Girls and Social Media: Cautions
Back in 1994 a girl might finish her homework and then pull out her diary, unlock it and begin to write about her day, the boys she has a crush on and her friends. According to Psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax, the act of writing allowed her to figure out, “Who Am I?” She was doing important reflective work with pen and paper and it was private. No one else would see it.
Contrast that scenario with the experience of girls today. In any gathering of girls, it would be challenging to find one who keeps a diary. Young people are not only too busy to write nightly, but also have turned to social media to express their innermost thoughts. When pressed as to the difference between writing in a diary and posting on social media, it takes a while for young people to identify the key difference: privacy.
According to Michael Stefanone, Professor of Communication at University of Buffalo, girls post five times as many photos as boys do on social media and the kinds of photos they take are different from those that boys capture. At a football game, girls take selfies where boys will snap shots of a game play, friends or a pretty girl.
A Performance, Not Real Life
Sax and others report that for many girls the choices they make about what to post on social media are a performance. They post themselves with friends or with someone’s new puppy and work to create an image of a dynamic lifestyle. “This is fine if the girl lives an active real life, but if her life is a 24/7 cyberbubble then she risks becoming disconnected from herself,” said Sax.
Kathy Charles of Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland has done research that shows that the more time a girl spends on social media the more likely she is to become depressed. Girls look at their friends’ postings and imagine that everyone else has a more interesting life than they do. They get depressed thinking that others are having more fun even though the postings are not accurate depictions of others’ lives.
In a study conducted by Pew Research in 2022, researchers found that 35% of teen girls feel overwhelmed by the drama created by social media and 37% feel like they are being left out and not included in social gatherings. For example, on SnapChat it is easy to see if a group of friends are out, leaving a peer at home feeling #FOMO (fear of missing out). This study also showed that there’s a disconnect between how teenagers view their own use of social media versus how they see it affecting their peers: 32% of teens say that social media has had a “mostly negative” effect on their peers, while only 9% of teens say that it has had a “mostly negative” effect on them personally. Teens personally do not see social media as all negative, for reasons including encouraging creativity, self-expression, and easier participation in activism.
Social media can be useful, including for the reasons listed above, but there are associated dangers for teenagers such as mental health issues, cyber bullying and loss of sleep that affects school performance and overall health. Sax argues that parents are unaware of how their children are using it and need to pay more attention. An article from Child Mind Institute speaks to how social media can have an effect on an adolescent’s self-esteem as well as their overall cognitive development. A recent study done by JAMA Pediatrics found that the excessive checking of social media can have a negative neurological impact on teens. Sax advocates that parents set firm limits on social media and Internet use and insist that smart phones be charged nightly in a room where the children do not have access.
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