Teens Hurt by Social Media – Tracing the Source of the Problem
Friends Without Benefits, Nancy Jo Sales’ disturbing essay in the current Vanity Fair offers evidence that teen preoccupation with social media is changing the nature of their interactions, with kids emulating the behavior of porn stars, “hooking up” carelessly for what can barely qualify as casual sex. The abstract of this article states:
This year, 81 percent of Internet-using teenagers in America reported that they are active on social-networking sites, more than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and new dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Blendr have increasingly become key players in social interactions, both online and IRL (in real life). Combined with unprecedented easy access to the unreal world of Internet porn, the result is a situation that has drastically affected gender roles for young people. Speaking to a variety of teenaged boys and girls across the country, Nancy Jo Sales uncovers a world where boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers. What is this doing to America’s young women?
A number of bloggers reading Sales' article reacted to the irony of Vanity Fair covering this material while featuring a swimsuit clad, pouty Kate Upton posing suggestively on their cover. While Sales' piece paints a dire picture of the low self-esteem resulting from callous “hook-ups,” Vanity Fair is one among many magazines to promote the very imagery that addicts boys to thinking all girls should look and behave like this – and has some girls thinking that is their only choice to gain acceptance.
Teens and tweens can only emulate the behavior of adults. Our society is preoccupied with the hypersexualization of women and girls. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who seem to crave sexual relevance, “Twerk” for attention. Beyoncé often struts about in a manner seeming more akin to that of a pole dancer than an artist of her enormous talent. The behavior is glorified in every medium. We are further bombarded by reality TV that panders to the lowest common denominator. Kim Kardashian became famous via a sex tape and millions follow her every move. Likewise, the media trumpets those who are famous for being famous – even if they have no qualification other than an ability to land on the front page wearing little more than a hankie.
Young girls aching for attention and popularity on Facebook see this behavior as a necessary evil. The stories shared in Sales' article are as shocking as they are sad: sexting, cyberbullying, multiple partners that later get publically rated and degraded. The list goes on.
While this is by no means the norm for every teenager, kids who spend eleven hours a day in front of some sort of electronic device are to some degree at the mercy of an overarching sexualized message. We are daily bombarded with this content but worse, parents are encouraged or pressured to hand sophisticated technology with the possibility of life altering repercussions to kids too young to understand the ramifications of their actions.
It is too easy to blame parents and put the onus in them to restrict their children’s rights to social media or to such technology but that ignores a larger problem. Parents are forced to fight a losing battle when advertisements and the majority of programming offers this up and lauds women and girls with a stick thin appearance, pushing an airbrushed body image that is all but unattainable in the real world, not to mention the endless sex parade of TV programming.
[T]he campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying.NYC Mayor Bloomberg is using subway billboards and you Tube videos to remind girls and young women that all bodies are beautiful and that we are valued regardless of body type. While this is a far more laudable effort than Mayor Bloomberg's browbeating about “Big Gulps” or the invasive push to discourage new moms from using baby formula in order to breast feed, he along with anyone pushing this new self-esteem campaign must realize that those billboard messages are being drowned out by much that we see daily.
The question remains whether the messaging kids receive from social media sites, television, internet and in print is burning more negative messaging into their brains than subway billboards can undo.
Turning back the clock is impossible. Another choice then is to push mainstream media to offer equal time to the positive imagery these billboards propose. This is not about censorship, but rather choice that would benefit boys as much as girls. How refreshing then to laud some of the social benefits that technology can offer our culture.
It isn't going to happen unless we demand it.
*Originally published at EPIC TIMES*
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