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Guest Post: Debby Ryan
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Radio Rebel DVD box art sm.pngIn the recent Disney Channel Original Movie "Radio Rebel," which is now available on DVD, Debby Ryan plays Shelby, a shy high school student who only finds the courage to speak as her "secret" alter-ego, an underground DJ who inspires her peers to be themselves and break free of pressure and expectations from others. If you haven't seen this flick, we highly recommend it. (The music's great, too!)

We invited Debby to be our guest IML Blogger for the day. She has some amazing insights about celebrating our differences and what makes each of us unique. Read this and you'll totally want to hang out with her for a day.

"Be Yourself, Because You Are Beautiful"
I think that the most beautiful thing in life is diversity. When you see a light in a dark room, the reason it looks so bright is because everything around it is cloaked in the same dark shadow. On the other hand, a prism or a sunset is often experienced as strikingly beautiful, because each is made up of so MANY colors. If everything everywhere was one color, you wouldn't be able to see just how beautiful things are, and I think that this applies to people, too.
debbyryan_radiorebel.jpgIf everyone had the same sense of humor, things just wouldn't be as funny or intriguing. I think that the most beautiful thing about being able to live life is meeting different people in passing, experiencing various personalities, and hearing the stories explaining each individual's preferences and memories. For example, you may agree with someone on your favorite flavor of ice cream, but they might have a completely different reason for making it their number one choice. Maybe someone's favorite flavor is based on a memory of getting ice cream with their family as a kid. Maybe someone else hates mint because it reminds them of toothpaste. I like digging into people's thoughts and ideas; it really gives you an idea of why people are the way that they are!
The biggest mistake that we can make is to go through life without ever asking "Why?" I believe that in order to really get the most out of life, we should see and do as many different things as possible. I've always wanted to help support a village in developing countries, and I've been obsessed with India recently. So I went, helped bring big changes and bigger hugs, and before I left, I decided to ride a camel and get henna tattoos all down my arm. From there, I went to Australia on a business trip and took a surf lesson. I'm terrified of the ocean, but I did it! I had these opportunities, and I let myself take them. Different experiences make us into the people we are. I believe we are collages or mosaics, made up of different pieces, textures, and colors. Some qualities and experiences may break us and leave us with rough edges, while others build us up solid and refine us smooth and shiny. All of them come together to create the mosaic of you, and all of them are beautiful.
There is no one standard of beauty. I think that each person can have something incredibly unique and beautiful about them that makes them stand apart from all others in the world. Knowing that millions of people that have lived before, and millions of people are currently alive, but there never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone exactly like you, is the most beautiful thing in the world! The more that you are able to embrace that, the more you'll see that the things that you find weird or awkward about yourself, the things that make you stick out or feel like you're strange, are the things that make you different and unique and beautiful. As long as you are working to become the best version of yourself that you can be, always being gracious, and open to learning new things and asking why, you remain beautiful leaving behind a unique footprint on the world. And you have a ton of fun while doing it. Stay beautiful!
Radio Rebel believes in the beauty of diversity, so I put together a playlist that showcases a range of genres, lyrics, and artists: classically timeless & ahead of their time, gently reflective & empowered anthemic, chart-toppers & basement-dwellers. These tracks are about youth, individuality, the power of music, and fighting for what you believe in.
"Start A Riot" - The Rescues
"Beat The System" - Alyson Stoner
"Bullet Soul" - Switchfoot
"Generation" - States
"Synthesizers" - Butch Walker & The Black Widows
"Coachella" - Brooke Fraser
"Revolution" - The Beatles
"Forest" - Twenty | One | Pilots
"It's Time" - Imagine Dragons
"Free My Mind" - Katie Herzig
"I Can't Hear You" - The Dead Weather
"Youth" - Foxes
Change the world... out loud.

Wow. Great playlist. Thanks, Debby!

