Changing How Girls Experience Social Media

Joan Goodchild/Cyber Savvy Mom

Social media is filled with images of beautiful people living amazing lives. While many of us know much of this content is staged and not very authentic, for young girls who are just starting to navigate it, it can be confusing and even damaging.

Recently on Cyber Savvy Mom, we reported on research that found girls may be more vulnerable than boys to mental health impacts from social media. A study published in the Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine journal finds a connection between depression in teenagers and social media use. It also reveals nearly 40 percent of girls who spent more than five hours a day on apps like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp showed signs of depression. That compared with just 14.5 percent of boys

But a Massachusetts nonprofit organization is aiming to change that and wants to transform the messages young girls are receiving when they use social media. MEDIAGIRLS’ mission is to boost the self-worth of girls and young women by teaching them to analyze and reject sexist media messaging, know their true self-worth, and harness the power of media for positive social change.

Founder Michelle Cove, a filmmaker, author, and journalist, said she was first inspired to create the MEDIAGIRLS after her daughter, only age 9 at the time, was struggling with body image concerns.

“She was starting to buckle under the pressure put on girls today to be pretty enough and thin enough,” said Cove. “She wouldn’t come out of locker room during swim team practice and thought something was wrong with her body because her thighs touched when she was standing. I realized that media is doing so much damage to girls and this was a response to that. We need to do better.”

Cove is driven by statistics like these, touted on the MEDIAGIRLS site:

  • The average teen girl spends 8-10 hours consuming media a day.
  • 69% of girls ages 11 to 21 feel like they are not good enough.
  • 7 in 10 girls are not assertive about their opinion when they do not like the way they look.

It’s no mystery why girls are experiencing heavier impact from social media and higher rates of depression. It’s likely because research also finds girls dominate the social media space. Their presence on sites like Snapchat and Instagram far outnumber young males, and that is why Cove feels that education should be directly focused on girls.

“Girls dominate the space,” said Cove. “They can make this whatever they want this to be. Do they want to change things? Admittedly they do. They admit they are addicted to it, but overall it feels terrible.”

What would girls change about what they are seeing and experiencing on social media? Cove said MEDIAGIRLS does outreach to learn more about what young women want, and it is consistent: They want to feel good about themselves while using social media.

“They want the space to be more authentic,” she said. “And they want it to be a place where girls lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down. And where girls stand up for what they believe in.”

To try and accomplish this change, MEDIAGIRLS offers a number of educational programs and has been working in schools around the Boston area to spread the message. A multi-week program taught by trained, college-aged mentors teaches girls to learn to think critically about media’s influence on girls The program also asks the kids to define their self-worth, and create empowering content using social media. The group also offers parent workshops and shorter workshops for middle-school girls.

Cove said ultimately is not about eliminating social media in a girl’s life, but guiding young women to use it in a smart way that enhances their mental state.

“We’re not saying that they should just get off. Period. Moderation with time is actually a good thing. And we would like to see them use it as a platform to connect and inspire. A place where it feels good to be. I think that is doable.”

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