Priscilla Behnke and Brandi Homan of the Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

By Brandi Homan and Priscilla Behnke

Social Media is a great way to connect with friends, family and community. We realized recently at Be Awesome the youth we were attempting to reach were not connecting with us on Facebook but love Instagram.

We took some trainings. We set up an account, found some memes, took some photos and launched. We were ready. We were not ready. We knew it all wouldn’t be roses and we wouldn’t appreciate all posts, but how bad could some kids’ pictograms really be? A selfie with the occasional curse word? We were blindsided by a dumpster fire.

The least of our concerns were the frequent bird flipping of the camera. We witnessed video of vaping and showing off weed, couples commenting about the previous night’s fellatio, kids suffocating themselves with plastic bags, self-harm accounts, suicide ideation, nude selfies, and the gun threat that landed us on the phone with out-of-state sheriff’s deputies filling out a statement for the court.

Before you get a false sense because it was “out of state,” let us mention it had lots of hearts from local teens here.

Instagram has calmed down. We disrupted the anonymity they thought they were operating with and lost access in some cases. It turns out, when you tell a parent an account exists that isn’t supposed to, there are no more follow backs. Word gets out when you tell the authorities an individual wants to shoot the person who said something mean to them. If we started a new account under the handle Mandy_Bear_Spam_96 it would be unveiled again. We invite you to do so and see for yourself what youth are filling the emptiness with.

We asked students why we were like this. They said there was a desperate need for attention. In some cases, a legitimate cry for help. Others were dramatic attempts to be noticed. The more likes and hearts, the more you popular you are. The more popular you are, the more accepted you are. Translation: The more you matter.

We asked what would help. We expected to hear “more things for teens to do.” We were wrong. They said, “parents need to pay more attention;” “more family events for parents and kids to be together;” and “more teacher involvement for those who don’t have parents who can or who have parents who won’t.” Translation: Kids need to believe they matter.

This is new territory and its going to take brave, competent adults if we are going to change the hearts and lives of teens willing to live-stream their hickey session for validity. If you want to help, please contact us, join us or support us financially at

This column appears in the April edition of InMaricopa.


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