What is your daughter doing there, hunched in front of a computer, phone beeping to one side, iPod buzzing to the other, earbuds streaming music or video or the latest drama? Do you ever feel like she’s in another world, one you don’t understand, are too old for, or can’t figure out? Welcome to 'BFF 2.0' – your daughter’s online social world.
Stand on the edge of any playground and you’ll see a scene play out day after day: most boys play games, and most girls linger on the edges to talk. The same is true online: social media is social, and girls use technology to connect and share. Check these stats out:
- Girls typically send and receive 50 more texts a day than boys.
- Girls aged 14–17 are the most active, churning through 100 texts a day on average.
- Girls are more likely than boys to carry their phones on them at all times.
It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning, technology helped connect girls. It was an adjunct to relationship, filling the gaps of contact that opened up between home and school. Today, technology is part of relationship itself. With gadgets more portable and accessible, the average child between the ages of 8–18 spends up to 8 hours a day using an electronic device. Girls move fluidly between virtual and spoken conversation, texting to each other in the same car and conducting real and virtual conversations simultaneously.
Real life is frequently experienced as a new opportunity to post or share online. One teenage girl told me that the phrase ‘take a picture of me’ now simply means, ‘put it on Facebook.’ Another girl told me, ‘People go to parties with the intention of just having [Facebook] pictures for the night. If someone makes a joke at a party, a person will be like, oh my God, that’s the perfect title for my album.’ And in 2009, a teen told Teen Vogue, ‘You’re not dating until you change your relationship status on Facebook.’A year later, ‘FBO,’ or Facebook Official, became the new measure of dating legitimacy.
Many parents suspect that what’s happening online is some crazy, altogether foreign world than the one you know your daughter to inhabit. Think again. All social media does is magnify the feelings and dynamics that were there all along. In the real world, girls are obsessed with their relationships. They know a big part of their status is defined by who they sit next to, which parties they get invited to, and who they count as a ‘best friend.’
The same thing is happening online. Every time her phone beeps, or someone ‘likes’ her status on Facebook, she gets a tangible message about how well (or not) her relationships are doing. Today, a socially aspirational girl must be vigilant about not only what happens in real life, but her virtual reputation — and on a new, uncharted plane of connection and coolness. That girl sitting at her laptop, working three machines at once? She’s doing a new kind of social work. It takes time, and it takes access.
That’s why girls claim they ‘don’t exist’ if they lack a Facebook account. This is why parents sleep with confiscated laptops under their pillows; they know their daughters will do anything to get them back. And this is why girls show levels of rage and anxiety hence unseen when they lose phone or online privileges. It is precisely the value that girls place on their access to technology that illuminates its position at the heart of girls’ relationships.
But just because girls love social media doesn’t mean they know how to use it responsibly. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that a girl ‘gets’ technology in a way that an adult does not. Looks are deceiving. The world of BFF 2.0 has presented girls with new, unwritten rules of digital friendship, and it has posed a fresh set of social challenges.
What does a one-word text mean when someone usually types a lot? What if you and your friend are texting the same girl, but she only replies to your friend? Does she like you less? How should you handle it? Online social interactions generate situations that demand sophisticated skills. Without them, girls become vulnerable to online aggression and worse.
This post is based on sections of the newly updated and revised Odd Girl Out. Including four new chapters on anti-bullying strategies and insights for girls, parents and educators and reinforced by real-life stories, Odd Girl Out will provide solutions to the most pressing issues facing girls today.
‘If you have daughters, you need to read Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. One of the first books to deal with girlhood bullying, it has new been updated to cover cyberbullying. Simmons gives techniques for navigating the world of Facebook and tween texting supported by real-life accounts – essential when almost 40% of young people report being cyberbullied. But be warned: the book will plunge you right back into a world a BFFs, sleepovers and bitching in the changing rooms’ Sally Brampton, The Sunday Times Style magazine
Odd Girl Out is available to buy now from all good bookshops. You can also download this title as an ebook from all the major ebook retailers, so you can read it on your Kindle, iPad, Kobo or Sony Reader. To find out more, visit www.rachelsimmons.com.
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