Your daughter comes home from school declaring that she wants to be part of the “100 Club.” You are thrilled as you think she is talking about her academic aspirations, but after further discussion you discover that she is instead anxious about her popularity on Facebook/Instagram, and desperate to ALWAYS get at least 100 “likes” on her posts. You...
a) Admire her goal at achieving popularity on social networks.
b) Decide that you too would like to be part of the “100 club” and ask if there are adult members?
c) Sit her down and talk to her about the fleeting, meaninglessness of popularity in general, and on Facebook/Instagram in particular.
d) Get rid of her Facebook/Instagram accounts.
Another conundrum faced by our digital daughters.
As girls enter their tweens and teens, friends become the end-all, be-all of social life. And, when you put smartphones - and the social networking channels that ride on their backs – in the mix, you enable a powerful, sometimes insidious, level of social phenomena. Yes, social networks are great when they facilitate new connections, a sense of community and empowerment, but the angst that can ensue when it comes to a post with a mortifying lack of “likes” and that awful feeling of being left out, can turn a girl inside out.
In TIME Magazine Reporter Rachel Simmons recent story, The Secret Lives of Girls on Instagram, she talks about how parents give the okay to Instagram because they believe it’s just pictures, so bullying is not an issue. I’ve seen this with my own friends who allow their younger kids to have Instagram accounts, but feel they are not ready for Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and the like. But, according to Simmons:
“Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it). Instagram has become a real-time popularity barometer and girls have learned to expertly manipulate the levers of success. They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes,” after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.”
My own 15-year-old digital daughter, Amanda, was able to shed some light. “Sometimes called, ‘the gram,’ Instagram is by far the most popular app with me and my friends. Its fun and easy, but more “likes” do equal more popularity points and you can suffer from serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Ultimately, I prefer to communicate with friends in person because it’s more genuine.”
Truth-be-told, even this (seemingly) well-adjusted 40-something mom can relate. Although I enjoy being part of the Facebook community, and the updates my friends and family deliver in their posts – along with targeted news of the TV series "Selfie" being canceled, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s challenges with lampooning the democratic losses, and that a squirrel and cat can play together – when it comes to posting, the potential lack of “likes” can bring me back to my anxiety-ridden middle school days (yes, that was me, unflattering glasses, pimples, and the label of theatre nerd and “bando”).
We may not want to admit it, but kids and adults alike; we all worry about our exposed popularity. But our kids, and especially our ultra-connected, impressionable and delicate digital daughters bear the biggest burden. As parents, we need to constantly offer perspective and model good behavior.
We read and hear a lot about what experts, advocates and researchers think about tweens/teens and technology — but maybe it’s time to ask the girls themselves? I have begun cultivating an impressive team of “Digital Daughter Ambassadors” – a group of girls of all ages and from around the country – to offer their insights on what it is like to grow up in our digital culture with its ever-changing host of social networks, devices and apps.
For this post, I queried my “Digital Daughter Ambassadors” about Facebook and Instagram and how the number of followers and “likes” can affect a girl’s perceived popularity.
Meet Emma, an insightful 15-year-old hailing from New York. According to Emma, “In an ideal world, the ‘likes’ would only be positive and show how someone likes your photo, but instead it becomes negative when not enough people 'like' your photo.”
Eleanor is 13 and lives in Washington, DC. She said, “Well, ever since I got my Instagram in the summer of 2013 it's almost like a small competition between friends of who gets more likes or who has more followers. We sometimes see it as a joke, but some girls take it very seriously. In fact I have some friends that buy their followers through apps to make it seem like they have more followers than they actually do. If certain girls get more likes than others, than they will feel superior to them. It's kind of messed up really. It's just social media and it doesn't say anything about you -- it doesn't say anything about your dignity, about your intelligence, about who you are as a person. It's just a number. But I think to some girls who are obsessed with their Instagram, it feels as though they always have to have the most likes or the most followers. Some girls who think that their life depends on their social media status really don't have a life. Your life is supposed to be about your experiences and your relationships and it's not supposed to be digital. Spending too much time thinking about Instagram stresses me out and I like to do other things than think about it.”
These girls are eloquent, thoughtful and perceptive. And they give me great hope for our future generation of digital natives. In upcoming posts you will hear more from them (and their parents), and together we will learn from their wisdom, challenges and mistakes.
As for the answer to the multiple-choice question above, I would choose C. What would you choose? Please post your answers below in your comments!