LEGO Friends: Are these toys built on stereotypes?
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You've probably seen them by now: the TV commercials for "LEGO Friends," a new line of LEGO sets designed specifically for girls. And you've probably noticed that they don't look like the LEGO sets you've been playing with. For one, there's a lot of pink. The figures are less blocky shaped and more...curvaceous, and they have predetermined names like "Olivia" and "Emma." Also, the environments are places like a beauty shop, a beach cafe, and a design studio.

In other words, they're not all that different from popular girl-focused toys like Barbie and Bratz.

lego.jpgSome people think it's cool, that LEGO is selling something for older kids that's not centered around "Star Wars" or superheroes, and that they're finally paying attention to girls after years of marketing only to boys. A lot of people think it's not. As in, the settings are dumbed-down and stereotypically "feminine", like they're telling girls, "Here's all the pink stuff you're supposed to like and we decided a lot of things for you already. Go play!"

Two young women and members of the girl activist group SPARK, Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole, feel so strongly that LEGO is sending the wrong message to young people that they started a petition on, urging the company to abandon the LEGO Friends line and change the way they market to both boys and girls. 

"The LEGO Friends line struck a nerve with me because it came from an unexpected place," Stephanie has said. "This was a brand that always stood for creativity, and now they are reaching out to girls in the most unoriginal way imaginable."

Here at IML, we'd like to know from you: What do you think? What was your reaction when you saw the LEGO Friends toys? Do you feel LEGO is making assumptions about what girls and boys want to play with, and how they want to play with it? Or are you glad they're creating LEGO sets that are more appealing to girls? Tell us on the What's On Your Mind page.


Reality TV: Is there such a thing?
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media.gifWhy do we watch reality TV? Is it because nothing is as dramatic and entertaining as real life? Does it reflect experiences we're actually having? Are we learning anything positive from it, or do we just like to spy on other people?

Reality TV has become more than just a trend in entertainment -- it's shaping up to be a whole extra genre that might be here to stay. Is that a good thing?

We were very interested to read the results of a recent survey from the Girl Scout Research Institute called "Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV," which picked the brains of tween and teen girls who regularly watch reality television shows, and those who don't watch them. Here's what they found out:

  • 86% of the girls think reality TV shows pit girls against one another in order to make things more "exciting".
  • Of the girls who watch reality TV shows, 78% said that "gossip is a normal part of a relationship between girls." Of the girls who don't watch reality TV, only 54% agreed with that statement.
  • Reality TV viewers are more likely than non-viewers to say "girls often have to compete for a guy's attention" (74% vs. 63%), and are happier when they're dating someone or have a boyfriend/significant other (49% vs. 28%).
  • Of the girls who watch reality TV, 74% said they spend a lot of time on their appearance, while only 42% of the girls who don't watch it said the same thing.
So does watching reality TV only have negative effects on us? Fortunately no -- there seem to be upsides too (besides the fun-to-watch part):

  • Most of the viewers describe themselves as "mature, a good influence, smart, funny, and outgoing."
  • They're more likely than girls who don't watch to aim for leadership in life (46% vs. 27%) and see themselves as role models for other girls (75% vs. 61%).
  • 68% of girls agree that reality shows "make me think I can achieve anything in life" and 48% agreed that they "help me realize there are people out there like me."
  • 75% of girls say that reality TV depicts people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
  • 62% of girls say that these types of shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes.
What about you? Do you agree that reality TV shows offer tween viewers these positive and negative sides? Does the bad outweigh the good, or vice versa? Tell us what you think on our What's On Your Mind page, and we'd love to hear which reality TV shows, in your opinion, truly offer something of value to audiences.

In the end, we guess it's most important to remember that reality TV is not reality; if you watch it the way you might watch "fictional" television, it's easier to separate out the mixed messages. These shows might be created by other people, but what really matters is what you create out of them for yourself!

