The online world has real dangers, but girls around the world are using social media to create positive change. A new children’s book called Better Connected, written together by UBC creative writing lecturer Tanya Kyi and her teenage daughter Julia Kyi, shines a light on some of these girls and the positive aspects of girls’ online experiences.
In this Q&A, Tanya and Julia discuss their reasons for writing the book and how to navigate social media as a parent.
What is Better Connected about?
Tanya: From environmental activism and gun control to immigration policy and education, girls are leading the way. They’re showing up, teaming up, and speaking up. You’ve probably seen media stories about the ways girls interact online, with headlines like “Depression in Girls Linked to Higher Use of Social Media.” But there’s another side to the story. Better Connected focuses on less recognized and more positive online experiences.
Julia: The book has profiles of real girls who are using social media to make the world better. It’s also full of practical ideas and tools for getting started online. Most importantly, the book is an inspiring look at the amazing things girls can accomplish.
Why did you write about the online experiences of girls?
Tanya: At the breakfast table one day, I floated a new book idea. I wanted to write about the girls who were launching their own platforms or using social media for leadership and advocacy. My daughter reeled off so many great additions, I asked if she’d like to co-write the book. And Better Connected was born. Julia did most of her writing at midnight, and I tend to write in the early mornings, so we had to actually schedule meetings to edit things together. But we got along surprisingly well and we’re both proud of the results.
Julia: In my memory, this happened in the car, not at the breakfast table. (I would never be awake enough at the breakfast table to contribute actual ideas.) But my mom’s right — we didn’t argue, and it was an amazing project to work on together.
How did you determine which changemakers to feature in the book?
Tanya: I yelled up the stairs. “Julia! I need one more person for the activism chapter. Who should it be?” If only I could research all my books by yelling up the stairs…
Julia: I wanted to highlight a variety of young activists in varying fields. I really admired X Gonzalez and their gun safety advocacy, as well as Helena Gualinga’s climate activism. There were so many amazing youth to feature, it was a shame we could only highlight a handful!
Could you share a learning moment from writing the book that continues to influence you?
Tanya: I enjoyed researching what “ingredients” make a young activist. It’s inspiring to know how many girls are out there fighting with everything they have to create a better world. It gives me hope.
Do you have any advice for caregivers helping their children navigate social media?
Tanya: Sending your kids off to explore social media is the same as sending them off on other life adventures. If you can thoroughly prepare them, you’ll both feel better. The RCMP has great cyberbullying information online, and Common Sense Media has lots of good social media tips for kids. And try out the various platforms yourself! You’ll have a much better idea of what dangers there might be, and what opportunities. You’ll be able to share posts with your kids and discuss the controversies that are raising eyebrows in the online world each week (or each hour). You’ll probably have fun.
Do you have any upcoming publications, projects or happenings you’d like to share with us?
Julia: I’m off to UBC this August to study political science and gender studies and continue my journey of advocacy!
Interview language(s): English