"Like" Me: Why Girls Need More Breaks from Social Media

Four Alarming Ways Social Media Can Impact Your Daughter's Development

Posted Aug 21, 2015

Carissa Rogers/Flickr
Source: Carissa Rogers/Flickr

A recent Good Morning America segment reported on teens’ current obsession with “Likes” on social media, primarily on Facebook and Instagram. To be in the “100 Likes Club,” a girl has to accumulate at least 100 Likes for her pictures or they are considered an embarrassment. According to a teen girl interviewed for the segment, “If I get less than 100 likes… I will delete the picture because it wasn’t good enough”. Her friend chimes in, “Everyone at school gets 100 or more; it’s not good to be the only one who doesn’t have it”. To be measured by whether your pictures get 100 or more Likes puts a great deal of pressure on girls; if they can’t reach the 100 mark, they believe they don’t have approval of their peers. 

While most adults can reason that this is not a valid way to measure whether or not you are likeable, popular, or attractive, it is important to remember that girls can easily get caught in these numbers as a measure of their worth. Unlike in the past when we had to guess about whether or not people “liked” us, today’s girls can look to their actual numbers of friends, followers, likes, and views to provide evidence for their popularity. To them, the numbers seem a tangible way to assess whether or not they are acceptable, and they learn to believe that they are not okay unless others are providing validation of their worth by paying attention to them on-line.  As aptly stated by Dr. Robyn Silverman, it is easy for “Living for Likes” to become a girl's new reality[i].

As a parent you are probably thinking that this constant pressure to be “Liked” sounds like an exhausting way to live. Who can relax when everything you say and do is analyzed, photographed, posted for an audience, and evaluated? To feel you have to be on at all times, always available, and if you go for too long without checking your phone or computer, life might leave you behind? This results in a new cultural expectation for girls that simply did not exist even one decade ago.

What are the results of what Ana Homoyoun calls hyper-socialization in today’s girls? Since this trend is so new, we don’t really know the range of its far-reaching effects. For now, here is a sample of current findings:

  • It can impede authentic identity development. When you are always “on”, you don’t have time to have a complete thought, much less to figure out who you are and what you want for your life. Developing an authentic identity requires downtime and reflection, and a hyper-socialized life does not allow space for this development.[ii]
  • It can impede healthy self-esteem development. When she bases her sense of who she is based on how many “likes” she can get, your daughter will never feel good enough as she is; she will always be looking for external validation of her worth. Even when this validation is superficial, she will continue to seek it out.
  • It can impede social skills development. In an ironic twist, on-line hyper-socialization can actually get in the way of a girls’ development of social skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communication and Media, a major part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while they are on the Internet and on cellphones.  Steiner Adair agrees when she writes that the more energy your daughter spends on socializing through texts and social media, the more likely she is to miss out on the kinds of conversations and experiences that contribute to the development of relational skills needed for healthy friendships and emotional intimacy.[iii]
  • It can impede the development of empathy. Another problem that results from social development that occurs in large part on-line is the increase in cruelty and lack of regard for others’ feelings. In the absence of face-to-face conversations in which girls learn to interpret appropriate social cues, they are less likely to develop empathy and awareness of the impact that their communication can have on other people. In this type of environment, trends like cyberbullying, sexting, and harassment will continue to flourish.

In case you are getting discouraged, one positive note in this area is the finding that even when children are missing out on learning appropriate social cues, they can improve quickly with practice and with time away from technology. In an interesting study, researchers examined two groups of preteens who were preparing for a 5-day technology-free outdoor education camp. All of the children were tested on their ability to read emotional cues in people’s facial expressions. Then half of them went to the 5-day camp where no electronics were allowed. The other group stayed at home, still using their electronics, while they waited to go to the camp. After only 5 days away from their tech screens and engaging in outdoor camp activities that required face-to-face interactions, the campers became significantly better at reading facial emotional cues (the group who remained at home showed no changes)[iv].

The take-away: It is important to take the extra effort needed to increase opportunities for your daughter to engage in face-to-face conversations and to leave her technology devices behind for awhile.  When she interacts with others without escaping into games or worrying about the texts or updates she is missing, she learns to be present and to develop the social skills she will need for the future.

Notes.

[i]  Robyn Silverman (2014). Am I Like-able? Teens, self-esteem and the number of likes they get on social media. Retrieved from: drrobynsilverman.com.

[ii] Homayoun, A. (2012). Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping our daughters find authentic success and happiness in school and life. New York: Perigree Press.

[iii] Steiner Adair, C. (2013). The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

[iv] Uhls, Y., Michikya, Morris, J., Garcia, D.  Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., & Greenfield, P. M.(2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen

skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior. doi:

10.1016/j.chb.2014.