2. The Cyberbubble
The second factor Dr. Sax identifies that hinders girls’ development of a strong sense of self is the techno-world. Because cellphones and the internet are such new and rapidly changing technologies, the Cyberbubble is a huge blind spot for even attentive parents. Social media hurts girls by robbing them of vital intrapersonal space they need to cultivate a healthy identity.
The main threat, according to Sax, is that unlike private journaling, online interactions are inherently INTER-personal. As Peter Rollins has observed, the selves we present online are inherently disingenuous. We all craft a Self we want to be seen. Our online Selves represent the best version of how we see ourselves.
As our culture becomes more and more connected, girls have less and less INTRA-personal space, less room to cultivate their inner self away from someone else’s judgmental gaze.
When tweens and teenagers write and post photos online, they are seeking to please/entertain/amuse their friends. When you are writing in your bedroom in a diary no one else will ever see, you can write whatever you want, at whatever length you want. You can explore your own thoughts and feelings through your writing.
Most often, girls use their phones and social media to create digital scrapbooks full of pictures and ready to be seen, commented on and most importantly liked by their peers. Photosharing is the primary purpose most girls use social media.
A recent report from Harvard Business School found that the number-one reason why teens and young adults go to social networking sites is to look at photos.
Girls spend coutless hours taking, editing and tagging hundreds of pictures on Facebook, Twitter or photosharing apps like Instagram and Gifture. These pictures are carefully crafted to be seen and Liked.
The social-media-driven teen culture contributes to the early and over-sexualization of girls.
Though a new phenomenon to most parents (at least those who’ve heard of it), sexting is shockingly popular among teens. Research suggests that as many as 1 in five teens sexts, and the pictures are almost always of girls. It’s nearly impossible to buy a phone without a camera anymore, so nearly 3 out of every 4 teens (the number that own cell phones, according to this illuminating infographic) have easy access to a camera.
Because the technology is so new, many parents are simply unaware of how social media and cell phones hurt girls’ development. Parents never did homework on a computer where social media is a click away. They didn’t have always-on access to photosharing. If they were bullied, it was only at school, not over the omnipresent internet.
Whatever the answers are, they’re not avoiding the technology. We must help girls carve out space that’s safe for them to develop a strong sense of Self.
The bottom line is that rather than using their time to to create, develop and explore an interior world, many girls spend their time carefully crafting their public selves, forming pictures and statuses that will elicit the most likes and comments from their friends.
The teen world that inhabits social media hurts girls. Instead of becoming persons, they become products.
As Sax concludes:
Tweens and teens who get trapped in the cyberbubble will find it harder to acquire that sense of place. Instead of feeling at home with who they are, they will try to corporatize their image, to make their brand slick and cool.