Can a t-shirt set a bad example?
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allergictoalgebra.jpgFirst, there was a big brouhaha about a girls' t-shirt from JCPenney that read: "I'M TOO PRETTY TO DO HOMEWORK...So My Brother Has To Do It For Me." Then, Forever 21 put out an "ALLERGIC TO ALGEBRA" top that people got upset over. Both stores agreed to stop selling these shirts.

toopretty.jpgAt first, we were horrified too. What are these shirts saying about girls' intelligence? You can't be pretty and be awesome at homework? You can't wear pink and love doing complicated math? These shirts could be continuing the same false stereotypes women have been fighting against for decades, and that many of today's moms are hoping their daughters won't grow up with.

On the other hand, however...they are just jokes. Bad ones, of course. Maybe folks should be shouting loudest about how lame the humor is here. Come on, can't you designers think of something funnier?

It's a tough call and one that each of you should make for yourself. It is interesting to know that t-shirts that make fun of education were not found in the boys' departments of these stores. What's up with that? 

In the end, if you see something on a piece of clothing that just doesn't seem right to you, that makes you feel bad or just seems to make fun of something or someone in a mean or cliched way, don't buy it. Take a picture and ask your friends if they feel the same way. Write an email to the store to tell them what you think. It's dialogue and feedback like this that helps clothing retailers realize what might be offensive, and makes them really consider the message they're putting out there.

So what do you think? Are these shirts "sexist"? Tell us on our What's On Your Mind page!

Shape-ups...or ship out?
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eatdisorders1.gifHave you seen the TV commercial for Skechers Shape-ups for girls? The one where an animated rock band sings about "Heidi" having "everything a girl wants" in her new Shape-ups, with a backup chorus that sounds a lot like a teasing "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah" and boys running around dressed as junk food?

What did you think when you first saw it? (And if you haven't, go watch it on YouTube. We can't, and won't, post it here.) Parents are in an uproar over this ad campaign, because Shape-ups are shoes that promise to help grown women tone their legs, lose weight, and generally get fit (which is widely doubted at this point). These parents think the fact that blinged-out versions of the sneakers are now being marketed to tween girls is, well...really disturbing. And we agree.

The president of Skechers says that Shape-ups are just aimed at encouraging girls to be more athletic and active. Do you buy it? Are parents overreacting? Do you feel that the company is just trying to take advantage of girls' natural self-esteem issues to sell sneakers? Are there hidden and not-so-hidden messages in this TV commercial?

We want to know! Tell us your thoughts on our Media Pressure YSI page.

Now that it's spring and swimsuit season may be tempting you to try to "look your best," check out the IML section on Eating Disorders. Even if you don't feel you'd ever be in danger of having an eating disorder, it's helpful to understand the reasons why some people struggle with them.

We also love visiting our friends at Don't Buy It, who have some great info on how to see through media and advertising messages and actually -- gasp! -- make consumer decisions for ourselves.

One day + forever
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Last night's news about Osama bin Laden brings up some interesting things for us.

The most important, of course, is that a really, really bad guy has left the planet. Future crimes and violence and senseless deaths have hopefully been prevented. Families of terrorist victims can get feel some closure. Maybe now, for a short time anyway, the world will be a bit safer.

It's also a little coincidental because just days ago, an IML'er wrote to us to say that our section on 9/11 was totally outdated, because most of the tweens on our site are too young to remember it -- or may not have even been born yet! If that's you, then all this emotion surrounding Osama bin Laden may feel kind of weird. Obviously, it's not often that someone gets killed and millions rejoice (we hope it's once in a lifetime for all of us that there's a person who deserves that). But the events that changed the U.S. back in 2001 may just be something you read about in school or hear about from family members; maybe you feel like they don't affect you.

When we first started working on our "September 11th" section years ago -- it was around the 1st anniversary -- we really wanted the information to be "evergreen," meaning it would still be useful in the future. Looking at it now, we feel like we did that. We focused on the positive side of things and some of the advice, like the pages on tolerance and facing your fears, is important even unconnected to the terrorist attacks.

So today, we invite you to check out this section and maybe it will give you some better perspective on today's buzz:

Feeling Freaked Out
Maybe you're not afraid of new attacks, but this info applies to anything...especially natural disasters.

