“Whether it was after seeing screenshots of thirteen-year-old girls on “slut pages,” or hearing about a fourteen-year-old girl being mocked and bullied online, or finding out about a sixteen-year-old girl trying to deliver a presentation in school after classmates flashed pornography at her—I had to just sit and reflect. I felt sad sometimes. I think what made me feel the worst was the sense I got from many girls that they felt disrespected.”
--Nancy Jo Sales, author of American Girls Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers
I have always prided myself on being a “techie” principal. Staying up with the latest innovative technology and trying to figure out how it could best be integrated in the classroom to better educate children at school. I have to say that after the last MACUL conference I attended in Grand Rapids, after a day of learning about EVERYTHING technology and learning about what hasn’t even been thought of or invented yet, I thought to myself “this is work for the young.” Ian Jukes used to call people like me technology immigrants, not native to the world of technology and those who run away from technology, technology refugees. I am afraid I am beginning to feel more like the latter. Wanting to run away.
I particularly felt this way after reading Nancy Jo Sales book, American Girls Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. She delivers a powerful, graphic, and no holds barred view of what it is like to be growing up with social media as a young girl. She interviewed over 200 young girls from across the United States in many various diverse demographic backgrounds. To this “old” principal, I found the information to be, let’s just say eye opening. I know of the “dark side” of technology, but I didn’t know of how social media is changing the way our kids see themselves, view their own self-worth and esteem. No longer from the effort put forth or success of a particular skill attained, but simply from the number of “likes” received on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or SnapChat for photos, comments, or stories posted.
If you are not keeping up with the Kardashians, your kids are! Particularly our girls! They want to be like Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian and they are spending hours making themselves up to look “hot,” photographing themselves, editing the photo so that it looks just right and then posting to see how many likes they can get. Meanwhile, before many of these young girls ever hold a boys hand, they are receiving Snapchat requests to “send noodz” and/or receive “dick pics.” Yes, there are online articles describing how to create the best and most desirable pic so that girls will reciprocate with their own provocative photos. Despite all of the education information we believe we are providing, kids from every demographic are doing this and it is a pervasive phenomenon.
According to Sales, a 2009 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 51 percent of girls ages thirteen to nineteen said they believed that “pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images.” Sixty-six percent of girls who had sexted someone said they did so to be “fun or flirtatious,” and 52 percent as a “sexy present” for their boyfriends. And the boys didn’t keep the “sexy present” to themselves, but rather shared them, created “slut” pages, ranked and rated girls and of course sent pictures out of their “junk” to elicit more possibilities to receive “noodz.”
I know I am old school, and I have always been drawn to the good uses of technology, but as a dad, maybe grandpa someday, and educator, this book has really got me thinking about what our girls are growing up to become. When I was in high school, boys would “Rate a Bod” in the hallway while they sat along the registers waiting before school. This type of activity has been going on for a long time. That wasn’t right then and it isn’t right now. But, what has changed in this social media world, is the pervasiveness, instantaneousness, and anonymousness of it all. Kids are no longer learning to be intimate, but are objectifying themselves as sexual beings to be viewed, rated, and liked.
Take for example, the number of young boys who keep track of the number of girls they have had sexual relations with and pride themselves on posting the number. Sex is being learned from porn videos that are devoid of intimacy and depict women in violent ways as objects to be pounded. After their conquests, boys make “slut” pages, post these and call the girls “hos.” The girls call these boys, “fuckboys.” I grew up with boys who were called “players” but I think what feels different is how a lack of emotion, love, and care has been excreted via the objectification of young girls through social media.
What does it feel like to be growing up as a girl in 2016? For a girl growing up with this social media onslaught it has to feel like you are a sex object and any work that has occurred as far as the progression of women being viewed for their minds and not bodies has been eroded. The double standard has been enhanced. A girl who sends out naked pictures is called a slut where a boy who gets likes of his “dick pic” gets attaboys!
This world of instantaneous image sharing, very early exposure to graphic and violent pornography, sexulization of girls at a young age via You Tube “beauty guru stars” and Kim Kardashian who by the way sells a book of 400 provocative poses of herself that girls try and emulate and post to get more likes, is according to Sales, “creating a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism and a sometimes self-undermining notion of feminist empowerment: a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills.”
You certainly know Facebook and Twitter and may use and probably have heard of Instagram, but how about Snapchat, Whisper, Yik Yak, Kik, Ask.fm or Tinder? How is the use of these anonymous photo sharing, communication and “hook-up” apps affecting our kids as students and human beings at our schools? What is a principal to do to become informed, inform his or her community, and change the culture of how social media is raising our girls instead of us?
The three “E’s” is the answer. Educate ourselves, educate our kids, and educate our parents. You can start by reading Nancy Jo Sale’s book and become enlightened on how pervasive the use and impact of social media is on our youth culture. Sales has some suggestions as to what we can do to educate others:
- We need to educate parents about online porn and its effects on kids. They need to know that kids are viewing it either deliberately or accidentally and learn about how it is influencing young people’s lives-their view of their own sexuality and how they treat each other in a sexual relationship. Especially urgent in the lives of girls, because the image porn presents most often is an image of women and young women that is degrading.
- We need to change our sexist culture and do it through education at an early age. Girls and boys need be educated about the history of the women’s movement to grow compassion. Learning about the struggle for equality, just as they learn about the Civil Rights Movement
- More than ever, girls need feminism. To be explicitly taught a core set of critical tools that will enable girls to recognize inequality and work toward equality.
- Have conversations and teach parents about minimizing the amount of time young people are spending on social media. Sales observed many young girls constantly checking their phones to see how many likes their most recent posted image received. There is an interest in self-promotion that is changing self-image and exacerbating depression, cutting, anxiety, etc. as girls create a “perfect” online self.
- Sales suggests that Silicon Valley needs to help. Leaders of tech apps who are reaping profits from girls’ fascination with their products, need to take responsibility for the effect of their industry on their lives. A good first step is to hire and promote more women in the technology industry.
- Finally, Sales suggests that girls need to read more! She cites a reference from a Princeton professor who shared that the invention of the printing press was when we first saw porn in its modern form. Porn was a reaction to women reading, to becoming more educated and informed and was meant to degrade women and keep them from becoming empowered. Put down the phone and pick up a good book! Not “Fifty Shades of Gray” by the way!