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The Debilitating Effects of New Media on Teen Girls

As technology continues to advance, kids are being exposed to it at earlier ages. Living in the digital era, some form of technology is everywhere you turn – you can’t seem to escape it.

But with technology comes new forms of media; in this case, we’re referring to new media. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term as “products and services that provide information or entertainment using computers or the internet.”

Social media sites like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook have proven to be the fastest growing form of global networking. The power behind this communication medium stems from its accessibility.

According to Oberlo, roughly 48% of the current world population, or 3.78 billion people, use social media. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) notes that in 2018, a study reported that 90% of teenagers, ages 13-17, have used social media, with 75% having at least one active social media account.

Moving on from the statistics, teenagers have become the center of this newfound mode of entertainment. There is no doubt heavy social media use has led to increased risk for anxiety, depression, isolation, and even self-harm.

Actively using social media from a young age can damage a child’s self-esteem, potentially lead to eating disorders and body image issues, and insecure thoughts. Younger teens may not have the experience and support necessary to navigate this side of the internet without causing emotional harm to themselves. There is a greater impact on teen girls than boys because they tend to view this public judgment on their femininity as important to their social status amongst their peers.

For girls, the stress of not meeting “social media standards” can make them more self-conscious, resulting in a lack of sleep, exercise, and nutrition. This obsession can also create an unhealthy self-centeredness and self-absorption as they become distant from real-life connections. Time Magazine talks about studies in recent years that have concluded that a rise in cyberbullying has led to harmful mental health effects. Insecurity and the need for reassurance from strangers on the internet stem from comments about appearance and negative comparisons with others through social media.

Movies, television shows, music, advertisements, and even some video games have altered themselves in ways that reflect current society. Unrealistic high school students and edited clothing models are just part of the facade that has been paved by the increased use of new media. This aspect of the media has created irrational societal “norms” that make it impossible to feel included no matter how many changes you try to make in your lifestyle.

While I don’t know how many other people can relate, I grew up before the popularity of iPhones and flat screen TVs. My childhood consisted of sitting in front of a box TV waiting for my favorite Disney movie to play after I put in the DVD and turned the VCR player on. I remember using my parent’s flip phones and messing with the keyboard because the buttons were so small and my fingers were too big to press them properly. I didn’t even get my first phone until I was 13 years old. But even then, I didn’t really figure out how to use social media until I entered high school.

My youngest cousin just turned nine. Already, she has an iPhone X and an iPad Pro. She watches YouTube, plays Roblox, and is an active TikTok user. She’s on the internet for several hours a day. When I was nine, I was using ice from my refrigerator and betting on which piece would melt first with my brother, documenting it on my mom’s flip phone, of course.

Even outside of just social media, women are rarely the focus of news stories, interviews, and more “serious” topics. The media has begun to affect society’s attitudes towards ambitions, prospects, achievements, and expectations in life. The thoughts and beliefs of the younger generation are shaped by how the media perpetuates views on gender and life in general. Women have been marginalized for decades in categories such as business, politics, law, financials, and even roles in television shows.

What does that say to younger girls witnessing the male-dominated fields surrounding them? 

With a growing number of children entering the world of new media and technology, intervention is necessary in areas where change is needed.

Subrina is a freshman at Pace University in New York, majoring in Childhood Education under the Pforzheimer Honors College. She specializes in creative writing and advocating for minority groups after formerly writing for a high school newspaper. She enjoys playing badminton, swimming, and going on adventures with her dog.
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