Journalist discusses the changing lives of American Teens Girls
Social media has changed the American teen girl experience, and not necessarily for the better, author Nancy Jo Sales said in a lecture at Brandeis on April 6.
Sales, whose 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” was later adapted into the 2013 film “The Bling Ring,” visited the University to discuss her latest work, 2016’s “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.”
While working as a journalist for New York Magazine in 1996, Sales was assigned a story on affluent Manhattan teenagers who worked together with teens from poorer neighborhoods to sell drugs. The article, titled “Prep School Gangsters,” started Sales on the “teen” beat, which often involved stories with a criminal element.
Working on “Bling Ring,” about a group of teens who robbed celebrities’ homes, Sales began to think more about how the internet has influenced teens’ obsession with fame and culture, she told the audience.
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat can strongly affect teen girls’ confidence,
“This technology is just so unprecedented for what it is has done to our culture and our behavior,” she said.
“I mean, everything now is through these devices that we hold in our hands at all times. … How we exist has changed.” With the rise of smartphone-owning teens also came a shift in child culture, she said.
While working on her 2016 book, she went to Los Angeles and spoke with teens about social media and culture. As Sales recalled, one girl said, “‘Social media is ruining our lives.’” When Sales asked the girl why she didn’t just get off of social media, another responded, “‘Because then we would have no lives.’”
“The problem is, you can’t get off of it,” Sales said, later adding, “The FOMO [fear of missing out] is just too much for their little lives to bear.”
Part of this problem, she said, is that parents model bad social media and tech behavior in front of their kids. “Now you can use your phone to order food and order sex and parent your kid, and that’s what a lot of parents are doing, and they are not getting involved,” Sales said.
The rise of the smartphone has also meant that children are introduced to social media at increasingly younger ages.
“The sooner you get addicted to something, the harder it will be to not be addicted to it in the future,” Sales said.
Smartphone technology and the rise of social media has also correlated with a spike in sexting and online harassment and sexism, she said, explaining that she wanted her readers “to feel what it feels like to be that 14-year-old girl who is going to school in the morning after a nude picture has gone out to the entire school. I want them to feel what it feels like to experience sexism and misogyny, because that is what really I think this is all about.”
However, Sales admitted that social media is not all bad, noting that there has been a surge of feminism and activism on social media, giving young girls a platform “to voice their outrage and their resistance.”
Social media, she concluded, “is a double-edged sword. It can be used for good; it can be used for ill.”