It exists in the lives of over 800 million people, seeping into cell phones and laptops, eyes and minds, hearts and identities. Everyday it represents, communicates and replaces reality as more than 900 million objects swirl from the shallowness of the screen to the depth of the human mind. Terms like home page, profile, news feed and personalized feed become the furthest reach of one’s connectivity, source of engagement and form of communication. Applications like photos, events, videos, groups and pages are not only fundamental features to this form of social media but fundamental features to the life of its user. This is Facebook, the largest site for social media the world has ever seen, guaranteeing that at least 400 million people are using it today.
Facebook has become so accepted and expected that it is no longer limited to a website or a location on the Internet; it is an activity that consumes the time of millions of people averaging at the size of the world’s third largest country. It breeds relationship and causes divorce; it offers self-expression and provokes self-promotion; it connects old friends and unites total strangers. It is free, unlimited and available to all. It would be ignorant to ignore its power, its monumental place in our world, its immense impact on daily lives.
Facebook users range from teenage boys to stay-at-home moms, grandmas to great aunts, missionaries in the slums to Britney Spears. With each demographic comes different affects, influences and impressions on the life of its user. Although Facebook is a one-stop shop, it can be used in thousands of different ways: to promote, to express, to advertise, to connect. Each age group of users has its own list of pros and cons from the affects of the site, but the form of Facebook in the life of a junior high girl is unique. In the time of her life where she is most impressionable, moldable and starving for identity she is thrown into the spinning world of Facebook that is begging to feed her popularity, answers and attention. Junior high girls are mindlessly sacrificing their integrity by aimlessly connecting with “friends” and recklessly advertising themselves on Facebook. Without giving attention to the weight of these issues, these girls will lose themselves in the world of social media, letting Facebook determine their identity, their relationships and their time.
Junior high girls, sixth-eighth grade, ages 11-14, are being affected more than ever before by sex, drugs, dating, fashion and peer pressure. Forty percent of girls with low self-esteem and eighteen percent with high self-esteem said they had experienced sex before ninth grade, according to a study done by Indiana University. “Girls self-esteem peaks when they are nine years-old, then takes a nose dive,” clinical psychologist Robin F. Goodman writes on the New York University Child Study Center website. “Media, hormones and peer pressure do a number on girls’ confidence.”
By age fifteen, clinically depressed girls outnumber boys with depression 2 to 1, according to NYU Child Study Center. 75 percent of eight and nine year-olds said they liked their looks. That figure dropped to 56 percent among girls’ ages twelve to thirteen. Eighty percent of eighth grade girls say they are on a diet, while seven million girls and women have eating disorders. Ten percent report at ten years old or younger; 33 percent report at ages 11 to 15. Research also shows that messages girls receive from the media can damage their feelings of self-worth and negatively affect their behavior. More than one in four girls surveyed feel the media pressures them to have a perfect body. As a result, girls question their own beauty: between 50 and 70 percent of girls with a normal weight believe they are overweight.
In May of this year, Bill Keller, Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and writer for The New York Times Magazine, wrote a thought-provoking article depicting his view of the relationship between Facebook and his 13-year-old daughter:
“Last week my wife and I told our 13-year-old daughter she could join Facebook. Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth. I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, and I don’t think I’m a Luddite. I edit a newspaper that has embraced new media with creative, prizewinning gusto. I get that the Web reaches and engages a vast, global audience, that it invites participation and facilitates — up to a point — newsgathering. But before we succumb to digital idolatry, we should consider that innovation often comes at a price. And sometimes I wonder if the price is a piece of ourselves.”
As a junior high girl in a public school less than ten years ago, I can clearly remember how it feels to tread through sixth, seventh and eighth grade alone with a broken family, hopelessly falling into groups of friends, mindlessly talking, dressing and acting like every other person around me. It was a spiral of questions, desperation, longing, searching and Abercrombie and Fitch. It was three years of swearing and youth group, kissing boys and being in bed by 9:00 p.m., wanting to be popular and wanting my mom, growing up and caving in, writing notes and going to the mall and eating disorders and school dances. It was horrendous, awkward, life changing and life altering. It built character and demolished reputations. And that was all before the twist of social media.
Sarah Lambert, thirteen year-old eighth grader at a public school in Aurora, Illinois says, “School is drama. Everyone fights and makes stuff up about other people to get back at them.” When asked why she has a Facebook she replied, “I wanted to see what people were taking about.” This comes as no surprise when a study of 1,000 girls ages 14-17, conducted by the Girl Scouts, found that 68 percent of girls have been bullied or gossiped about on a social network, and 46 percent thought the medium makes friends jealous of each other. 40 percent say they lost respect for someone based on what they put on their social media profile. Sarah says she spends about an hour a day on Facebook, but she used to spend more time on there before she had a cell phone. She has 400 friends, 500 photos of herself, 16 photo albums and an app that lets her daily share with all her friends how happy she is.
