American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales makes it resoundingly clear that the impact of social media is moving so quickly that even teenage consumers struggle to manage their social lives. Parents and educators feel left behind and therefore reluctant to face the complicated reality their kids are navigating. Some parents choose to avoid the conversation because they don’t feel equipped. Many parents cross their fingers and hope it works out for their kids, counting on their kids to apply the values they taught them to this social arena, unfamiliar to parents. The social lives of kids are played out through their phones on multiple platforms invisible to most adults. While our kids are scrambling to stay socially relevant on their screens, it can appear that everything is fine. Without clear evidence of an issue or incident, parents don’t see the need to step in and guide their kids. When the drama and complexity of a situation is forced out of the virtual world into full view, parents are often shocked when it is clear how entangled their kids have become in social media.
Sales interviewed girls all around the country over the last few years. What is consistently unsettling in her findings is that the girls don’t know what to say or do when they are sexually harassed, pressured to send nude photos, or expected to engage in the normalized hookup scene. Most teenagers – boys and girls – secretly want perspective and guidance to help them find the exit ramp from the overwhelming pressures, but there is nowhere to turn. Few parents are willing to even start the conversation. Taking devices from kids or limiting their access is what some parents believe will eliminate any negative outcomes for their family, unaware how this isolates kids from peers. Being informed about the impact of social media gives parents more conviction to initiate and continue conversations with their kids about their digital lives.
Ten years ago, I became aware of the struggles faced by young people through the perspective of college men. I was troubled by how misguided guys were as a result of their dependence on porn to learn about sex. My early interviews with young men convinced me to become a speaker and author on the topics of healthy sexual choices, including the influence of porn, social media and the hookup culture. In recent years, the online and social media influences have multiplied, and the questions I am asked reveal heightened confusion, deeper anxiety and even more skewed expectations about sex. Young men are under intense pressure to seem like they understand sex and feel as unmoored as young women in their effort to survive their virtual social lives. American Girls is a wake-up call for parents and educators.
– Cindy Pierce, author of Sexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World (Bibliomotion, Inc., October, 2015)
Listen to an interview of Nancy Jo Sales on Fresh Air here.