Michaela Auyeung, 13, of Los Gatos, California, an eighth-grader at Raymond J. Fisher Middle School, conducts free art classes and other activities to help young people place less importance on social media. She started working on this after seeing how social media was making her friends unhappy and harming their self-esteem. “Much of their happiness was based on how many likes, follows or comments they got,” she said. “They look to social media for approval and attention,” and if they don’t get it, “they are miserable and depressed.” This can be a particular challenge for children in need who lack supervision or affordable after-school opportunities, said Michaela. What was needed, she felt, was a program that “helps youth celebrate their uniqueness and true identities both online and offline.”
Michaela began by hosting coloring parties using stories that she wrote and coloring pages that she illustrated. She then started conducting after-school art and mentoring programs and giving motivational speeches at schools. She also produced two inspirational coloring storybooks and distributed more than 2,000 copies both locally and internationally. In addition, Michaela has collaborated with several organizations to spread awareness of the effects of social media on young people’s mental health. She estimates that her efforts have impacted more than 2,000 children and teens so far, helping them to focus on off-screen activities, providing them with alternative outlets for creative expression, and encouraging them to be genuine and take pride in who they really are.