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.

Before social media, girls chose to share their thoughts only with their trusted diaries.

Before social media, girls chose to share their thoughts with their trusted diaries.

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.

Many girls choose to take pictures of themselves and their friends rather than other important moments happening around them.

Kathy Charles of Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland has done research that shows that the more time a girl spends on Facebook 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.

Sax argues that parents have checked out in knowing what their children are doing on social media and there are associated dangers such as mental health issues, cyber bullying and loss of sleep that affects school performance and overall health. A New York Times blog backs him up. He, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics 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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