A vast majority of today’s teens live in a world seemingly ruled by social media. This alternative universe has added new layers of intensity and stress. For two and a half years journalist Nancy Jo Sales, an editor at Vanity Fair, traveled throughout the country talking to American teenage girls about the impact of social media on their daily lives. In her new book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, readers are afforded the opportunity to understand what is really going on in the lives of teenagers especially our girls. The passionate and poignant portrayals presented by the teens with whom she spoke paint a harsh and harrowing picture of the secret lives of today’s teens.
Organized by age of the interviewees, Sales provides a rich review of how with age the teen perspective matures as thinking becomes more abstract and insightful.
Perhaps it would be all too easy to discount what Sales found as simply teen ‘drama’ or at least exaggeration. To accept what these teens have to offer suggests a world in which girls are subjugated, dominated by their male counterparts. A world in which reputations are made, saved, and destroyed within moments as social media content races through a digital superhighway creating conjecture, rumor, romance and defeat. What makes these stories so legitimate is the honesty with which they are told. Even the greatest of cynics cannot deny that what is so disconcerting is that the stories offered from these young people from all different parts of the country and walks of life are indeed so similar. Perhaps it is Sales’ honest and nonjudgmental approach that encourages her subjects to speak so freely and honestly. The messages they deliver invite parents and adults in general to take charge. It is up to us to help these teens amend and re-write the rules that have surreptitiously arisen in the world of teens and social media.
Sales posits that the internet’s easy access to porn has had a heavy hand in how today’s teens interact with each other in the virtual world. She keenly clarifies that the challenge lies not in eradicating teen exposure, a task that is probably impossible, but in offering appropriate education and communication to counteract the exposure.
One consistent theme highlighted by subjects throughout the book is the double standard that exists between girls and boys. The social media world it seems serves to reaffirm old clichés allowing ‘boys to be boys’ and suggesting it is truly a ‘man’s world.’ Girls are left walking a delicate tightrope in an attempt to avoid labels such as ‘prude’ or ‘slut’ while boys are allowed and often even encouraged to talk and act in provocative, sexually explicit ways. Many of the girls interviewed reported for example, that it is not uncommon for girls to receive requests for nudes or unsolicited ‘dick pics’ from boys with whom they may or may not be acquainted.
This book stands apart from other books targeted at understanding the concerns and current plight of teenage girls. Sales juxtaposes her interviews with a history of how social media has transformed the way teenagers, think, feel and act both inside and out of this alternative universe. This information is not presented as an excuse as to why social media has created a secret life for teenagers, but instead offers an explanation of the evolution of today’s ‘typical’ teenager.
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers presents a realistic albeit raw picture of how social media has changed the lives of teenagers. Sales does a cohesive job of detailing a somewhat dire scenario of what is really going on in the world of adolescents. This is a must read for all parents of teens. It is a reminder that it is up to us, the adults in their world to teach them well.
Sales, Nancy Jo. American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.