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Senior PR majors want to encourage middle schoolers to ‘Unplug to Uplift’

A poster created for the senior PR capstone group’s agency, Elemental Media’s event with eighth grade students on April 11. Graphic by Bailey Ryan.

Adolescents who spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media are at double the risk of experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

To combat this issue, four Bradley senior public relations (PR) majors have partnered with the Peoria Public School Foundation to help middle schoolers develop healthy social media practices.

For their capstone project, the students had to create a PR agency and tackle a social issue in Peoria. Together they founded Elemental Media, drawing on their own observations, research and survey responses to form the Unplug to Uplift campaign. 

“I’ve just noticed in family members around me and people that I know how much time middle schoolers especially are spending on their phone and on social media,” Bailey Ryan, the group’s for-profit contact and media coverage coordinator, said. 

Elemental Media will engage with eighth grade students at Sterling Middle School for an event on Thursday, presenting resources and education regarding the mental health effects of social media.

Results of a survey conducted by Elemental Media for its campaign. Graphic by Kailyn Joyce.

“We’ve just done a whole lot of research on the topic and compiled that in a way that’s going to be digestible and comprehensible for the middle school students,” Ryan said. “Talking about what even is mental health and describing what anxiety and depression looks like, how can you detect if you’re feeling those symptoms when you’re using social media and how to manage them.” 

Anna Viviani, a professor in the Department of Education, Counseling and Leadership, will also attend to provide professional insights.  

According to Yanisha Nance, Elemental Media’s graphic designer and website content creator, the name of the campaign is meant to signify that addressing mental health is a team effort.

“[It’s about] unplugging from your phone or your devices to help uplift each other from the negative feelings that can be associated with [poor] media literacy,” Nance said. “It’s significant to what we’re doing because it’s not just putting down social media just because, but put it down so that you can form stronger connections in reality.” 

Rather than being purely informational, the group has planned an activity to encourage students to engage with their peers.

“We’re going to have them create a bucket list with ideas for how they want to unplug in the future, whether it’s for the distant future or tomorrow,” Kailyn Joyce, the group’s non-profit contact and social media coordinator, said. “Then, we are doing a raffle with some games and crafts so that they’re able to take something home so that they can continue unplugging and interacting with those around them.” 

The campaign won’t stop there, as Ryan orchestrated Elemental Media’s partnership with the East Peoria Chick-fil-A, where she works. The restaurant will distribute coupons for the eighth graders to participate in a follow-up event on April 15. 

A list of the Elemental Media team’s favorite ways to unplug. Graphic by Kailyn Joyce.

“We just think that Chick-fil-A is a pretty popular spot, especially for a lot of younger kids. We get a lot of youth coming in, hanging out, you know, and it’s a reasonable price point,” Ryan said. “So, we thought it would really aid in incentivizing them to come and unplug outside of the school setting.” 

Working on the Unplug to Uplift campaign has positively influenced members of Elemental Media, prompting them to be conscious of their own social media habits and how they can be more present for their loved ones.

“Now, whenever I do hang out with my friends or my boyfriend, I try to put my phone on do not disturb and face down so that I can put my attention on the person that I’m actually spending time with,” Nance said. 

The project has also given Nance a glimpse into the PR world.

“The capstone has just made me fall in love with community work. I like being able to come up with the ideas for change and then be in the room to make it happen,” Nance said. “I also feel like it’s really giving me a good taste of what working in PR would really be like. It is a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding work, and it’s something that I can confidently say that I enjoy doing.” 

Joyce says the group hopes the campaign has a lasting impact on middle schoolers and helps future generations.

“Part of this campaign is the longevity aspect of it,” Joyce said. “Trish [O’Shaughnessy], who we’ve been working with through the foundation, has been more than willing to continue doing this in the future for each class of eighth graders, probably once a semester. It’s going to hopefully continue after we graduate.”

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