In the 1980s our version of social media were Slam books. Spiral notebooks that you could write about your interests and hobbies, and more importantly, who you liked. I remember this looking like a rating scale of 1-10 based only on appearance. Yuck. Boys would rate girls, girls would rate boys. Slam books would have to have a lot more variations in 2019 with all of the various ways you can identify and be attracted to someone else. But I digress.
Those Slam books felt so powerful, and I can remember always feeling sad when I would look at my ratings. Keep in mind that I was a thick glasses wearing, pimply teenager, who took forever to enter puberty. If Slam books had that much power, it is hard to even wrap my head around how powerful and toxic social media is for teenagers, especially girls.
Social media allows girls the anonymity to be cruel to others, while also inviting others to be cruel in allegiance to them. So here are some recommendations for teen girls trying to navigate the powerful, cruel, and toxic world of social media. Some of my recommendations might not be very popular among the teen girl crowd, but they can help her stay safe and emotionally healthy during these awkward years.
- Be careful who you friend on the Internet. People are not always who they seem to be. I am not saying don’t have friends on the Internet, but be careful what you share with your online friends. They can distort things you say and do and share those distortions with others.
- Be mindful of how many followers you have. I know it is cool to have a lot of followers, and there are actual apps that allow you to create fake followers, but know who your followers are. Susie123 might look like she is another 14 year old girl, but actually be a creepy old man living in the basement of his mom’s house.
- Be careful what you share on the Internet. Remember that if your friend tags or mentions you, that means all of you information is being shared with their friends too. You should never share identifying information like your full name, where you live, etc. Again, creepy Susie123 could develop an obsession with you and try to come and find you.
- Never accept money for things you do on the internet. I think the whole Tik Tok phenomenon is super creepy. For those not in the know, this social media platform allows you to make videos and people can pay to watch them. I have actually sat down with my daughter and looked over friends’ accounts to see which videos get the most money/likes. They are the ones with girls wearing the least amount of clothing and/or crying in the video. And keep in mind, most 14 year old girls do not have credit cards to pay to watch videos. Again, think about creepy Susie123.
- Never, ever respond if someone attacks you on social media. Defending yourself will only make it worse. Saying nothing is a lot more powerful and healthy.
- And related to attacks, unfollow accounts that have attacked you. Why subject yourself to that experience?
- Follow other liked minded people and be honest with what you post. This means being real, not perfect. No one is perfect, and I think adults are guilty of this as well on social media. When people only portray the perfect version of themselves online, it makes others feel like their life is horrible, or at a bare minimum, not as great as who they see portrayed online. There is a great example of this in the movie Eighth Grade, which I think every parent of a teenage girl should watch. It was eye opening for me to see what my daughter sees online, and the rate at which she has to process all of that information.
- Parents should always be allowed to follow their teen’s social media accounts. We have a rule at our house that I can follow but not post. But that was after I called my daughter out on a post of a selfie with a friend in the middle of a downtown street. (I realize that was probably not the best way to give her feedback about unsafe behavior and probably a text would have been better).
- If social media becomes too much, it should go away. Maybe not forever, but at least for a while. The amount of time teens sit in front of a screen is frightening, then add in all the toxic and cruel parts and it is just too much.
- Have real friendships with people you trust, and hang out with them face to face like we had to in the 1980s. It is so much easier to be true to yourself when you have friendships with people you trust and care about you.
So there you have it, my recommendations for teen girls trying to navigate the powerful, cruel, and toxic world of social media. And fellow parents, how do you help your teenagers navigate this world that did not even exist when we were teens? I would love to hear other ideas.
Want to chat about parenting in the teenage years? Check out the Let’s Talk Parenting link and get in touch. I would love to talk with you.