The Modern Teen

Inside the mind of the American teen

Don't Click! A Simple Solution to Save our American Girls

What if we banded together to stop the assault on our daughters' mental health?

I have never been a teenage girl.  But one day my daughter will be, so I have been viewing the Internet in a whole new way.  And frankly, I am surprised that there are any girls left in America that do not suffer from significant body image concerns or depressive symptoms.  It will not surprise a single female, but for me, I am shocked at the number of Internet harmful stories that constantly bombard our youth, and even more shocked that I have been complicit in their propagation for so many years.  Well, here’s a simple idea to stop all of that!

Are we contributing to our daughter's mental health problems?
One in five girls in America has a major depressive episode before they reach the age of 25 years old.  That’s an epidemic by any measure!  A major depressive episode is not merely feeling a bit down or grumpy here and there; it means that in addition to depressed mood, girls are experiencing at least five clinically impairing symptoms of depression, such as appetite or sleep disturbance, hopelessness, a loss of pleasure, or suicidality, for instance.  The proportion of American girls who are preoccupied by their body shape or physical appearance is simply overwhelming. 

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Why? Well, have you seen the Internet recently? A headline about someone losing all of their “baby weight” in an unhealthy time frame should be noted as a cautionary tale – not with a celebratory tone. What does a 12 year old girl think when she is bombarded with photos of a starlet who just came from a healthy lunch with the caption “baby bump?”! How about Internet photo albums of “before and after plastic surgery” on popular female magazine websites – is it any wonder where young girls get the message that they will be most valued for their physical appearance and not any of a hundred other ways to contribute to society. Psychology research recently has focused on “fat talk” – a phenomenon involving women self-disparaging their own body shapes simply to fit in with their friends and appear “normal.” When self-criticism becomes “normal,” it is no longer surprising that 20 percent of our daughters have serious depressive symptoms.    

Send a Message to STOP!!!
I realize there is nothing new to this revelation. The media has been perpetuating these messages for years and women have been combatting societal pressures that few men can relate to. But in today’s age of interactive media, viral memes, and constant mining of our Internet behavior to develop new campaigns, there is something we can now do about it! And it’s simple – stop clicking! Search engines remember and store your Internet behavior.  Your click on a web page is connected to your clicks on other web pages (within the same browser) and ultimately tracked by web developers. The reason the media keeps producing messages that are harmful to American women is because Americans keep consuming these stories.  Complaining about the media does nothing, therefore, unless it is accompanied by action (or inaction). So, simply don’t click.

Don't Click!
Here’s an idea…what is everyone who read this post vowed for one month not to click on any Internet stories that contributed to low self-regard among women. That means don’t click on any stories about rapid weight-loss, plastic surgery, baby bumps, sexy selfies, Kim Kardashian, or anything else that is posted simply to perpetuate the message that all we care about is thinness and youthful beauty. In other words, if you “Vow Not to Click” for one month, then think about whether you would want your daughter to see the Internet link you are about to click. If the answer is No, then don’t click. We can help our girls, but it will take us all working together!

Copyright © 2014, Mitch Prinstein.  All rights reserved.
Twitter:  @mitchprinstein

Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Term Professor and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He writes about clinical adolescent psychology.

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