We all have a stereotypical image that pops in to our heads when we think of millennial teenagers; on their cellphones, on Snapchat or Instagram, posing for a selfie.
But 17-year-old Nicole Jia is trying to change that image.
After winning Miss America’s Outstanding Teen in August, Jia launched a digital campaign called #BeSelfless to reclaim her generation’s social media presence and encourage teens to think beyond themselves.
“No doubt that social media is a huge part of our lives nowadays,” Jia said. “If we can’t change that, why not work with it? We can use it for good.”
Her hashtag, “#BeSelfless” is a twist on the actual selfie, encouraging teens to take less pictures of themselves and more pictures of what they’re doing to help other people.
“Being selfless is putting others before yourself,” Jia said. “It can be as simple as offering to carry groceries for someone or mowing your neighbor’s lawn.”
“Nicole came to us with such a refreshing platform this year. It was simply kindness,” said Kim Parrish, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen president. “In the wake of the election, America has really started to want and need this so much more—people promoting kindness.”
The inspiration for this project started for Jia during her freshman year of high school when she was in a new school and removed from some of her friends from middle school. “When I moved to a new school, I felt isolated. I would see these kids who’d post to social media who were hanging out at things I wasn’t invited to and it made me feel even more isolated as a new student,” Jia said. “To an outsider, it looked like they’re having a lot of fun without me, but then I realized a lot of those posts weren’t really real, just posed.”
Instead of letting these social media posts get to her, she decided to do something to change what she was seeing online every day. She wanted to promote more authentic moments of giving back.
“Young girls are often times spending so much time promoting things that are maybe superficial and not exemplary of who they are,” Parrish said. “Nicole came to us wanting to change that.”
In September, Jia organized a beach cleanup with other Miss Outstanding Teens in Atlantic City as the launch of her campaign. She submitted a Goal To Be Greater to Parent Toolkit with her inspiring message.
“It was so inspiring to see teen girls doing beach cleanup. They weren’t worried about hair or makeup or perfect stance or looking a certain way for the camera—they were actually just doing a really cool service project,” Parrish said. “And they got better pictures than any selfie!”
Beyond promoting her campaign, Jia has been touring the country as the official National Teen Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network. This week, Nicole is in Philadelphia organizing a week of giving and donating boxes of mittens to local schools and shelters in need.
“[I’m doing this] because kindness and selflessness is so easy to do,” Jia said. “It’s free, not time consuming; all you have to do is be kind and give to others.”
When she’s not touring the country and pushing others to spread kindness, Jia is also busy applying to colleges.
“I want to study communications,” Jia said. “My biggest goal is to be a news anchor for NBC. I watch Nightly News with Lester Holt every day!”
But until then, Jia is taking it one day at a time and trying to spread her message to as many young people as she can.
“Nicole is extraordinary in every sense. She’s a go getter, creative, imaginative. Out there listening to what the needs are, and then helping to fix them,” Parrish said. “She dedicates time and effort in everything she does. She never does anything halfway; she dedicated herself 100% [to this campaign], to making it work and making it original and contagious and spreading it to others. It’s beautiful what she’s been able to do.”
But Jia sees her mission as something much larger than herself, she's trying to reach other teenagers -- and help change their perceptions and behaviors.
“I hope that it inspires them so they realize even though school can be tough, I want them to know that there is always hope, you can be whatever you want to be,” Jia said. “You are your own person and no matter what, you can achieve what you want to achieve and help others along the way, as long as you believe in yourself.”
This piece is part of the Parent Toolkit’s Week of Giving. Click here to read more inspirational stories.