Why does your teen daughter eat, sleep and seemingly try to bathe with her phone? Why does she post pictures of herself “posing” on Facebook? This post about teen girls and social media is a summary of “Online Confidential: What girls Do Online, Why They Do It, and How to Parent Through it,” a presentation by educator, author, and speaker Rachel Simmons at the Millersville University Anna Funk Lockey Lecture.

Like moths to a flame
Teen girls are addicted to social media. Why exclusively teen girls? Because it’s their nature to be addicted to relationships. During this phase of their lives, relationships define a teen girl’s social status. Therefore, texting, Facebook and other social media – all connection tools – are irresistibly attractive. The longer the friends list the better. To teen girls, the Facebook wall is a powerful social status soothsayer meting out condescension and compliments in real time. Cell phones are on 24 hours a day as they read and respond to texts instead of sleeping. Teen girls today are so embedded in social media they believe they don’t exist without it.

Facebook – The perfect medium for teen girl aggression
This is a harsh reality for many parents to face. Most teen girls participate in a day to day nastiness with one another online. A seemingly innocent Facebook status update like “Having fun at Tara’s party” is written for one reason only – to notify everyone else they weren’t invited. Often other attendees follow up with comments like “best time everrrr” or “I’m glad I remembered my bathing suit” driving home the point they are the chosen ones. It’s the nature of teen girls to rank others and create hierarchies. On Facebook, girls use the family list for this. Parents aren’t listed as parents. Instead, “besties” or best friends are listed as parents and/or siblings. When a teen girl deletes another girl from her family list she is also making a public statement about an ended friendship. Everyone sees the demotion because Facebook automatically posts family list changes. Cryptic Facebook status messages are another common way teen girls intentionally insult one another. For example, a girl may write, “I will ram my fist down ur throat haha” as a status update. The haha at the end makes it look like the writer is kidding when in most instances she is quite serious about her aggression. To top it off, all of her friends know exactly who the writer is referencing. All of this leads to more aggression during the school day.

Do guys like me?
Ever wonder why teen girls are constantly taking pictures of themselves and posting them on Facebook? Girls use social media to verify they’re attractive. Often these pictures receive a multitude of comments such as “ur sooo pretty” to “hottttt” from both boys and girls. Depending on how addicted the girl is to this kind of attention, pictures typically become more and more daring. Other questions girls use social media to answer are: What do people think of me? Why wasn’t I invited? Do I have enough friends?

The Paradox
Teen girls use social media to project the perfect image of themselves and soothe the social insecurities they typically feel. Unfortunately, like all addictions, chronic participation makes them feel worse rather than better. Look at the facts. Girls ages 8 – 18 spend 8 complete hours a day on electronic media. 7th through 12th grade girls send an average of 3,000 texts a month. The exhausting task of keeping up with real time social media during every free moment, the cyberdrama of who is invited to what, and the natural desire to be accepted and liked by hundreds and hundreds of “friends” just doesn’t work. Yet, teen girls are irrevocably drawn to it, day after day. The fact is, social media is not deep or rich enough to substitute for real life. Girls need limits.

Parents must step in
The norm today is teen girls, instead of parents, are in charge of their social media use. Parents need to step in and help their children see social media and technology as a privilege, not a right. Parents, you’re entitled to have your child’s Facebook password and if you allow your child to use Facebook then it is also your job to randomly check your child’s account. Set time limits on social media use. Do not allow phones in bed. Remind your child that safe, responsible use of social media means not using other people’s passwords and accounts, not sharing embarrassing photos, not forwarding embarrassing photos, and not humiliating or harming others. If your child can’t abide by these rules then she needs a social media time out. Remember, just because your child knows how to use technology doesn’t mean she automatically knows how to use it responsibly.

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As the owner of a digital marketing and design company, I know the benefits social media can bring to businesses. As the parent of a daughter who is now a sophomore in college, I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness Facebook and texting addiction first hand. My teen loudly objected each and every time I set limits. Nevertheless, those limits guaranteed her sleep filled nights as well as some solid study time.  To all parents of teen girls who plan to set limits – Stay strong. It’s worth every effort.