Adolescent Girls' Relationship with Social Media

Adolescent Girls' Relationship with Social Media

There’s much discussion on the impact of social media on youth, especially girls. In less than 25 years, adolescents’ lives have become inundated with social media, with an overwhelming number (80%) of 13 to 17-year-olds using some type of social media, many for several hours a day. Nearly half admit they check their social media “almost constantly,” or at least a few times every hour.

There are benefits to young people using social media – meeting new people and finding social support to name just a few. But there are reasons for concern about the influence of social media on adolescent development, including that it distracts from schoolwork, reduces in-person interaction, and interrupts sleep. There are also have concerns about privacy, cyberbullying, and online predators, leading us to attempt to limit the amount of time young people spend online.

According to the Society for Research in Child Development, many methods – such as the fact that what they post privately may later become public or that reducing time online may help them sleep – may backfire, particularly for adolescents. It’s known as “the Romeo and Juliet effect,” which describes how imposing authority causes teens to resist.

Despite knowing there are consequences to overuse of social media, focusing on abstract or distant consequences seldom overcomes immediate temptation for youth, who typically don’t consider how their behaviors today may affect what might happen in the future.

A better option is to help adolescents change their own behavior, to self-regulate. By showing teens how social media companies trick them to keep them online or click to other sites to increase their advertising revenue, young people may better understand how they are being manipulated, hooked into staying online, becoming “addicted.” Teens involved in a research study reported greater motivation to cut down their online time as a way to reclaim their independence and untie themselves from corporate manipulation (a larger purpose). The idea of self-regulation aligns with teens’ social values, such as autonomy and social justice. This is known as values-alignment.

Research also notes that values alignment messaging motivates girls more so than boys. Girls report that social media is “very” or “extremely” important for friendships – they worry more about being excluded, and place greater desire to receive “likes” than do boys. Girls also report a greater psychological dependence on social media and make more comparisons with their peers’ lives.

Although more research needs to be done, the current studies have shown that helping adolescents act independently and take control of their social media use is beneficial. These are the tactics Chrysalis After-School programs and GirlPower mentors employ. Helping girls understand how advertisers and social media often manipulate them and helping them gain confidence in their own decisions and take control of their own lives are both powerful and effective ways to ensure they have the tools they need to make the best decisions.

This is the way strong girls become confident, independent women.