Social Media Is Not Bad for Girls



Recently, I read an article about social media and its influence on children. The article concluded that social media has a hugely negative influence on girls versus boys, who seem largely unaffected. The article included charts to back up the claims.


As I read the article, I found myself having a strong reaction to the position that social media has a negative influence on girls. I had an even stronger reaction to the advice given to counter that negativity - restricting access.


The issue I have is promoting the idea that a technology medium that has been so widely adopted is not for girls and that we should restrict their access by:

  1. Not allowing them to use the phone an hour before bedtime

  2. Not giving them smart phones in the first place

  3. Banding together with other parents to prevent them from having social media accounts

While the above advice was intended for all kids and provided courtesy of "professionals in the field," it was preceded by paragraphs painting a grim picture of social media being responsible for girls experiencing self-image erosion, depression, and committing self-harm, while saying boys remained largely unaffected.


This position creates such an incredible bias against girls having access to smart phones and social media while laying - or building upon - the foundation that girls don't belong, and should not be, in this space. However, boys will be just fine.


This echos the mentality we've held about girls and women regarding education, land ownership, running businesses, employment, voting, holding office, religion, and more. It's the idea that we're hysterical people - the concept that: "They can't handle it, we must protect them, just look at what they're doing."


Stop deciding for us by telling and re-telling the same story of "protect our poor girls from the harms of the world."


The norm I've witnessed, that goes largely unchallenged, is to prevent girls from having mobile phones. If they do get phones, parents get their passwords, snoop through their devices, and keep them away from social media at all costs. This screams, to me, of violation and oppression at all levels.


There are some outliers where a girl achieves something amazing due to a STEAM program, and we applaud them greatly when those stories arise, but it's not the norm. We say girls don't have an interest in technology, but maybe it's us parents who have the bias and are unaware of how much those biases and associated phone or social media rules are keeping girls locked out.


I have reached a breaking point and just can't take it anymore. Enough is enough. I challenge us all to fight these gender-bias "norms" with an alternate approach.


Girls should have smart phones and they should have social accounts they dominate.


Social media is business. It's how you build a following and reach an audience. It's where you connect and find or create opportunities. It's definitely about influence - yet we want to keep girls out?


If more girls are given access and taught how to make it their personal platform, maybe they can help change the world and have a positive impact on teen depression and self-harm. With guidance, girls can be a force, they can be mentors, heroes, and world changers. I say let's flood social media with more body positive, socially conscious, tech-loving, business minded girls who want to make the world a better place.


When will you let your daughter have an account? When it's late in the game and she has no idea what she's doing because her peers have blown past her?


Technology is growing fast, but it is still relatively new to our lives and anyone whose had a career in technology will tell you first-hand: they learned by doing, exploring, experimenting, messing up, breaking things, embarrassing themselves, and spending countless hours in front of a screen. This is how we learn, innovate, and forge new paths. When we restrict girls while buying boys more powerful gaming systems, we're maintaining a dangerous precedent that girls don't belong.


I know there are campaigns, programs, and efforts at school and in other organizations to provide greater access and pathways to girls, but what about at home? What happens when your online life is moderated, screened at every turn, and restricted? Here are some options to consider:

  • You create a secret online life where and how you can

  • You fall behind and/or lose interest

  • You use technology in a silo and miss growing with it

  • You use technology within the permissible boundaries and can't wait to use it more and advance yourself academically by getting a degree in a technical field later in life when it's allowed - uh, said no one, ever

Are parents really naive enough to believe they're winning by preventing access?

Why wouldn't you want to give your daughter the world with all the tools in it and teach her how to use those tools and navigate wisely? The outcomes are then limitless, whereas when you restrict her, you hold back her opportunities, access to knowledge, and growth. More importantly, you hold her back from self-governing and reinforce the idea that she isn't smart enough to make good decisions on her own in the male-dominated world of technology. You may think your role is to decide for her, but I say it is to talk with her, inform her, and decide together.


Technology and social media aren't going anywhere. It's crazy how fast - hourly - things change. AI is here and moving rapidly, smart phones will merge into smart lives where all things we ride in or exist within will be internet-ready and searchable with wide open doors to the rest of the world. There is no privacy.


We can't protect ourselves from this, much less our daughters. If we keep them blocked from devices, or monitored with limited access, they fall behind their male counterparts in developing a technology mindset with intimate knowledge of its current and potential applications. For those left out, this means playing a lot of catch-up later in life, and many of those girls won't be interested enough to try because other pursuits took the place of developing an interest in technology.


Instead, let's give our daughters unfettered access and encourage their use of mobile phones, social media, and more.


We can fill the need to control and protect with being better educators who have the right conversations with our girls.


The industrial revolution is long over, we're deep in the technological revolution, and we are heading forward at an alarming rate. We know the education system and our governing systems are behind this growth. That means it's up to us, the parents, the educators, and employers to democratize access to devices and knowledge. Those who have these two things hold the power, the future, and our information in their hands. I personally want my daughters at the table, designing the future, speaking up for our rights, or possibly surpassing the entities monopolizing our attention to create the next big breakthrough that puts our girls in the seat of shaping our digital world.


