It used to be just dream diaries with tiny locks, but the private lives of teenage girls have changed in ways that a) you’re not trying to hear and b) will scare the living shit out of you. Going to The Point to make out may or may not survive a world with virtual reality Viewmasters, but the era of slut-shaming Facebook pages and Snapchat sexting looks like it’s here to stay.
Vanity Fair contributing editor and author of The Bling Ring, Nancy Jo Sales, wants all parents to recognize that we’re entering a crazy kaleidoscope of pubescent sexuality, and the rise of free, ubiquitous porn has brought out the worst instincts in confused teen boys. Apparently their social media moral barometer points in the same direction as their dick.
In her new book, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, Sales spoke with hundreds of teens from the Bronx to Boca for the past 2-and-a-half years. Her findings won’t make you happy, but the good part is that now you know. And, as the warrior poet Duke from GI Joe once said, “Knowing is half the battle.”
You Have No Idea How Much Porn Your Kids Are Seeing
“Girls were telling me about getting dick pics in 6th grade,” says Sales. “Boys as young as 9 posting sexually explicit Vines. Parents don’t have any idea how much kids are on their phones, and I don’t think dads are aware how much sexism their daughters are experiencing online.”
If all of this sounds way too young for these kids to comprehend how a pee pee and a hoo ha works, you’re right, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re able to see it with a few swipes on your family plan iPhone. The first step, says Sales, is to get educated about the culture, because your kids aren’t going to bring it up first. “It’s embarrassing to get a dick pic. Your mom has never gotten one and you don’t want them to know that you got one. I’m the parent of a girl and I didn’t have any conception of the explicitness of the images and behavior that girls are experiencing online at a very young age.”
Why Girls Have It Worse Than Boys
“Boys suffer as well as girls. But, according to girls I’ve talked to, there is pressure for nudes, rumors being spread, slut-shaming, and girls do all these awful things,” says Sales. “Boys cyber-bully too, but they also have behaviors that can only be characterized as sexual harassment. Their parents aren’t telling them this isn’t an acceptable way to treat a girl.”
Flickr / Maurizio Pesce
The Biggest Social Platforms
While no social platform is off limits for the savvy middle/high schooler, Snapchat and Instagram are by far the most popular for this kind of behavior. Below is a quick list of some corners of the Internet you may or may not know your kids are using:
Finstas: Fake Instagram accounts. The public facing page (usually @theirname) is your sweet angel wearing appropriate clothes doing appropriate things. The private account (usually @provocativehandle) is all duck faces and pool-side cleavage.
Slut Pages: The greatest trick teenagers ever pulled was to convince parents Facebook wasn’t cool. In these closed groups, nude pics can live for days or weeks as “slut pages.” It’s walled-off from the olds, under the radar of FB, and incredibly destructive to self-esteem.
Kik: The private messenger that has become a bane for law enforcement. Texts are anonymous and the content is hidden. In at least one instance, it’s lead to an encounter that lead to a homicide.
Instafamous Is The New Popularity Contest
“I talked to girls who had thousands of followers and were Instafamous,” said Sales. “One was 16 and in L.A. She has 6,000 followers. I asked ‘Who are these people?’ and she said, ‘Y’know, random dudes in Russia.’
The net effect of this is, obviously, corrosive. “I notice in them a really anxious quality,” says Sales. “Girls of all backgrounds and situations have a similar mood. It’s an anxiety of checking. I don’t know how it’s a healthy thing for a developing person to be constantly worried about others judging and commenting.”
Likes, follows, and comments are the new measure of social status these days, and your daughter’s self-esteem is now directly linked to how much engagement she gets on pictures of her backside taken in a mirror. Feel free to put your hand through the nearest wall.
Flickr / Faye Harris
Which Leads To The Kardashians
No single group of sisters embodies this idea of social media popularity more than the Kardashians. “Girls from the poorest neighborhood in the Bronx to the richest neighborhood in Boca Raton, Florida, love them some Kardashians,” says Sales. How did a group of well-groomed Armenian women from Brentwood become the pinnacle? It wasn’t Kim having sex with Ray J. “They know how to self-sexualize. They know how to brand themselves through images of wealth that our culture is fascinated by. And they have an unabashed focus on their beauty. All of these insidious trends for girls are concentrated in the Kardashians,” she says.
Kids Are Being Hypersexualized
“There’s a weird objectification when women appear on screens,” says Sales. “Some of the girls in the book say when boys watch porn, they’re more likely to see girls as a performance for them.”
So, why are these boys asking for nude pics from girls in their class? There’s the obvious answer. And then there’s the somehow more enraging answer that these boys are using them like Pokemon cards — trading them for status and favors. Feel free to put your hand through the other wall.
Flickr / Michael Semensohn
The Benefits For Girls on Social Media
Wait. Breathe. Things are bad, but as Sales reminds us, social media is a platform that’s not inherently good or bad. Twitter, for example, has been a place where you can actually point to the positive effects of a bunch of people sharing their thoughts. One girl said she was introduced to activism, like the #BlackLivesMatter movement, through social media. “It’s a tool, and it’s a powerful tool,” says Sales. “It’s important to think about the ways in which it’s destructive to teens’ self-esteem and their time.”
What You Can Do About It
As much as we want our kids to be independent, it’s important to remember that kids still need you — even as they’re telling you to f–k off. “Every parent needs to make their own determination,” she says. “I hope it doesn’t make them more paranoid. I’m not a Luddite. I’m on social media. I’m not a technophobe either. But I’ve heard enough from girls that says they need more guidance in this world where they have no idea what to do. There’s no Judy Blume book for this.”
Finally, there’s nothing special that you need to do to counter this weird world, beyond being present. “Be interested in their lives,” says Sales. “Sometimes it’s just a little thing, like ‘Somebody made a comment on my picture and it upset me.’ I think it would make girls feel much better to know that dads are disapproving of things that upset them, especially when it comes to the behavior of boys.” You hear that dads, go forth and scowl!