Do We Have the Power to Protect Our Daughters?

Part 2: Five steps for protecting girls from social media distress.

Posted Sep 23, 2019

For Part I, please see my Psychology Today Blog Post for September 18, 2019.

The first step in taking back our power is to really listen to the science.  The American Association of Pediatrics does not just throw out warnings. They study, they conduct meta-analyses and they deliver warnings based on extensive evidence.

The APA warns us that too much social media leads to:

  • increased depression
  • increased anxiety
  • increased obesity
  • decreased physical health
  • early sexualization and hyper-sexualization
  • negative effects on social maturation (the process of growing up on time)
  • negative effects on healthy sleep cycles, especially because girls sleep with phones near them and so they react to notifications, which interrupts sleep cycles

...and much more

You can access the AAP and other organizations’ studies online. 

My book In The Minds of Girls lays our in-depth science in a very readable way. The science can engage young girls in conversations about family genetics, anxiety, depression, dependency, and brain development.

When they say, “But my friend has__,” tell them what every parent must say at some point in a good child’s life:  “Our family is not that family.”  If they want more explanation, give them the family project of studying all the science and bringing it to the family dinner table for debate.  But whatever you do, don’t lose this debate.

The second step in taking back our power is believing in ourselves as parents—believe in our goals, our power to protect, our power to limit.  Every device in the home is ours, not our child’s.  We own the home, we worked to buy or rent the home, we sacrifice to make the home safe, we are charged with our children’s development.  As the authority in our home, a parent has power that our children will not have until they have homes of their own.

Parental Confidence is the bedrock of your power.  If you don’t feel confident about this social media issue, get support from friends, families, and professionals who agree with your take on the science.  Don’t fight your battle alone.  We live in a society that empowers us to help our girls with nearly everything, but somehow, we have trouble being empowered where technology is concerned.  Be counter-cultural!  Setting tech limits for our girls will lead to better boundary-setting, resilience-development, problem-solving, authentic relationships, and most of all –healthier maturation.

A third step in taking back our power is to help our daughters limit their emotions. Talk about counter-cultural!  We live in a society that teaches us the importance of feeling every emotion not just privately but relationally and publicly, and that is simply not healthy. It increases narcissism, implodes impulse-control development, destroys relationships, and creates no net gain in personal self-confidence.

While “speaking my truth” and “having a voice” are crucial values, so is stoicism, avoiding venues for gossip and ostracism, and learning to build emotional intelligence without constant rumination.  The brains of girls who are dependent on social media are spending too much time feeling every possible emotion—sometimes ecstatic but more often laden with judgment, false self-image, and other negative content. 

A way to study where your daughter fits with all of this is to see how invested she is in selfies. A 2015 poll showed that the average mid- to late-teen girl spends more than five hours a week taking selfies. This time does not include the use of software for filtering, slimming, changing bone structure, erasing pimples; and all this does not include the time spent before the shoot, on lighting and makeup.

Selfies are not themselves dangerous, of course; like social media, in moderation, they can be useful.  But Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, notes the danger of girls becoming more anxious, not less, from all of the narcissism: “With makeup, with retouch, with filters, with multiple, multiple attempts, it’s almost like you’re never going to stack up,” says Dr. Hamlet, “And that is where I think it gets dangerous.”

A fourth step in taking back our power is examining ourselves.  Keep a journal for a week to study how often and for how long you use social media.  Note along the way what your own emotional responses are to what is tweeted, to a selfie you take, to someone’s Facebook or Instagram post, to Snapchat, to whatever “connection” you make via social media, including political discourse that angers you.

Feel what your kids feel and record it then show it to your kids as you study yourself to see if you yourself need to put more limits on your own triggers, your own issues, and your own projections via social media.  Whatever you feel, remember that your children are more vulnerable than you, feeling what you feel in triplicate.

If after your discernment process you see that you are using social media moderately and well, share this moderation with your kids so you model it. If you realize that you are engaging in some self-destruction — and an increase in anxiety perhaps — share that with your kids, too. The battle usually gets easier when your kids see how invested you are in not only their health but your own.  Now they can’t say, “But you do _________, why can’t I?”

And a fifth step in taking back your power is to set rules and stick to them, including providing alternatives to social media dependency.  Some of these rules and alternatives are:

*Don’t give your kids smartphones until they are thirteen or fourteen. Use “Here is your Smartphone” as a rite of passage and privilege your kids need to earn.

*No smartphones, computers, screens (except non-blue-light Kindle). for an hour before bed.  If you begin using this rule early in a child’s life, by the time she is relatively autonomous, she’ll likely see the wisdom of the rule and enforce it herself. 

*Work with schools to make sure kids do not have access to social media during the day, even if they do need the internet for research. On weeknights/school nights, remove social media apps from kids’ phones.

*Have family meals at least four times a week—and at the dinner table, at least some of the time, debate the science not just of social media but of all technology, AI, cloning, etc.  This science can lead to endless wonderful family conversation time together.

*Make sure to have family outings out in nature over the weekends, and other times when possible. Try to spend some time every day or every other day walking outside with your child to discuss important things or just to be together, and encourage your daughter to do the same with others—nature is a great brain developer.

*For as long as your daughter will do them, help her to enjoy martial arts, sports, athletics, and similar forms of exercise.  If she is getting too little athletics time, let her know that one to two hours a day of physical activity is healthy, so she does need to organize her life for that before she uses screens and social media.

*Teach your daughter mindfulness, meditation, and if you are a religious family, the art of prayer.   Help her to engage in this kind of activity at least once a day.

*When she enters adolescence, give her important work to do, require her to volunteer somewhere (animal shelter, the friend who is a veterinarian, mom’s or dad’s workplace, assisted living facility, preschool classroom).  Babysitting can fit this bill, but some unpaid volunteering is also a good rule.

*Teach her that when babysitting, she should only pay attention to the children, not social media (caregiving is a sacred time, not to be distracted from).

Taking back your power is not about being an authoritarian parent but an authentic one.  We parents need to protect our daughters not just by providing food, shelter, and clothing, but by protecting them from harm.  Our job has not changed in the technological era, nor have girls changed.  They still need us to be a wall for them against excessive anxiety and depression.  They still need us to give them self-development through healthy maturation.  They still need us to prepare them to take on the world independently, not dependent on devices that can harm them.

References

Michael Gurian, The Minds of Girls, GI Press, 2018.

Lindsey M. Roberts, “Expert Recommendations for a Child’s First Phone, from Basic to Smart,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2019.

Mary Pipher and Sara Pipher Gilliam, “The Lonely Burden of Today’s Teenage Girls,” The Wall Street Journal, August 17-18, 2019.

Rachel Ehmke, “What Selfies are Doing to Girls’ Self-Esteem,” The Child Mind Institute, June 25, 2019, online. https://childmind.org/article/what-selfies-are-doing-to-girls-self-esteem/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=READ%20MORE&utm_campaign=Weekly-06-25-19.