Our daughters need to be the advance team, not relegated to the voice of an AI assistant. I hate the fact that Alexa is a woman, what kind of crazy gender bias is that? I can hear now: "People prefer a female voice..." Can someone please queue the BS and stop relegating women to subservient roles?


In our home, technology has never never been restricted. My girls both got social media accounts as soon as they wanted them. I don't know their passwords and I never have. In fact, they both know my passwords and have complete access to me, my online identity, businesses, and financials. They have been exposed to robotics, science, art, engineering, HTML, music, coding, UX design, marketing, business, and more. Both of my girls are A-average students and yes, we sometimes struggle with emotional issues, but there is no conclusive evidence to suggest it's because of technology or social media.


If you think I'm crazy for providing so much access, consider this:


I'm a single mom and my kids have gotten scared at night plenty of times. They question if we could fight off an intruder. As a result, they've had their fair share of nighttime anxiety. While therapy is something I believe in, it doesn't solve everything and nighttime fears like this are a very real thing in a house full of girls. I had it until I was 35. My kids and I have have really benefited from the safety and comfort of having the phone nearby to call or text when one of us hears an unusual noise. We have a plan to stay on separate floors, we have a plan for determining if we're ok, and key phrases we use to indicate safety - through our phones and other means. This is not damaging, it's access - to me, to 911, to each other if there were a home invasion - and it's much safer than having a gun near my bed around two nervous girls.


Unlike most parents I've met, I do not, have not, and will never search my kid's rooms or devices. I believe that children should be treated with respect through education and trust. I've had my stuff searched through before by some ex's, and I've done it myself to an ex, it's one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced in my life - from both sides. I just don't think it's worth eroding trust in the name of protecting my kids.


Instead, I remain highly visible in my children's lives and we have a lot of open conversations in our house where all topics are on the table. We regularly (as in randomly throughout the week) have detailed family discussions on drugs, sexuality, abuse, religion, science, history, bullying, crime, business, politics, our legal system, education, and technology. The conversations focus heavily on educating each other - it goes both ways - and telling stories from our personal lives and the news.


We are all up front and direct as we talk through in-depth scenarios around sexual intimacy, jealousy, gossip, bullying, loneliness, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol use, online chats, pornography, and what they are going to do with their lives.


Will my girls have a career in technology? Can you not going forward? It's unknown at this point, but they do know they need to have access, they need technical skills, they get how user experience plays a role in getting and keeping attention and customers, they recognize dark UX, they understand what it means to own data on your own platform, they know the power and importance of ethics and innovation.


In my house, the rules for technology are:

  • Always cover your device when undressing

  • Never post images or content while in the location where the picture was taken

  • Never share where you plan to goKeep identifying information out of photos

  • Metadata tells a story, check yours

  • Don't use your real name until you are over 18

  • Use social media to grow a following for business purposes

  • Check your Uber or Lyft driver's identity and text mom a photo

  • Remember, what you do online is forever

I don't tell them to never take a naked selfie - people do and they might or might not - instead, we talk about where that might go, if my kids would want me to see it, if they'd want to accidentally see one of me, if they're good with the FBI or NSA having a look. It's been effective and, so far, we've been incident free for 19 years.


How to Take Action


To help change the narrative around technology and social media regarding girls, here are some things to consider doing:

  1. Push back on girl blocking narratives online, at home, and in schools

  2. Give your daughter a smart phone with apps and show her how to use it safely

  3. Tell your daughter about technical innovations and ask her opinion

  4. Help your daughter build a social platform to champion whatever she believes in

  5. Expose your daughter at home to science, art, math, engineering, technology, coding, design, and business - give her an opportunity to challenge herself, contribute, grow, and innovateJoin organizations that offer opportunities for girls to get involved with STEAM

  6. Ask your daughter what she thinks - about everything - then listen, discuss, and engage

  7. Don't restrict her, instead, educate her and let her educate you

  8. Brainstorm business and technology ideas with your daughter - draw out her ideas on a napkin

  9. Teach your daughter how powerful she is by sharing stories of girls who innovate, code, create, and take charge

  10. Be an example, an advocate, and speak up for girls and their place in social media and technology, today and in the futureIf you're a woman, be active on social media and show girls how it's done - I am working on doing better here myself

  11. Most of all - TRUST YOUR DAUGHTER - she's smarter than she's given credit for in the world at large

Remember, most of us aren't saints who never broke rules or did anything wrong - share your stories with your daughter - don't hold her to some unrealistic expectations that thwart her opportunity to be involved in the name of keeping her safe.


I welcome your questions and feedback.


This story is also published on Medium and LinkedIn.

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(LinkedIn) Karen Passmore, PEACHLY

(IG) karenlpassmore, predictiveux, peachlyu

Medium

Twitter

(web) Predictive UX, PEACHLY

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