Dane was a shy, reserved student when he arrived for the first day of our YOUth TUBEr class. He told me that he could not “be on camera because [he was] weird.”
“Why do you think that?” I asked. Dane told me he took a test in school that determined he was an introvert. I asked him what introverted meant to him and he replied with one word: “Weird.”
Dane wasn’t weird at all, he was a creative to his core. He wore dark clothing every day and kept his hair long in the front covering his face. It was a unique style that both the other students and instructors really liked! Dane also spoke in a different voice sometimes. It seemed to me like Dane knew exactly who he was but because his style was different from the other kids he was modest about it.
On the second day he came in very prepared to film his YouTube episodes. I could tell right away that Dane was an excellent student. He was organized, prepared, attentive, cooperative, and most importantly he was an artist! Dane had prepared a portfolio for his videos and was creating life-like depictions of anime style characters.
One character he drew was called "Speedy Eevee," a fox wearing a long scarf. This was him, he said. He told me he created Speedy two years ago “to tell stories to the world.” Dane’s plan for his episodes was to narrate the adventures of Speedy Eevee off-camera. He had gone to great lengths to write a story about himself yet personally avoided being on the camera.
His Speedy Eevee “adventures” were a bit strange for an eleven-year-old. They were about negative things: how Speedy (really, himself) hated seasons, how Speedy lived with social anxiety (complete with an illustration of how judgmental peers can be), and a list of Speedy's fears. While I knew that there was a fine line between Speedy Eevee and Dane, what was really eye-opening to me was how Dane used this character to reveal himself.
Cover of Dane’s story, “Introvert”
As class progressed I noticed that Dane became more involved with other students. At the end of each day we would all gather around the television to review the videos while providing the kids with encouraging feedback. These reviews made Dane’s face light up. I saw that engaging with his new friends was really doing wonders for his confidence. He eventually provided really sweet comments to his classmates about their videos.
When narrating the character of Speedy Eevee, Dane would always use a high-pitched voice. For the first few days of class he used this voice consistently but on Wednesday I noticed he was using more of his own voice, rarely hiding behind his cartoon voice now. It seemed like Dane was feeling more comfortable being himself.
On Thursday, Dane was taking votes from his classmates on the next episode he should do. I quietly observed as this once silent boy went around to each student asking for feedback. I was impressed with his communication skills as he even asked some of the parents to vote at check-out. “The Basics of Life” it was going to be called. A more positive title than his earlier cartoons, “Hidden Emptiness” and “Introvert”.
On the last day of the week Dane drew pictures for every student in the class thanking them for their video suggestions and saying goodbye. Just before class was about to end, we did the intro and outro for the group how-to video. Dane had brought a Pokemon doll named Mewtwo to take the place of his on-camera presence for these scenes. I was standing at the tripod with my finger on the record button when I heard him say something surprising. “I don’t really care if you get me on camera.” I couldn’t believe my ears! In his totally natural Dane voice he gave me the okay to film him for the first time.
Talk to the Camera has the ability to bring creative kids out of their shells. It was amazing to watch this child’s self-esteem increase. The improvements he made by socializing and engaging with his peers were reassuring to him and that was clear to see. A boy who started out with us a loner, ended the class with several new friends. We are proud to play a part in someone’s life that way.