roles as TNC (“That’s Not Cool”) Ambassadors, with support from “adult allies.”
ThatsNotCool.com is a robust, award-winning multi-media platform that partners with young people to help raise awareness and bring educational and organizing tools to communities to address dating violence, unhealthy relationships, and digital abuse. It was developed by Futures Without Violence and Ideas in Digital, in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and the Advertising Council.
It began as a PSA campaign, and has become a nation-wide community of youth ambassadors and adult allies, bringing awareness to the issue of digital dating abuse and teen dating violence. The target audience is ages 13-18, including “transitional teens” that are just beginning to explore romantic relationships.
TNC Ambassadors are the drivers of the activity, contributing their own voices while helping to raise awareness about digital dating abuse in their own schools and communities. The Ambassador program functions much like a youth leadership program, with over 800 youth ambassadors across the US.
The site includes tools for “adult allies,” (any adult wanting to help raise awareness in their family, school or community) such as downloadable videos aimed at teens and tweens to illustrate examples of unhealthy texting and social media behavior and how to deal with it. The videos are engaging and incorporate appropriate use of humor and slang. They’re free to download and incorporate into social media messaging and other teen-directed programming. Also included are manuals, policies and reports to help school districts enact good practices.
The site features downloadable posters designed to be displayed in schools and other teen gathering places featuring the suggestion to, “Log out of controlling relationships.”
An effective PSA video entitled “When Does Caring Become Controlling?” shows a girl’s cell phone (as an actual character, played by a man in a goofy cell phone costume and speaking in an annoying voice) following her throughout her day relating constant text messages from her boyfriend. The texts become increasingly annoying and abusive, and the spot ends with a text asking for a nude picture.
Sue Scheff, author of the book Shame Nation, points out that young girls are often coerced into sending nudes or sexual images. “With ‘sexting’ serving as a new form of online flirting, it can lead to troubled waters,” she says. “We know of so many young people that have taken their lives from sextortion.” The tools provided by TNC help children deal with pressure from their peers so they don’t become victims of online hate for not engaging in digital sharing.
Of course, there are also apps. There’s a Cool Not Cool app (developed in partnership with the messaging app KiK) featuring a series of quiz cards in which choices about relationship related situations are shown and the user rates the actions taken as “cool” or “not cool.” The percentage of users voting the same way is shown after each rating is completed. The Respect Effect app aims to help young people practice healthy relationship skills by completing daily challenges with their significant other, friend or family.
The Coaches Corner section of the site points visitors to an offshoot called Coaching Boys Into Men, a program for coaches to integrate a curriculum of lessons into their team teaching. The program provides a forum for high school athletic coaches to talk with their students about healthy relationships. They learn the importance of respect and nonviolence in their relationships and that rape is criminal activity. A powerful video shows Futures Without Violence’s Brian O’Connor describing how he envisions sports as a natural platform for educating boys about building healthy relationships.
The invaluable rating site Common Sense Media gives it a go for ages 13+ and states, “That’s Not Cool is a much-needed resource for teens and for parents who could use a little help understanding this very 21st-century issue. The videos are cool, clever, and interactive…The guidelines for recognizing abuse are right on target, and the additional resources included are reliable.”
If you’re a teen or adult who wants to get involved in the movement to decrease the incidence of digital dating abuse and teen dating violence in your community, start with ThatsNotCool.com. In their February 2017 overview video, Eleanor Davis of Futures Without Violence affirms, “We really believe that young people are going to create the change on this issue.”