Nancy Jo Sales writes in “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers,” (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95), about a generation of girls who are social media pioneers. She followed groups of girls from California to New York and places in between from the time they were 13 to the time they were 19. Interviewing them once a year about the effects of social media on their lives.
Sales writes: “One of the things that continually struck me over the course of my reporting was the similarity of girls’ experiences on social media regardless of their race or background.”
One girl acknowledged: “Social media lets you make a lot of impulsive decisions. And the younger you get a phone, the more impulsive your decisions are and then you get older and you just keep doing the same things from there.”
It’s clear from the time they were 13, that they felt sexualized by the boys and demeaned by the girls.
“I think what made me feel worst was the sense I got from many girls that they felt disrespected,” Sales writes in her conclusion.
This is a book that will shock you about just how prevalent sexting and cyberbulling are. You could say, “not my daughter, not my son,” but clearly with the number of girls she interviewed, something is happening.
Sales cites a 2007 American Psychological Association report that found: “It isn’t that girls and women haven’t been exploited for their sexuality before; of course they have; but sexualization has become a prevailing mode, influencing how girls see themselves, as well as how they present themselves.”
On the idolization of Kim Kardashian and the need to post sexualized pictures of themselves, the girls told her:
“Girls post pictures of their bodies and say they’re body positive and everyone’s like ‘You’re so beautiful.’ But they’re not body confident. They’re Photoshopping their bodies and editing their pictures. They say they’re confident in their bodies, which is totally ironic — if you post a picture of yourself on Instagram to feel confident, then you’re not.”
They do realize why girls are doing it: “More provocative equals more likes.”
“It attracts more guys and then it makes other girls think about doing it just for attention. They’re attention whores.”
Sales cites writer Jean Kilbourne: “The biggest problem is that girls are only being given one way of thinking about what is beautiful and sexy and it’s a very porn-star, cliched way. There’s a much wider, broader variety of choices of how to be sexy than the Victoria’s Secret way.”
Sales found girls who had jumped on the YouTube band wagon and wanted to become YouTube stars. It was like they were leading double lives or becoming the YouTube star their “fans” wanted them to be:
One girl said: “My whole YouTube social media thing is all around what people want from me. At the end of my videos, I’ll always ask, ‘What do you want to see next?’ ‘Cause they’re everything to me. They’re all my views … so I definitely want to do what they want.”
Social media has changed the way that girls and boys date, too.
One girl said: “There’s no such thing as dating anymore. I watch really cute, like high school movies, and we don’t have that. It’s so sad. Like I wonder, “What’s it like to go on a date?” There are couples, but they way they get together is they hook up at a party and he’ll ask for her number. They make out and then it goes from there. … It all starts with hooking up.”
While social media had girls knowing exactly what their peers were doing: “I love social media. Literally, that’s our entire life. All day I’m checking Twitter. If I don’t know where my friends are, I just go on Twitter, ’cause they post what they’re doing.”
Yet, they weren’t developing as close a relationship with their peers because of social media.
People share each other’s texts without their permission by taking screenshots and posting them. One girl and her friends said: “I have terrible trust issues. Ever since middle school and everybody got their phones. I don’t feel like I can trust anyone.”
“And you feel betrayed.”
“Over and over.”
Sales reminds: cyberbullying victims are nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide, as well as more likely to have suicidal thoughts, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.
So, why don’t the girls just put down their phones and stop posting.
“Social Media is destroying our lives.”
“Then why don’t you go off it?” Sales asks.
“Because then we would have no life.”
Yet, the girls want their parents to realize what is going on, and to help them navigate this new world, but without getting them in trouble.
One girl and her friend: “I think that parents literally need to knock some sense into their kids and watch what their kids are doing… ’cause I feel like a lot of kids are sneaking it behind their parents backs.”
“They don’t want their parents to know what’s really going on ’cause they’re afraid they’ll take away their phones.”