Thoughts on American Girls: Social Media & the Secret Lives of Teenagers

contentThis will be short because I haven’t had a chance to consider this as deeply as I’d prefer. But my husband and I are reading American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales. Sales traveled the country, talking to teen girls (and boys) about the social media use. The topic that came up, over and over, could be summed up in two words: sex and porn.

I was already aware of much of what Sales discusses but my husband? He hadn’t realized what types of apps are out there, nor what types of sites teens frequent. Slut pages? Oh my. This ain’t your mama’s Facebook feed, y’all.

In the first chapter, Sales quotes a professor of comparative literature from Princeton, April Alliston:

“Historically, a spike in interest in pornography is also associated with advancement in women’s rights,” Alliston says. “What happened at the time of the invention of the printing press was very similar to what’s happening now with the Internet.”

The printing press made porn readily available. About this time, women were getting more rights, and literacy rates among women increased. From what I understand, people (that’d be men) were anxious about women gaining knowledge through reading: what might happen? Porn, typically images of female prostitutes, was shared between men as both a way of excluding women (who weren’t looking at the images) and putting them back in their “proper place” (existing only to please and serve men).

Alliston again:

I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s increased independence,” Alliston asserts. “I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power . . . Rather than being about sexual liberation, I see in porn a form of control over sex and sexuality.”

–quote from Nancy Jo Sales, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, published in 2016, p. 38 (emphasis mine)

Interesting.

I know there are many issues surrounding pornography: censorship, free speech, addiction, gender dynamics, sexuality, violence, trafficking. It’d be hard to untangle this knotted up mess even if we knew where one thread started and the others ended. I’m sure that most (if not all) of my regular blog readers would agree that porn consumption is bad for teens, whose minds are both more vulnerable to addiction and less likely to break free from addictive behavior. (The Teenage Brain, by neuroscientist Frances E. Jensen and science writer Amy Ellis Nutt, is a fascinating read on this point.)

  • For girls, it hurts their body image, their sense of self-worth and self-respect, and puts tremendous pressure on them to look and act like the women in porn do.
  • For boys, it hurts their ability to connect intimately (rather than simply sexually) with another human. More than one commentator has recommended that if young men want to get married and have a family, they need to quit porn first. (Easier said than done, I know.) Sex in an intimate, loving marriage isn’t like sex in a porn movie; it’s better

But now that these sites are out there, available, and now that kids know how to access them, how do we adults stop the damage from continuing?

And if reasonable, like-minded adults can’t decide how to stop what’s been started, how are our children to do that? Certainly not alone.

I know God is in control. I also know that he gave me a brain and the ability to learn and apply what I learn. The better educated on the issue that I am, the better I can help my daughters navigate this difficult territory.

I’m sure I’ll learn more about what dangers lurk within my teen daughter’s phone as I continue reading Sales’ thorough and sometimes difficult-to-stomach book. Next week, I’m going to a lunch & learn seminar (given through my kids’ Christian school) on the “eight most dangerous apps on your kids phones.” If I find out anything interesting, I’ll be sure to share.

Any thoughts?

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts on American Girls: Social Media & the Secret Lives of Teenagers

  1. If I was to do just *one* thing about this, it would be to teach people about how to use power. God uses power to serve, which is itself about enabling others to come to greater freedom and be more expressive of the person they were created to be.
    If people can get *that*, then the rest (like consent) will follow.
    (As it is, I’m not doing just one thing, I’m doing many things. Right now I believe God called me to do a series comparing 50Shades with Beauty and the Beast. The differences are striking and raise questions about how we talk about the gospel… but I need more time before I can get round to writing about that.)

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    1. What a wonderful observation, Chris. “God uses power to serve, which is itself about enabling others to come to greater freedom and be more expressive of the person they were created to be.” It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s words about how we become more fully ourselves as we come closer to Christ.

