Today’s post is from the wonderful Martine Oglethorpe of The Modern Parent. Martine is an educator, counsellor and speaker who specialises in the area of technology and the family. She has a wealth of knowledge in this area and I asked her if she could write something for PWK on the topic of teenage girls and social media. While I have two teenage boys and there are some similar issues with tech for both boys and girls, I have realised there are some very different issues for girls and felt I needed more information on this topic – thanks for a fantastic post Martine!
It is no surprise that social media continues to play an enormous role in the social and emotional lives, and hence wellbeing, of many young girls growing up today.
The connectedness and the ease at which we can communicate, organise events and share our experiences via social networks, can certainly provide a positive enrichment and strengthening to many of our relationships.
For some however, having to contend with constant comparison and exclusion as well as having one’s self-worth based on the number of likes and the comments of friends, peers and even strangers, is fast becoming the norm. As humans we are wired for connection. The creators of all our social media platforms are well aware of this, and so we will continue to head there in droves to friend, follow, comment, like and share. And whilst the online world can certainly enhance our relationships or indeed help us to form new relationships, it can also amplify and make more visible the negative elements and effects of a constantly connected world.
Whilst both boys and girls engage in social networks and use technology to connect, there does seem to be some difference to the ways in which they each use the technology and hence the ramifications can also be different.
So what are some of the issues that seem to be more pertinent to girls and social media today?
FOMO (Fear OF Missing Out) and Exclusion
A study and subsequent documentary by the BBC in 2015 called #being13, showed 33% of 13 year olds would check their devices numerous times a day to check that their friends were not doing anything without them. For those that are constantly worried about missing out, it can become a never ending cycle of checking what everyone’s doing, and then feeling left out if you are not there.
For parents today, we know that there may well have been a party that we weren’t invited to or an outing where we were left off the invite list. It always hurts. But for our kids today, the effects can be so much worse. Because whilst everyone else is out having a good time, they may well be sitting at home alone, scrolling through their feeds, seeing everyone enjoying themselves with image after image, a constant and sometimes devastating reminder that they are not there and that they are missing out.
Aside from the comparison of constantly bearing witness to everything their friends and peers and wider social circles are doing, there is a whole world out there to be constantly comparing oneself to.
Again, we may have grown up with models and magazines and airbrushing, however young girls today have ideals and body images and lifestyles that are saturating their social media feeds and the exposure can be constant. And the images are not necessarily from models, but from people portrayed as the ‘girls next door’. ‘Social media influencers’ are often presenting a visual of someone who got out of bed, drank a green smoothie, did a quick workout and still look amazing. All the while however they took 89 shots to get the right image, had lighting, a wardrobe stylist, make up artist and enlisted the help of multiple airbrushes and filters.
There is nothing wrong with the visual and aesthetic nature of these social networks, we just need young girls to be aware of how they work. To understand the dilemma of authenticity online, and to ensure that they are not negating their own value and worth, for an ideal that may not be realistic.
Drama is often generated online because of the different ways we communicate. Short sharp messages, visual messages, abbreviated words and sentences, and lack of non verbal cues, can all lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Group chats that deliberately exclude or comments that are not necessarily bullying but may be bold, thoughtless, mean and nasty, can contribute to negative online experiences. Saying things in the heat of the moment, a lack of control over our audience, the inability to really delete things online and the very public exposure when things go wrong, are just some of the ways the online world can lead to these digital dramas.
So what are some of the things we can do as parents to help girls thrive in the digital world and prevent these negative elements.
- Give them other options. Give young girls a toolkit of things they can do when they know certain situations will arise. How can they create a group of friends of their own rather than watching what everyone else is doing? What sort of activities can they do that won’t leave them staring at a device all night? What extra curricula groups can they get involved in? What community events can they immerse themselves in? What interests or passions can they seek out? These can even be online causes or social issues they can immerse themselves in to make a difference to the lives of others. When we have something else to focus our attention on, we have less time and emotions to focus on those things that drain us. It can be easy for young people to believe that these little devices answer all their needs. After all, they connect them, they inform them and they entertain them. We all know however that young people need much more than the devices can offer. But as they only know a world where devices are a constant, we need to work a little harder to ensure we are exposing them to all of the other environments, people, places and activities that they need to fit into their world.
- Put boundaries around their friendships. Parents often say to me that their daughters are afraid of disappointing others if they are not there to answer messages, or they fear they will miss out on something in a group chat. It is really important that girls put their own boundaries around their friendship groups. Let them know it’s ok for people to wait until you are ready to respond. That there is nothing wrong with having times where they are unavailable to respond to chats. They can build in those boundaries by letting friends know they don’t answer messages when they are eating a meal, or that they have a time before bed when they are no longer available to respond. It can be difficult at the start but most tell me it is like a weight lifted from them when they are able to incorporate their own rules and boundaries for themselves.
- Start early. If you are the parent of younger children it is going to be a lot easier for these ideas to become habits that in turn become their behaviours if you start early. Changing the behaviours of a 16 year old is a whole different beast to changing the habits and putting in place some boundaries for an 11 or 12 year old.
- Have the skills to communicate effectively. Communicating online does require a certain amount of skill and critical thinking in order to foresee how interactions may play out and how to respond to situations that threaten to get out of hand. Even knowing when to abort a conversation that is not going to end well can be a skill in itself. Looking out for those situations to use as teachable moments and discuss other possible responses that may work better for certain conversations can help give them those skills.
- Don’t make tech the bad guy. It’s easy to heap all the blame on to the technology itself. But it is important we don’t set up an `us versus them’ scenario when it comes to our kids use of technology and social networks. Better that we let them know we understand the role it plays and the importance of the connections, but we need to have boundaries and rules to ensure it remains a positive addition to their lives.
- Let them know there is always help. If girls should get caught up in cyberbullying or have sexual images of themselves shared online it is imperative they know that they have tools to block people, to report users and accounts, and to even have bullying and images removed from the social networks. If they have no luck with the actual social network within 48 hours of reporting something, they can head to eSafety.gov.au which is the official site of the Office of the eSafety Commission, where online abuse and image based abuse can be reported and taken down.
The extent to which all of these things affect young girls ultimately comes down to their self esteem, their resilience and their confidence in who they are. But understanding the implications of online connections and being aware of the impacts certain experiences have on the individual, can certainly go a long way to helping girls enjoy the very best this world has to offer.
Martine’s blog at The Modern Parent has so many fabulous posts for parents to help educate themselves on tech and their kids. These posts are a great starting point:
- The Modern Parents Guide to Fortnite
- Instagram: update for parents to help you decide if your child is ready
- BYOD: Sending kids to school with a digital device? What parents need to know
Martine also has a recorded webinar you can purchase – Driven To Distraction: Helping families stay in control of their digital devices, which covers how you can incorporate technology and devices into your home in a way that allows for positive use & engagement and to provide balance for the many other elements that you need to fit into your lives.