Dear Awesome Parents,
My name is Paige McKenzie. I began posting videos to YouTube when I was 16 years old, starring in a Web series called “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.” Before long, our little show had taken off — as of today, my average video gets hundreds of thousands of views, and there are nearly 250,000 subscribers to my YouTube channel.
I feel so lucky to have become part of this online community, and I’ve gotten to meet and work with some incredible people because of it. But I know that not everyone is so lucky.
The truth is, there are some very scary pockets of the world and the Internet. As a YouTube personality, I’ve gotten to see some of those scary pockets firsthand. And I’m so scared that many smart, amazing, precious children are making life-changing, terrifying mistakes in their online lives — mistakes that can bleed over to their lives offline, as well.
Over the years, hundreds of wonderful kids have written to me. Most of the time, they tell me how much they love my show, or me or my mom, or any of the other characters from the series. I love, love, love hearing from them, and I am so grateful for all of my fans.
But sometimes I hear from kids who tell me that they feel lonely, sad or misunderstood. I’m proud that they feel comfortable confiding in me — and I like to think that my little show makes them happy.
But the truth is, it hurts my heart when I hear from these kids. I’ve thought long and hard about why these wonderful strangers are spilling their secrets to a YouTube personality they’ve never met, and I think it must be because they feel like they have nobody else to talk to. I always try to write back with words of encouragement, but sometimes that’s when it gets really scary — scarier than any of the ghosts and ghouls in my Web series.
Because sometimes they’ll respond to my notes with personal photos, with their home addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes, they’ll tell me that I’m not the first online stranger they’ve shared their contact information with. And I get so frightened for them, because I know that not everyone they might have shared their information with is as harmless as I am.
So I wanted to reach out to parents like you. If you think your kids are feeling lonely and misunderstood — which many, many, many teenagers feel, by the way! — please reach out to them and let them know they are loved. Let your kids know that you’re always there for them no matter what. Maybe then they will feel a little bit less lonely, so that the next time they reach out to people like me, it will just be to talk about their favorite shows, not to talk about feeling sad or misunderstood. Just thinking about it makes my heart so happy!
And for now, as always, I’ll be sending a little sunshine your way,
Paige McKenzie, the face of “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” is thrilled to have the chance to bring her unique voice to life in a book series. “Sunshine Girl” began in 2010, when McKenzie teamed up with producer Nick Hagen and her mother, actress Mercedes Rose, to bring a character and a world to life through episodic YouTube videos. Within a few years, the series had expanded, and boasted viewership in the tens of millions. McKenzie was named one of Seventeen Magazine’s “Pretty Amazing” finalists, and has created two feature films through the production company she co-founded, Coat Tale Productions. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Reach her @hauntedsunshine.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.