A friend, who knows my favorite reading topics include self-improvement and parenting, sent me the title of a book this past spring she thought I should check out. American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales is an in-depth look at the impact social media is having on girls around the country who are between 13 and 19 years of age.
Published in 2016, the book includes a summary of face-to-face interviews between the author and hundreds of girls from ten states (including Texas), taken over a two year period of time.
I will admit, I often had to put the book down because of the disturbing content. As the mother of five, the youngest of who is her only daughter and heading into middle school, I am very interested in how social media may impact this stage of her life and that of her friends as well. And while it’s important to be educated, some of what is reported would be difficult for any parent to digest.
I decided this book was such a worthwhile read, in terms of opening up an important dialogue between myself and my daughter, and between myself and other parents, that I invited six of my daughter’s friends’ moms to read the book and join me in our home for a discussion of the book and topic.
The evening was a success for many reasons, not the least of which was we had a handful of people, who often feel they are alone in a parenting challenge, coming together to talk about a topic so central to today’s child raising. Those in attendance concur that, to some degree, most of the negative behaviors highlighted (like bullying, shaming between peers, competition, boys soliciting girls for their own sexual gratification), have gone on forever. However, we also agreed that the intensity of these acts has been magnified by the easy access and influence of porn to adolescents, as well as the overall weight the media/entertainment industry carries.
One last thing our group agreed on was that iPhones, social media, and screen time in general is not going away. The best solution is for moms and dads to make the time to build relationships with their kids, where the child can feel comfortable coming to the parent if they encounter a situation on social media that alarms them. Holding consistent boundaries like no phones in the bedroom overnight, dinner together sans electronics, and parents being conscious role models when it comes to social media and electronic use all goes a long way.
Today’s parents are pioneering the use of the Internet and social media technology in our family life. Many parents I have talked to say it’s the biggest struggle they face. Not only in terms of what their kids can access (with or without intent), but also the infringement screen time has on their relationships, both with family and friends.
In addition, our schools are trying to find a balance between technology use in the classrooms and the “old fashioned” method to learning…interaction between fellow students, and the student/teacher relationship. My greatest concern with “bring your own technology” at school is the use during the lunch hour. I’d much rather my kids to be looking at and talking with their classmates than playing a game for points, or snapping a picture for likes.
What do you find most challenging about social media and your adolescent? Have you found a creative solution that works for your family? I would love to know! Send me an email at [email protected].
Kim Muench is a married mother of five children living in Flower Mound. A certified parenting coach, her passion lies in supporting and encouraging parents of adolescents. To read more of her work, or to learn about her parenting program, go to www.realifeparentguide.com.