If your daughter is growing up, you’d probably be aware of the selfie-culture and would probably be familiar seeing them posting continuously on the social networking apps. But what kind of life it is, you think. When they should be thinking about their education and degree, they’re busy trying to forge a particular image for themselves on the social media. When they should be worrying about their grades, they’re fretting over lack of likes on their latest picture.
Nancy Jo Sales’ new book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers opened my eyes to the horrors of the online lives of American teenagers especially the girls. I remember seeing a few movies based on the similar concept: how this habit of over-sharing lives on social media is affecting teens and their mental health. But as I went through this book, I was horrified! Watching some movie is one thing but reading a well-researched book is quite another.
Social Media is Reshaping Sexuality, Self-esteem and Friendship
In a series of interviews that Sales conducted from the teen girls in New Jersey and California revealed a number of things in their lives and how social media is reshaping friendship, self-esteem and sexuality. Girls strive to attain a ‘likeable’ image and their self-esteem directly relies on the performance of their pictures posted on these sites. Sales points out that girls would pose provocatively on Instagram in hopes to get a freckle of fame that celebrities like Kim Kardahsian or Kendall or Kylie. And if their post doesn’t get much likes, it’s a trauma on its own. Girls would then focus on posting statuses, tweets and pictures that would get more3 likes. SI this way, their personality is highly shaped by these apps.
Also the online pornography has widely altered the concept of sexuality and boys’ perception of a perfect body type. This has taken the romance out of it all and is replaced by the culture of ‘hookups’. What really was terrifying when Sales quoted a number of girls telling how boys ask them for ‘nudes’ and how this has altered the relationships young people are having these days.
Another aspect is the revenge porn that is one danger that lurks on every teenager’s head. These nudes and suggestive videos can be deliberately leaked or shared with others to cause mental harm to the subject. You can easily imagine how this can torment young girls and continue to haunt them through their lives.
Parents Need to Step Up
Sales also presents a prescriptions. She suggests that Silicon Valley must do more to stop cyber bullying and online harassment. She also emphasizes that young girls should have a firmer understanding about sexism and abuse. Parents need to be actively involved in all this. They should talk to their teens about the dangers of over sharing. Parental control apps can be a great help as these apps equip parents to keep tabs on their online activities and keep a check on what kinds of apps their kids are actively using. Social media apps should connect us, not change who we are.