Media Madness
It seems like every week there's something upsetting that's all over our TV's, phones, and computers. Here's how to manage the blitz.

Celebrate Diversity
Oh, how we wish this would be beside the point 10 years after the attacks, but we're not sure it ever will be.

Sam and Harry's Story
If you want to know what it felt like to have your world really rocked by these events, meet Sam and Harry.

We DID update the You Said It page associated with this section; come on by and share your thoughts on how the world has changed since 9/11/01.

"Deathly Hallows" Countdown
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Aaah! What will life be like when we don't have a new "Harry Potter" movie to look forward to? We're trying not to think about it. (Yeah, yeah, we can always re-read the books, and surely there will be other exciting movies on the horizon. "The Hunger Games," anyone?)

Still, it's hard to believe that the seventh and almost-final flick is opening in the U.S. next weekend. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One" is the beginning of the end, of course, but it's also a chance to revisit the cast members who are now as dear to Potter fans as the books themselves. We actually feel a little proud to see how much Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have grown as people and as actors. We're counting down the days and will be back here next week with a review of the shiny new movie. In the meantime, here's a peek at the scene of last night's world premiere at the Odeon Theatre in London's Leicester Square.

What have these films meant to you? Do you keep them separate from the books in your heart and mind? Do you feel like you've grown up with them and they've become a huge part of your life? Do you just go along for the pop cultural ride? What parts of yourself and your own life do you see in these stories? (Not an assignment, just some fun things to ponder and possibly post on our What's On Your Mind? page!)

Webonauts Internet Academy on PBS KIDS GO!
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We spend a lot of our time reading through each and every You Said It post you guys send in. Not because we're nosy (well, we are, but that's beside the point) but because it's our job to make sure our little IML community is respectful, safe, fair, and free of online bullying. Not an easy task! Because we also want everyone to be able to express themselves, whether it's an opinion or a silly idea or venting frustration about something. When does someone's point-of-view become hurtful or mean? That's a good question. If only there were some kind of fun online training that would help all of us learn where the line is...

Oh, wait. Duh. There is one!

webonauts.jpgRecently, our buds at PBS KIDS GO! launched the Webonauts Internet Academy, a really cool site that lets you get your game on while also exploring what it means to be a citizen in this web-is-everywhere, too-much-information world we live in. In the game, you become a new recruit to the Academy and get sent on a training mission (after learning the WIA motto of "Observe, Respect, Contribute" and picking out a uniform) to planet Bambu. During this mission you'll get challenged with issues that are important to being a good cyberspace citizen, like identity‚ privacy‚ credibility and web safety. Check it out!

As our online experiences change with new technology, everyone's sort of making up the rules as we go along. But in the end, how we behave online shouldn't be much different than how we behave in person. When you keep that idea in mind, navigating the wild blue yonder should be just a little bit easier.

Tell us about your experiences: have you ever been bullied online?

Playing the Celeb Crush Game with Team Edward and Team Jacob
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"Eclipse" is almost upon us.

eclipse.jpgSome of you just went, "OMG, I'm counting the days!" Some of you are just like, "Whatever" ...and then some of you made a little gagging sound.

Sad to say, this time IML does not have interviews with the movie's stars. We're excited to see "Eclipse," though, and we liked the book. One of the things that has always fascinated us about the "Twilight Saga" is that before anyone even cast Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner as Edward and Jacob, there were readers totally crushing on these characters. Even feeling like they were in love with them, and choosing sides on Bella's behalf. Although we've never felt that the Twilight books were the best-written ones out there for tweens and teens, Stephenie Meyer has managed to create these two guys who just hook readers' hearts and draw them in. That doesn't happen very often.

Now with the "Twilight" films, fans can crush not just on Edward, but on Rob. You can have pictures of Rob as Edward all over your locker and wear him on a T-shirt. You can read and watch interviews with him, and learn more about this shy and humble and seemingly very sweet guy, and let your imagination run amok with thoughts of what he'd be like as a boyfriend.

