For the most recent installment of Understanding Girls, GPS welcomed Katey McPherson, executive director of the Gurian Institute, to share her expertise on the Effects of Social Media on Girls. Her talks, part of a two-day visit to GPS, informed parents about how a girl’s developing brain can be impacted by the images and influences she’s exposed to on social media. Ms. McPherson also talked with Upper and Middle School students as well as faculty from GPS and visiting schools.
“As adults we’re sometimes surprised by what seem like irrational actions that our kids make on their devices,” Ms. McPherson says. “However, their brains aren’t fully developed as teens and tweens.” As students explore different roles and personas—typical for this developmental stage—they’re likely to test those “selves” out online. The pressure to keep up with their social group, however, can be great—especially for girls, she said.
Ms. McPherson said Today’s Girl World looks like this:
Never alone and never lonely
Don’t stand out in the “wrong” way
Loyalty = agreement even when you don’t
Never look clingy or desperate ... a selfie is chosen after 20-27 options
Never admit when you’re mad
Be effortlessly perfect in everything
Mr. McPherson encourages parents to have what she deems “courageous conversations” early on—preferably even before a child gets a phone—to discuss expectations and set boundaries for using devices. Ms. McPherson also promotes the use of a family technology contract that specifically outlines parental control over passwords and app downloads, what can be shared, and when privileges may be revoked.
“It’s a constant, exhausting dance for parents of when phones should be taken away and when they can give them back—and kids never get tired,” Ms. McPherson says. Good communication and established expectations can set the groundwork for mutual respect and responsible digital citizenship.
To watch Ms. McPherson's presentation to parents at GPS in its entirety, click here. New York Times best-selling author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, Lisa Damour, PhD, comes to GPS for a free parenting education evening on March 15, 7 to 8:30 p.m., in Frierson Theatre.
More takeaways from Ms. McPherson’s presentation:
If your daughter is using an app, so should you.
You should have login information on her devices and her apps.
Safety always comes first.
Set boundaries and guidelines for your family’s tech use—and follow those rules together after signing a contract.
Set up a central charging station in the home where all devices live at nighttime. No electronics should be in the bedroom.
Teens need their sleep and screen-time at night triggers cortisol, which negates any studying they’ve done because it interferes with short-term memory.
You are really trying to achieve one goal with your child: Dignity. Encourage her to treat others that way and to post only photos and comments that keep her dignity intact.
When you intervene on your child’s behalf, her confidence goes down, not up. Guide her but don’t control her to instill coping skills and resiliency.
Teach your daughter to put the friend ahead of the friendship.
Be willing to have courageous conversations with other parents without judgment.
Image-based platforms such as Instagram promote comparing self with others, causing anxiety and depression.
Be aware of Finsta (Fake + Instagram), where kids have additional profiles on their Instagram accounts that only select people can view. These profiles typically contain more nudity and underage drinking.
Kids will post images to make themselves look cool and often mimic behaviors they don’t necessarily do such as drinking and drug use.
Kids are communicating through social media platforms (such as SnapChat) more than texting.
Kids are not addicted to devices; they’re addicted to the dopamine highs they get when using them.
If girls want to vent, let them vent.
Don’t dismiss their pain by labeling it as “drama.”
It’s unfair to call girls mean, even though they can be mean at times.
Teens have one goal: to stay relevant.
We give teens technology without teaching them how to use it at a time when their brains are only half-developed—and then wonder why they make bad choices.
Your child’s social media connections might not be who they seem to be. A profile picture might seem innocuous but could be deceptive. Require their accounts are private and that they truly know who is following them.
Teens have a drive to feel connected; let that connection be you.
Empathy drives connection; sympathy drives disconnection.
Don’t be shocked if your teen says or posts things that don’t align with your values and faith; most will say and do things to fit in.
Teens are inundated with messages of sex, drugs, and alcohol use in all forms of media. Their underdeveloped brains will make bad choices.
Encourage your student to use social media to create a platform that exhibits her best self. College recruiters will review online presence of incoming students to determine who will best represent their campus.