Who is that Girl? Image and Social Media

As a teen in the U.S., you are more socially connected today than ever before. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones, up from 45% in 2004, and one in three teens sends more than 100 text messages a day – or 3,000 texts a month! Teens instant message and connect on social networking sites with friends almost as much as they connect in person. 

Last week, the Girl Scouts Research Institute released findings from a survey that asked over 1,000 teen girls in the U.S. what they think about social media, called “Who’s that Girl? Image and Social Media.” The Girl Scouts Research Institute set out to answer questions like, how do girls use social media? What motivates girls? Who do they trust?

At the launch of the report in New York City, the Girl Scouts Research Institute brought together a panel that included fashion designer and former plus-size supermodel Emme, Mobilize.org CEO Maya Enista, MTV’s first-ever Twitter Jockey Gabi Gregg, author and New York Times Magazine contributor Peggy Orenstein, and Simmons College professor Janie Victoria Ward.

The research found that more than half of girls say that social networks help them feel closer and more connected to their friends, and 52% have gotten involved in a cause they care about through a social network. At the same time, the research found that girls often downplay positive characteristics they would otherwise use to describe themselves in person – such as being smart and being a good influence – in favor of playing up characteristics like being fun and social.

Gabi Gregg pointed out that this is the first generation that has been raised with facebook, myspace and twitter that has never experienced an environment without social media, so the lines between how you portray yourself online and offline and increasingly blurry. Gabi said that social networking helped her connect with others and helped her feel more comfortable with who she is.

The survey also found that a majority of girls understand their emotional safety and reputations are at risk online, yet 50% admit to not always being as careful as they should be. Many girls are concerned that they won’t get into their college of choice, will miss a job opportunity, will get in trouble with parents/teachers, or will have friends/family lose respect for them because of their social networking content. Gabi encouraged adults in the audience not to assume that social media is all bad, and to monitor their kids’ internet use to make sure that it’s being used as a positive tool in developing their self-confidence and connecting them with others. Emme, who has used her position as a supermodel and designer to speak out about the need for diverse body images in media, spoke out about the need for parents to be effective role models for girls by showing their own self confidence, and Janie Victoria Ward talked about how adults can help teach girls how to address differences, including cultural differences.

While the Girl Scouts may be best known for their cookies (how can you not love Thin Mints?), every cookie has a mission: to help girls do great things. There are more than 2.4 million Girl Scouts between the ages of 5-17. 80% of women business owners were Girl Scouts, 69% of female U.S. senators were Girl Scouts, and virtually every female astronaut who has flown into space was a Girl Scout. The Girl Scouts Research Institute is dedicated to learning about the lives of girls, and using their research to influence the Girl Scouts program and other policies and programs influencing girls.

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