Of course, celeb crushes have been around for ages. From James Dean and Elvis Presley, to Sean Cassidy and New Kids On The Block...every generation and every time period has its "teen idols." If you want a laugh, or just get grossed out, ask your mom or grandmother who she had a crush on when she was your age. This type of crush -- even when it veers into obsession -- is usually harmless and even a good thing. It's how we first start exploring our feelings about love and attraction. For more advice from IML on this topic, check out our page on Celeb Crushes (And giggle at our slightly outdated examples; we wrote that a long time ago. 'N Sync!).

In the meantime, what we're curious about is how much the crushability of Taylor Lautner and Rob Pattinson can be separated from the crushability of Jacob and Edward. Would Taylor fans like him as much if he'd never portrayed Jacob? Many of them probably wouldn't have "discovered" him, but if he weren't associated with "Twilight" in any way, would he be as wonderful-seeming? If Rob were to play an absolutely horrible, villainous person in his next movie, would his fans adore him any less?

And the bigger question: How long after the final film, "Breaking Dawn" disappears from movie screens and the press will Rob and Taylor's status as "teen idols" fade? Who will take their place?

Tell us: Who's your celeb crush? Why do you think you're drawn to this person? What do you think you've learned about yourself by choosing him or her?


In the Audience at the "American Idol" Finale
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"American Idol" and TV shows like it are considered "reality" programs. But how much is bona fide "real"? Are there things the cameras aren't showing us? Are we really seeing the truth of what's happening?

american-idol-logo.jpgFor the most part, yes...but with some interesting additions. IML was lucky enough to be among 7,000 "American Idol" fans at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles yesterday to watch the showdown between Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. We kept a diary of our experience (mostly scribbling during commercial breaks) so we could share with you the full picture of what happens on a show like this, from the audience's point of view.

4:30pm: Okay, here we are! Everyone's super-psyched. No cell phones or cameras allowed in the theatre, so a lot of people who clearly didn't see the "No Phones! No Cameras!" message on their ticket have to use the special "cell phone check" service. The producers probably don't want someone's "Single Ladies" ringtone to interrupt the show. Oh, and they must own all legal rights to any photos taken, which is a bummer because we were hoping to take some pictures to post here. 

4:40pm: Settled into our seats near the back of the theatre, but right dead center. Twenty minutes until showtime (so it airs live at 8:00pm on the East Coast). The stage looks awesome! There are FIVE video screens and two towers with that endlessly spinning "Idol" logo. In front of us is a sound board with some video monitors, and in front of that is a giant crane with a camera attached to it. That must be how they get those sweeping shots of the audience. Above us near the ceiling hangs a giant "American Idol" sign. It looks heavy and we hope it doesn't fall.

It's fun to see the homemade signs and creative puns everyone comes up with: "America will LEE-d the Way"; "YELLEN 4 ELLEN". Every few minutes a cheer erupts from some part of the audience, which means a former Idol contestant has appeared in their seats (not too far behind us is Jason Castro from Season 7). We notice that there are a ton of families everywhere, with people a range of ages from little kids all the way up to grandparent-types. That's one of the coolest things about a show like "American Idol": it really is something the whole household can enjoy.

4:45pm: There's someone on stage now and he's talking to the crowd, pulling people up to dance with him. Everyone's clapping and cheering. Who is this guy? He's like, Ryan Seacrest, Jr. Turns out he's what they call a "fluffer" -- someone whose job it is to warm up the audience and generally keep them entertained while they're waiting. On a live show like this, things go fast but on some shows, like sitcoms, an audience has to sit through a lot of waiting and multiple takes and someone has to fill in the gaps. Turns out this guy is named Corey and he's clearly as much a longtime part of "Idol" as Simon Cowell. It must be weird for him to play such a big role in the show without the viewers knowing about it.

