Monique Coleman of 'High School Musical' Starts Web Series to Tackle Teen, Tween Issues
After noticing the lack of TV shows devoted to issues that young people face, the "High School Musical" star decided to create her own bi-weekly online series. Last month, the actress launched "GimmeMo," which can be seen in 91 countries.
Coleman, 30, recently sat down with ParentDish to talk about "GimmeMo," cyber bullying, education and why kids can trust her.
ParentDish: Why did you decide to create "GimmeMo"?
Monique Coleman: I have always been passionate about youth issues. I have been talking about the issues young people face at local churches since I was a kid. Kids need a voice to express themselves. After seeing how much negative content was out there, I decided to create something positive as a means to inform young people about issues in the youth community.
PD: Issues such as?
MC: How bad the school dropout rate is, bullying and teen suicide, which is now the third largest cause of teen deaths. But with all of the negative stories, there are also a lot of positive stories, too. My goal: I want to make a difference.
PD: Why do a talk show online as opposed to going on national TV?
MC: Being on the Web is influential. Not only do most young people get their information on the Web, but it is also a 24-hour-a-day resource for news and information. The other benefit for airing it on the Internet: It is global.
PD: Speaking of going global, back in August you attended the International Year of Youth conference at the United Nations in New York, where you sat a round table discussion called Entrepreneurship for the Next Generation. Tell us about that.
MC: Yes, and I also just got back from a conference in Geneva, Switzerland. It is so important that we expand our awareness to the entire world and not just our own world. This allows me to bridge gaps and find out what are the underlying issues facing young people everywhere. At the UN, I got to do the closing remarks for that conference and that was powerful.
PD: You are creating quite the platform to run for office.
MC: (Laughs.) People on my team say that, but that is not my focus. It is time to center our attention on youth issues and convey what is happening in our world by using a cutting edge and entertaining way so people listen. I think young people want to trust someone who understands them and I feel I am the person who can help them.
PD: What is the most talked about topic among young people these days?
MC: Cyber bullying. There are so many repercussions when you videotape someone or post a photo on the Internet because the reach is not only immediate, but can be seen by millions of people. Unfortunately, the damage can be fatal.
PD: Were you ever bullied as a kid?
MC: Yes. I was in middle school when I was pushed up against a locker and was called nasty things because I was a cheerleader and starting my acting career. These people even teased me about my short hair. In fact, my mom came in and told them to pick on someone your own size and then transferred me to a private high school because I did not think I could excel and reach my full potential in the school I was in.
PD: Did that experience have an impact on you?
MC: Yes. It took a toll on my self esteem and made me insecure.
PD: Is cyber bullying worse than being bullied on a playground?
MC: Yes, because in cyber bullying, the Internet reaches a lot more people faster.
PD: Having that personal experience, what do you tell your audience about bullying and how to deal with it?
MC: This is a huge issue and I know what it feels like. However, having your story blasted on the Internet can be more harmful to a kid and make them feel like it is the end of their world. That can be a really scary feeling. When I did a story on this topic, I went to the Gracie Academy where I learned self defense and was taught a confident child is a bully-proof child.
PD: You also tackled the subject of homeless kids. Why?
MC: Homeless kids are not children who run away from home. In fact, one in four homeless kids are 18 years old because they are too old to be in the foster care program. Currently, there are 5 million young people who are homeless. I would love to see programs created that could assist these kids in transitioning into the real world.
PD: Why do you feel your audience trusts you?
MC: I feel like they can trust me because I really do care. I am not supported by a network. In fact, I support this project by myself. I do this project for them.
PD: Since you are so passionate about your cause, have you ever reached out to President Obama or the first lady, whose kids are your demographic audience?
MC: No. I should. I actually have an episode coming out on youth obesity and I would love to talk to them about this subject and what we can do to make the problem go away.
PD: What other issues will you focus on?
MC: Self esteem, which is a topic really important to me. I am bringing on my "HSM" co-star KayCee Stroh to talk about what it is like to work in an industry that does not accept girls over a certain size. We will talk about how to learn to love yourself when you are not getting that much love from the industry.
PD: What's your take on the education system?
MC: I am actually going to be embarking on a two-month road trip where I will be touring schools in the Southeast region, and going to schools in five different states. I am going to talk to the kids about the importance of staying in school and ask them what they want to talk about so I have a better understanding of what kids want me to focus on. I am doing this show for them and creating a resource they currently don't have.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.