Mackenzie Carter, eighth grader at a Christian school in Aurora, Illinois, says she uses Facebook to show people who she is, what she likes and what she does. When asked why she uploads photos and updates her status she responded, “Um, mostly, um, I don’t know. When people like my status or my pictures it makes me know that they care.”
This comes as no surprise, after reading an online article titled “What Facebook Does to Teenage Girls”
“There’s a disconnect between the self these girls are presenting online — their brand management, to be precise — and how they describe themselves in real life. 74 percent said other girls made themselves seem cooler online, and 41 percent admitted they themselves did that. That online self was less likely to be “smart” or “kind” — words the girls used to describe themselves as appearing in real life — and more likely to be “fun,” “funny,” or “social.” Also, girls with “low self esteem” were slightly more likely to describe their online persona as sexy (22% percent versus 14%) and crazy (35% versus 28%) than girls with “high self esteem.”
Lexi McComb, seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School, has a Facebook status that currently reads, “I prefer to be hated for who I am than to be loved for who I am NOT ” She has 600 pictures of herself, 168 of which are her profile pictures, photos she took of herself in the mirror, at the beach, with her friends, amplifying her long blond hair and skinny body. Her profile shares her favorite sports, teams, music, books, movies and television shows. She conveys her activities, zip code, screen name and email address, along with an entire section that Lexi wrote describing herself. She ends the paragraph with “PS: this profile is being watched by her parents.”
Facebook is changing the way young people become adults. As junior high girls spin around a world of low self-esteem and gossip, eating disorders and depression, hormones and peer pressure, Facebook sneaks in to enhance, provoke and magnify these issues. While these girls struggled with low self-esteem before, Facebook throws in their face profiles of every other real girl that’s prettier than them. While gossip was prevalent before, Facebook posts the lies for everyone to see. While eating disorders were rising before, Facebook shows the skinniest girls their age standing at the beach in a bikini. While depression was skyrocketing before, Facebook is stimulating and encouraging constant comparisons. A young girl handles an endless list of issues, problems and difficulties. Facebook set them on steroids.
Although the negative repercussions of the relationship between Facebook and a junior high girl are obvious, Erik Qualman is correct when he says, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” We don’t have the luxury of asking the question, Should junior high girls be on Facebook? They’re on Facebook. However, doing Facebook well as a junior high girl is next to impossible. Facebook serves as a source of entertainment and connectivity, attention and self-promotion. To create boundaries, limitations, rules or regulations for these girls wouldn’t solve the problem. The problem exists on it’s own.
To bring any type of sense or control into this relationship, parents need to step in and choose to be completely aware of their daughter’s personal relationship with Facebook. Limiting their daughter’s time on Facebook, asking her about it, telling her it’s a waste of time or choosing to be ignorant about this source of media will only cause division between the parents and their child, provoke rebellion and encourage her to embrace the free-for-all Facebook offers. But when a parent is on Facebook, aware of all it has to offer, aware of what their daughter is doing, who she’s talking to and why she enjoys it so much, it automatically gives the daughter a caution about what she posts and who she chooses to be friends with, knowing that her parents are just as involved and connected as she is. Media and family should not carry the same weight in the upbringing of a child; the two social institutions must be intertwined.
Psychology Today affirms this in an article written by psychotherapist Elizabeth Donovan, M.A.
“Parents who are involved in their teens media habits and discussed activities with them can actually help increase their daughter’s self-empowerment. This positive shift in self-worth can serve as a buffer to help safeguard teens against the lure of eating disorders. Parents have more power than they think when it comes to helping their daughters prevent severe behavioral disorders and, in particular, eating disorders. Increasing your teen’s self-empowerment and decreasing her chances of developing an eating disorder doesn’t mean you have to control every move she makes. In fact, maintaining control of your teen at all times is near impossible even if you tried. The truth is that excessive over-protectiveness and parental suffocation will only serve to develop animosity and distrust within your relationship. Freedom and testing boundaries is important and necessary for teens to mature into healthy adults. For most parents, it’s the issue of striking a balance between control and independence that is often the most difficult. While Facebook provides yet another challenge in the world of eating disorders and teens, it also provides an important opportunity – a chance to have a conversation with your teen that is non-threatening, open, and that can serve to inspire and empower her.”
However, an endless number of parents choose on a daily basis to not be involved and not care about their daughter’s actions on Facebook. This is when the church needs to step in. When the church is appropriately using social media, following Kyle’s Christian code for social media (having a clear vision and goals for using the tool, mobilizing the network, fostering authentic community and questioning before posting) then the girls can reflect that.
Facebook was originally intended to connect students on a college campus, however it has erupted into connecting 800 million people on this planet. Through those millions of people, young girls have been drawn in to virtually connect with others and to artificially promote themselves. An awareness of the negative effects on them is crucial to understanding this new generation of girls, the most technologically advanced group of teens in the history of the United States.
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