Corey introduces each of the judges, who come out with their own bodyguards to help them get through the audience to their chairs. Everyone goes crazy as Kara, then Randy, then Ellen, then Simon appear, waving at us. A disembodied voice somewhere announces that we have 2 minutes until we go live; that must be someone in the control room. We actually feel a little nervous! Corey gives us some instructions: "It will be totally dark and Ryan will do his intro, and when he says, 'This is American Idol,' the lights will come up and we want you all to go nuts, screaming and yelling and jumping up and down. Okay?"

Corey also addresses the people in the "Pit" -- that area between the judges and the stage full of people (Notice how they're all young and attractive? Hmmm.) who stand there and wave their arms a lot. Actually, we notice that the Pit has its own little manager, a woman in a headset perched on the stage in front of them, giving them direction.

5:00pm: The disembodied voice has been giving us updates every ten seconds. Now she's counting down: Ten, nine, eight...The lights go out. The intro segment plays on the video screens, and then there's Ryan, and we do what we're told. When the lights go up on the house, everyone stands up and goes nuts! This is so fun!

A few minutes later and here comes Lee to do his first song, "The Boxer." He sounds really good. Actually, he sounds better live than he does on TV.

Next comes Crystal to sing "Me and Bobby McGee." Chills.

When Simon's giving his comments to Crystal, a bunch of girls behind us shout out "WE LOVE YOU!" which is kind of rude, and actually confusing because we're not sure if they mean Crystal or Simon!

During the commercial break, Corey chats up the rest of the Top 12 who are sitting in one of the front rows. The disembodied voice counts us down from 45 seconds to being back on the air.

Here comes Lee to sing "Everybody Hurts". Oh, he's changed. He's Casual Lee now. While he's singing we see a choir sneak onto the steps behind him, and then they start singing. After he's done, the judges are giving him comments but we can barely hear them. When Kara's talking about how Lee sometimes "pulls back" while he's performing, the mom sitting next to me says, all serious, "But I love it when he pulls back!"

During this next commercial break, the judges are chatting with one another. Corey is walking around, handing out "Lee" t-shirts to members of the audience who jump and wave enough to get his attention. He's funny as he jokes with everyone. If you get up to go to the bathroom, you have to make it back before the break ends or you'll have to wait until the next one; you can't be walking to your seat when we're on the air. When the lights shine in our faces, we know we're back on the air and it's time to jump and scream again. We're getting good at this!

Crystal sings "Black Velvet". It's amusing to watch the two camera guys following her: One holding the camera, the other holding the camera cable. They're both in black and we're sure that the director edits everything so that you never see these guys, even though they're right next to Crystal. After she's done, she gets whisked off stage and during this commercial break, a bunch of string musicians are setting up. That means Lee must have something big going on for the final song...

The judges have been backstage during this break. They're ushered back in, each with their own bodyguard. Lee comes out. Now he's in a leather jacket! Rocker Lee! Then he sings "Beautiful Day" by U2 and we are so, so, so relieved that it's not another horrible sappy song.

During the next break, Crystal comes out and helps Corey throw t-shirts to people in the Pit. Then we're back on the air and she sings "Up On The Mountain" which is simply fantastic. We feel lucky to be able to see both these artists live at the beginning of their careers.

5:55pm: All too soon, the show is over. The original UK Pop Idol, Will Young, comes out to sing along to a great montage summing up the season. The rest of the Top 12 is brought on stage so that when the lights come up again, we see them surrounding Lee and Crystal. Ryan says goodbye. The disembodied voice tells us "We're out" and some people in the audience start getting up. We don't want to leave just yet...It was too cool! But eventually we go and on the way, we pass a booth selling "American Idol" merchandise. Really, this show was not much different than attending a concert, except for the whole "being live on national TV" thing.

The folks at "American Idol" have been doing this for many years now and obviously, they have the whole process down pat. They know how to put on a show that's for a live audience as well as a TV audience, and know how to make the live audience an important part of the show.

So in the end, we have to say that when you watch "American Idol," what you see is what you get. At least from the audience perspective...Maybe next time we'll get to be backstage and find out what REALLY happens there!