She visited St. Paul’s School on February 20 for Living in Community (LINC) Day, to talk with students about the cultural, media, and peer pressures that affect their social relationships. With her self-deprecating and theatrical style, she put students at ease and delivered frank, funny stories and commonsense advice to help students navigate their increasingly complex world.
Her work is especially critical today because Pierce has found in students everywhere “an alarming lack of knowledge, not in spite of, but because of, the Internet.” She sees teens immersed in the competitive world of social media, which she says often breeds deep feelings of envy and inadequacy.
Pierce also cites studies showing that many boys – beginning as early as age 9 – learn about sex through online pornography which can skew boys’ perceptions of sexuality, she says, and lead to a negative impact on their behavior.
To counter these influences, Pierce gives students good information and perspective to help them make better decisions and learn how to build healthy, respectful relationships. Here is important advice that Pierce shared in two presentations, one geared to Third Formers and another to Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Formers:
Find Your Healthy Crew
Pierce advises students to “find anchoring adults in your life – parents, teachers, coaches, and others – whom you can talk to and trust. Who are the peers who have your back, who support and are honest with you, and give you tough as well as good feedback? The friend who says, ‘You shouldn’t have posted that,’ and the ones with whom you can cry.”
Follow your Inner Compass
“Every teen has a void to fill, and yours is much bigger than in previous generations. There’s constant pressure from the Internet that makes you feel you’re not enough. Take time to get comfortable with who you are, to know what’s in your heart and gut. Move away from the screens, slow down, take time in your own head, and get used to being alone. Try guided meditation and deep breathing.”
Practice Social Courage
“Practice social courage by calling out your peers for microaggressions such as bullying and using hate speech. It’s awkward to call out your peers, but these behaviors should not be tolerated in your community.
“What changes things in a culture? Intervention. We want you to be able to intervene to stop an assault or when your friend is about to make a risky choice, and that’s hard to do. You start by practicing social courage in small ways.”
Question the Value of Hookup Culture
“What motivates people to hook up? They want to be considered hot, to be part of the scene. Hooking up requires you to disconnect from yourself, disconnect from your partner. You don’t communicate, you don’t have shared respect. The people who take their time and choose carefully tend to have healthier and more fulfilling relationships.”
Engage Only with Affirmative Consent
Pierce stresses the necessity of affirmative consent. “Affirmative consent is conscious, meaning sober, voluntary consent to engage in sex, every step of the way. That means checking in and asking your partner, ‘Are you OK? Does this feel good?’ all along the way. This practice is becoming normalized for both men and women.”
Resist the Urge to Over-Share
Pierce discourages teens from sending out revealing photos of themselves. “Girls tell me, ‘I’m an empowered feminist and I’m proud of my body. I can send pics of my nude body.’ So they send out their photos, and who’s got the power now? If your body is your social currency, you’re not in a good place.”
Pierce reminds girls that relationships change over time, and they will have no control over who sees these images. Similarly, boys send lewd photos of themselves, due to their own insecurities and their desire to attract attention and interest.
Pierce tells teens: “It’s disrespectful and illegal behavior, and if you do get caught, things will go downhill for you, fast.”
Finally, Pierce assured SPS students that they are receiving a great education through their school’s LINC program. “St. Paul’s is doing the best work I’ve seen anywhere to make sure students are aware and understand what is happening,” she said. “Take advantage of it.”