Starting in September, Apple will make another update to its iconic and useful emojis.

As part of the update, the company is getting rid of the pistol emoji and replacing it with a green water gun.


While Apple hasn't officially addressed the reasons for the swap, it seems pretty clear that, after another year filled with horrific gun violence, the company is responding in some small way to America's frustration with gun culture.


Before I continue, let's get one thing straight:

No, of course swapping the pistol emoji for a water gun is not going to solve America's gun problem.

Obviously.

You will never see a news story with the headline: "New Water Gun Emoji Directly Responsible for Decline in Gun Violence."

HOWEVER...

Ask yourself another question: "Is one person recycling water bottles going to solve global warming?" No, of course not.

Is recycling those water bottles still the right thing to do? Will it still help make a small dent of progress in the face of an overwhelming challenge? Yes.

Like it or not — emojis are a big part of our cultural lingo.

They're not the biggest, most important, or most central part of our culture, but millions of people use them regularly to communicate, laugh, make plans, and occasionally to represent body parts ("Peach and eggplant emoji" to you as well, good sir).

Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images.

Which is why emojis have been updated on multiple occasions to better represent the times we're in.

In 2015, a variety of skin tones were added to help represent people of different races, same-sex couples and families were added to help represent people of different sexual orientations, and this latest update will also include a pride flag and a more diverse array of female emojis, after an official bid from Google.

There's nothing wrong with adding and changing emojis to be more representative of the things we talk and care about, while also acknowledging that the cartoon keyboard in our phones is not the axis on which the most critical conversations of our culture turn.

But I digress. Back to the revolver emoji. It's already pretty troubling.

Aside from being yet another byproduct of our gun-obsessed culture, the gun emoji has been a key factor in a few real-life incidences in which the police got involved.

In February 2016, a 12-year-old got in trouble with the police after posting a message on Instagram containing the gun emoji along with the bomb and knife emoji. In Brooklyn, New York, a teenager was arrested on terror charges after making a perceived threat to police officers using emojis. His charges were eventually dropped.

No word yet on the swords or the clearly dangerous chemistry set. Screengrab of iPhone emojis taken on my phone.

As far as people being frustrated at gun culture, though, you probably don't need reminding that 2016 has been as close to a tipping-point year as we've ever had in recent memory.

Multiple police-involved shootings, a horrific massacre at a nightclub in Orlando, an outright attack on the Dallas Police Department, and hundreds of mass-shooting deaths have created an environment where lawmakers are (finally, maybe, possibly, hopefully) ready to step up and do something.

Rep. John Lewis speaking to the press during his gun control protest in June 2016. Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images.

There was a 15-hour filibuster on gun control after the Orlando shooting as well as a congressional sit-in led by civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis.

People have also been taking out their frustration toward the lack of action on gun control in little ways, like defacing posters for the film "Jason Bourne," which prominently feature actor Matt Damon holding a gun.


People have had it with a culture that consistently fetishizes and glorifies guns, and replacing the gun emoji with a water pistol is a small way to lessen the presence of guns in daily conversation.

No, the water pistol emoji isn't going to solve America's problem with gun violence, or make you dinner, or tie your shoes for you, or make "True Detective" great again, or anything else.

We still need to work on gun control. We still need to stand up to gun lobbyists and politicians and others who stand by, complicit, as gun violence continues to claim more lives in America than anywhere else in the world.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

In the meantime, we can also appreciate that the revolver emoji is now a more fun and less deadly water pistol.

It's a small gesture that shows that we, as a people, with our incredible technology and advanced methods of communication, don't need a little cartoon gun to live our lives or communicate with each other.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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