The increased exposure to social media puts teenage girls in a confusing situation where a girl’s image is not always what it seems, as nearly 74% of girls believe other girls their age use social networking sites to make themselves “cooler than they really are,” according to a national survey released by Girl Scouts of the USA.
The nationwide survey, which included more than 1,000 girls ages 14 through 17, finds that girls downplay several positive characteristics of themselves online, most prominently their intelligence, kindness, and efforts to be a positive influence. In person, girls say they come across as smart (82%), kind (76%), and a good influence (59%), whereas online, girls consider themselves fun (54%), funny (52%), and social (48%). Girls with low self-esteem are more likely to admit their social networking image doesn’t match their in-person image (33% vs. 18% of girls with high self- esteem) and are also more likely to claim that the image they portray online is sexy (22% vs. 14%) and crazy (35% vs. 28%).
“Adults and teens alike need greater understanding about the ways girls represent themselves and communicate on social networking sites,” said Kimberlee Salmond, senior researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute. “If girls are portraying themselves differently online than they are in person, this can impact their identity, sense of self, and relationships.”
The Girl Scout survey also sheds light on the fact that a majority of girls understand their emotional safety and reputations are at risk online, yet 50% admit to not always being as careful as they should be online. Sixty-eight percent of girls have had a negative experience on a social networking site, such as having someone gossip about them or being bullied. Furthermore, many girls are concerned that they won’t get into their college of choice (42%), will miss a job opportunity (40%), and will get into trouble with parents and teachers (40%).
In contrast, the vast majority of girls prefer face-to-face communication. Ninety-two percent would give up all of their social networking friends if it meant keeping their best friend. The study also finds that social networking provides an avenue for girls to maintain better relationships and feel more connected to causes they care about. Fifty-six percent of girls agree that social networking helps them feel closer to their friends, and 36% think that social networks have increased the quality of their relationships. Fifty-two percent of girls have gotten involved in a cause they care about through a social network.