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The Ladies – Social Media and Teens – The Social Dilemma

Welcome to The Ladies for October 5, 2020! The Ladies is a women’s blog and lifestyle brand bringing curated articles on timely topics relevant to women and girls around the world — sprinkled with tidbits on things to do/see/read/buy. Subscribe to the newsletter here and post your comments below! In this post I am covering social media and teens and the documentary The Social Dilemma.


As adults, we are all aware of the pitfalls of smartphones and social media. Or at least we think we are. Because I have run an e-commerce site for the past 19 years, and I had done extensive advertising over that time period on social media, perhaps I have a better understanding than most of the deeply embedded tracking happening on every site we visit. I think with every year that passes, we are all collectively feeling more and more anxious about the long term effects of using our phones as much as we do. I had heard from a number of friends over the past weeks that I should check out the documentary, The Social Dilemma, which was released in January. The crux of the film is that the technology that connects us also controls, distracts, manipulates and monetizes us. The film covers the mental health, political, discrimination and extremist dilemmas created by social media. I thought it would be beneficial for my teen girls and I to watch it together, which we did this weekend. It couldn’t come at a better time — they are 14 and 15. The film was immensely eye opening and thought provoking for each of us. It helped facilitate some great discussions between my girls and I on what our role is in social media and how we are all (unwittingly) what is being sold on social media. We are all unknowing participants in “surveillance capitalism”. We learned a lot about our social media feeds and how the messaging that we all receive is different. We assume that we are seeing the same feeds as our friends when we are all in similar social groups or towns. That assumption is wrong. It’s not correct and often we are actually all receiving different messaging based on the tracking the social media platforms have done on each and every one of us. Certain friends posts are being pushed to some of us and not to others. News and fake news is being distributed to us unevenly, some are seeing news, some are seeing fake news and this also varies based on our geographic location (who knew?). Some people are seeing the ads by the Russians and extremist groups while others are not, and eventually these ads have behavioral implications which we see playing out at the polls. The big focus of the film deals with the effect of social media on teens, which is why it is so perfect to watch with your teen children (it’s rated PG-13). One of my favorite parts was when Harvard Professor Soshana Zuboff makes the point that our kids are actively making internet companies the richest in the history of humanity. Engagement, growth and advertising are the goals of the social media companies — they really aren’t working for the good of humanity. They are working for the good of themselves and company profits and in many cases at the expense of our children. I think we all need to remember when we see our kids glued to their phones that each second they are on these platforms that they are performing functions for these companies – their interests, search patterns, friendships, activity, likes, posts, photos, location, age, sex and more are all being tracked. Every second that they are on…

I highly recommend that you watch this documentary. If you have teens, watch it with them. Recommend it to your friends and family and if you are interested in hosting a screening, you can register to do that through the Social Dilemma website. You can also watch the trailer there. I will try as part of the mission of this blog to recommend things that will open discussion with girls and I think this is one that will…

The Social Dilemma is 'Distorted': Facebook Issues 7-Point Response to  Viral Documentary
Netflix's The Social Dilemma sees people to delete Facebook, Instagram
The Social Dilemma Exposes the Siren Call of Social Media

Social Media & Teens

There are some positives to social media. When used sparingly and within time limits and parental controls there are some good ways that teens can use it to express themselves:

-It can bring teens together, strengthen friendships
-Some apps and features can encourage group studying and collaborative learning (especially in the time of Covid)
-It can allow teens to express themselves creatively – by showcasing their fashion originality, showcasing their art or ability to make creative videos or performances and ramping up photos editing skills while still young
-It can increase teen’s digital literacy, which is a skill needed in most jobs these days (they need to learn it somewhere)
-They can practice having positive social influence among peers
-They can practice and fine tune social media skills and learn some basic marketing how-to’s while still young and refine these talents before they are out in the workforce

There are also many potential negatives of social media for teens:

-Cyber bullying and cyber mobbing can happen
-FOMO from posts of events that some kids aren’t invited to can be tough emotionally and cause depression and hurt feelings. Kids are exposed to this feeling a lot more through social media than they would have been before we had social media. In the past you didn’t know what you didn’t know.
-Social media and “likes” creates a never ending social validation feedback loop which can be addictive and create unhealthy highs and lows for kids
-Texting, messaging, chatting, posting, liking takes time away from friends, family, studies and sleep that teens need
-Proper dating is on the decline among teens. What will this mean for long term relationship success and marriage/divorce rates? Kids are developing incredibly distorted perceptions of what is appropriate in romantic relationships
-Kids can be potentially exposed to inappropriate, upsetting or adult-themed content
-Kids and teens are learning to overshare beyond what they should be doing
-Kids that may not normally be engaged in bullying can find themselves swept up in group bullying
-Access to kids by strangers
-Girls are constantly comparing to each other – how they look, what they are wearing, etc. Rather than having their own sense of self they are morphing into one another.
-Girls are developing severe body image issues
-Young girls are becoming overly sexualized far too young
-Kids are online far too late and not getting enough sleep
-Researchers are seeing drops in empathy among teens today compared with teens 20-30 years ago
-Suicide rates are climbing because of social media:

Sound good? Unfortunately, not much of it is. Though I let my kids use social media, we are having more and more conversations about the major drawbacks, now that they are old enough to understand. We are just starting these discussion and I think The Social Dilemma documentary was a great age-appropriate starting point. Please share this post with friends who might find it interesting. We need to talk more as parents and remind each other to set those screen time limits. If you are able to watch it with your teens, please post your comments below! I would love to hear your thoughts.

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