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  2. Internet porn highly concerns me too. I find too many parents just want to keep their head in the sand. Or they are clueless; thinking “we” are all upset about Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition type stuff, unable to acknowledge the really perverse nature of hard core porn that is out there today and all too easily accessible. When I post about porn related concerns on facebook, these are my most ignored posts. And I post on a variety of tough or controversial things. It seems hard to raise concern or interest about it. I know it is a hard issue, but still. Thanks for blogging about it Laura.

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    1. Yeah, I think a lot of people would prefer to think of porn as being SI swimsuit stuff, when the real nature of it is violent. I remember my shock when, as a college sophomore, I was doing a paper on censorship. Initially, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want anything censored. My professor recommended that I read the report on pornography that was put out several decades ago; James Dobson, among other people, had been put on a committee to research hard core porn, the effects, etc. I think the Attorney General had put together the committee. Anyway, when I read the report and learned about the content, the effects, the links with trafficking, child porn, etc., I was literally sick to my stomach–and this was decades ago, long before the internet was in popular use. I went back to my seminar and started talking about it. The other girls in the class, all from good Christian families, looked at me blankly. “Violent? What do you mean?” They were as clueless as I’d been.

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  3. “For girls, it [porn] hurts their body image, their sense of self-worth and self-respect, and puts tremendous pressure on them to look and act like the women in porn do.”

    I agree with this statement, but what is at least equally damaging is mainstream movies, books, and tv shows. Heck, I was in my early teens in the early 1990s, and exposure to ANY sensuality, however mild, I saw on tv or in film, formed in my lost and uneducated mind (my parents never cultivated my sense of self-worth properly, never showed me what real relationships with people, ESPECIALLY with men, should be like – I was pretty much left to my own to figure out how a woman should behave) how I should present myself to men – “seduce” them to get them to like (‘love’) me and take care of me and make me feel secure. It’s taken 20+ years to break that pattern, and I’m STILL not healthy enough to enter into a right relationship with a man – I’m still too broken.

    As far as parents guarding their children’s hearts and stopping the damage from continuing, PRAY. Pray for their hearts to be captivated by Jesus, and MODEL righteous (right) behavior between you and your spouse for your children. Hold YOURSELF to a high standard, and cultivate an intimate, Spirit-led relationship with Jesus to where you can ask Him to show you ways to direct your child’s heart. If your kids aren’t yet teens, start demonstrating and cultivating NOW, so it’s a normal part of their lives. Definitely monitor what they are allowed to use and view; however, if you’ve spent the time cultivating a relationship of mutual respect with your kids, it is possible they will obey your wishes because they know they can trust your judgement, because they know through past experience they are loved. But remember, the more you try to control your teen’s life, the more resentful and rebellious they may become. I don’t have kids of my own, but I speak from personal experience from being a teen in my parents’ household who was deeply dissatisfied with their domineering control of their children’s lives.

    Thanks for sharing! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Stacey. I have both a pre-teen and a teen (both girls), so your advice is right on target. We’ve talked with both of them about these issues, allow them to express their opinions on what they ought to be allowed to do, and tried to cultivate that mutual respect that is vitally important to the parent-child relationship. The teen knows (and understands, I think) why I check her phone group messages or her email on an occasional basis; she’s seen and heard about other people her age wrecking their lives with what they’ve done online.

      And I also agree about the mainstream media. I’ll add that the Christian media isn’t always much better, unfortunately; the unhealthy messages can be absorbed from certain types of books, movies, and music. I grew up in the evangelical subculture, and I read a lot of Christian romance books. I absorbed so many messages about thin equaling beauty equaling goodness; messages about sexual integrity that implied that girls who remained virgins were “better” than other girls; messages about marital sexuality that implied that if both partners remained virgins and stayed faithful within marriage, then they were guaranteed a fabulous sex life. These fed insecurity and pride and false expectations, and I’m still wrestling with some of these years after I stopped reading “Christian” fiction. So when my daughter asks for book recommendations, I never know what to say!

      Anyway, I hope that you continue on a path toward emotional health, Stacey. God is the great healer. I’ve been broken and am still broken, and yet slowly, he has begun the process of healing my heart. Journey on, sister!

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