I've been thinking a lot lately about self-confidence — as in, how can I nurture it in my daughters so that they are proud of the smart, creative, kind, strong, complex young women that they are?
My daughters are still just babies — 8 and 5 — so they haven't hit those tumultuous tween and teen years yet. But already I can tell that they are influenced by what other kids think about them. I came across a fascinating survey this morning that confirms that as my girls get older, this sphere of influence may only get stronger for them.
The survey, commissioned by Varsity Brands (the cheerleading company) and conducted by the Ketchum Global Research Network, reported that a friend's opinion or actions is the number one reason that girls will make a purchase or try something new. And what influences those friends opinions and actions? Other teens.
About 77 percent of teen girls responded that they are influenced by purchases of their friends, while 71 percent say their friends' online posts influence them.
In some ways, this circle of influence works its magic in some good ways. Social networking means that many teens are influenced by a broader spectrum of other teens rather than just a select group of "popular" kids. According to the survey, only 4 percent of girls saw themselves as popular; however, 77 percent say they are comfortable in their own skin and are not interested in changing. Interestingly, the number one attribute that today’s teen girls attribute to themselves is intelligence. In fact, most of the attributes that the girls identified with were positive: 70 percent consider themselves smart, 42 percent say they are well-liked and 29 percent say they are creative.
So while the girls didn't consider themselves to be popular, they also didn't consider that to be important. Being smart and well-liked was more important.
But that same circle of influence can also wreak havoc. In the same ways that social media works to influence teens in a healthy way, it can also influence teens in a harmful way. Cyber-bullying has emerged as a serious problem, with more than seven in 10 teens ages 12 to 17 reporting that they have been victimized by some version of cyber-bullying. And teen girls tend to rely on other teens to help them sort it out rather than turning to parents or other trusted adults. According to the study, girls between the ages of 12 and 14 are the least likely among all age groups to tell anyone when they are the target of a cyber bully. Most alarmingly, only 17 percent of teen girls see themselves as confident.
So it seems that there is good news and bad news when it comes to raising strong, happy, confident teen girls. Social media has the power to open up a teen's world so that she no longer feel pressure to be "popular." But when that power is used against her, the results can be damaging. The teen years have always been tough for girls and boys alike, and social media can either make it even tougher, or help them through the tough times.