This past week I shared a Vanity Fair article via my Facebook feed. Comments came pouring in. The article, “What Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Internet Porn are Doing to America’s Teenage Girls,” was not shocking, but only because I have two teenaged girls in my home. The fact that I did not find it shocking, didn’t make it any less disturbing. I read the entire article and all the associated stories with a massive lump in my throat and ache in my heart. I am sad, so sad; for the teens profiled here, for their families and for society, all of us.
I don’t doubt the truth of the article. I see the feeds of my daughters’ suburban friends and friends of friends, and I know how to search a hashtag on Vine. I look at what my kids look at. Which is how I’ve unfortunately seen dozens of video loops of 12-year-olds twerking.
This is the tale of childhoods stolen right out from under our media obsessed noses.
We talk a lot about how this affects girls. But it’s not just about the girls.
We want to protect our kids, and keep them safe. But we don’t want to smother them. We’re not sure where to point fingers. The threat is a slippery eel in cyberspace.
The debate rages on, with women being both idolized (See: cover of Vanity Fair featuring Kate Upton) and torn to shreds in a cockfight of mixed messages (See: Miley Cyrus VMA performance) while the boys lurk slightly baffled in the corner, in the glow of their i-screens.
Modern teenaged boys are seemingly unable to do much more than send zombie-like texts to random girls, asking for nudes.
The article in Vanity Fair goes so far as to suggest that today’s teens are no longer living their lives, they are performing in them. If this is true, the all-star-always-on-camera cast is a decidedly female one. It is the boy’s role to sit in the shadowy audience and be entertained while girls perform, not for applause, for likes.
Likes have become a currency, defining self worth. Some girls will do almost anything for likes.
But boys, if the story is to be believed, collect currency differently. Their part in this drama involves sitting in the audience, waiting for a chance to collect nudes and hook up with the most girls with the most likes. They casually trade likes for sexual favors in a market where nobody seems to prosper.
Boys are cast as passive aggressive, heartless beasts. They are enslaved by their sexual urges and helpless to act otherwise.
I know some boys. Boys are not actually all that bad. But are we telling our sons they should be like this? How is this any less deplorable than the rampant sexualization of our daughters?
When stories emerge about the effect of social media and teen hyper sexuality, the important characters are almost exclusively female. We wring out hands for our scantily clad daughters. Girls are the tragic heroines. Girls are victims of faceless guys who want to see their boobs. Girls are the victims of other girls using social media as a weapon for bullying. Boys, in these stories, are b-roll, shadowy characters and stock villains who simply can’t keep it in their pants.
Boys are victims of this toxic cultural shift too. Their hopes, dreams, relationships, sexuality, and safety are also at risk. As the mother of two daughters AND two sons, I’m worried about all my kids.
While I’m sure my sons will be as fascinated by sex as all other humans, I don’t consider it a forgone or acceptable conclusion that they will seek out casual, meaningless sexual encounters with near strangers via the Internet. It makes me sick to think that they might have to choose between being perceived as manly, and betraying someone’s trust.
I don’t for a moment think that I have to protect my sons any less than I have to protect my daughters.
I adore social media and the power to connect, learn, and grow in the city of the collective, connected, conscious mind. But it is a city with dark alleys and polluted water. It is not a safe place for my kids and even though I am a somewhat savvy inhabitant, I don’t know that I can keep my family safe there.
One of the commenters in my Facebook feed mentioned how she has been feeling so guilty lately about how packed her kids’ schedules are. Music lessons, sports teams, and attending competitive academic schools keep them in constant motion, with little to no time for other socializing. In light of the Vanity Fair article, she said she is reconsidering backing off on their schedule as they age into teen-dom. Keeping them busy might be just the ticket to keeping them emotionally and physically safe. She may have a point.
I certainly don’t have the answer. I wish I did.
The author of the Vanity Fair article ends the tale poignantly and surprisingly, with a girl who decides to commit to a real relationship with a boy who demands more because he is not satisfied with casual-ness of their hook up arrangement. He craved real emotional connection, and ultimately, so did she. This, at least, gives me a glimmer of hope.
I’d love to hear more about that boy’s story.