If I told you that at least 1 in 4 teens have sent nude photos, would you believe it? Many parents would respond with “not my child.” If you have a teen girl, then you know cellphone addiction is very real. It is painfully apparent how much this device rules our girls’ lives. How can something so small, something so insignificant, hold so much power over them?
I can tell you that a lot of our daughters are going to school exhausted. Why? They are on their phones all night. How do I know this? I’ve been a high school English teacher for just over 15 years, along with serving next to my husband in student ministry. I want to share with you what I see. I want to share with you what social media is doing to our girls, and I have the privilege of sharing some of their own words. I want to recount some raw conversations which occurred in my classroom. A few of my students also recently allowed me to interview them about social media, and what they had to say was eye-opening.
I’ve witnessed social media almost single-handedly destroy girls’ lives. I’ve seen it consume, overpower, and destroy childhood. I’ve seen a sharp rise in anxiety and depression, and you’ll never convince me it isn’t linked to social media. I’ve seen it play a vital role in deceiving naïve parents. And while it can be used for good, right now, it is luring many girls down a destructive path. Phones quickly become an idol for our girls, and sadly, it is one we place in their hands out of “necessity.” Please, if you are a mother of a teen girl or if you work with teen girls, hang with me until the end of this article.
I asked some of my girls what their biggest struggles are with social media. This is a paraphrase of what they shared with me.
Social media leads to comparison.
Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok are rampant with filtered images. What our girls see on others’ reels and stories is crushing them. They are spiraling into a mindset of comparison, measuring their own lives against someone else’s filtered life. They are left striving for a version of perfection only attainable through filters. They struggle with self-worth because they compare their imperfect bodies with doctored photos. They compare their social lives with the social lives of others, leading them to feelings of loneliness. They are even using Life360 (a tracking app) on each other, constantly aware of where their friends are located, and by extension, constantly aware of when they aren’t invited. The bullying that takes place in DM’s is astounding, especially in middle school, and many girls are dealing with it alone, unsure of how to ask for help.
Social media functions to deceive.
Snapchat, Instagram, and the cell phone in general all make deception ridiculously easy. If you search “A Parent’s Guide to Inappropriate Emoji’s,” you’ll understand- there is a secret language using emoji’s that would appear innocent to someone out of the loop. In the words of one of my girls referring to Snapchat, she said, “for the right person, it’s made to deceive.” There are settings which require passwords to view hidden content. There are also vanish modes built into these apps in which content disappears once sent and opened. Most alarming is the variety of apps available to help users hide content. One example is the Calculator+ app. It masks itself as an ordinary calculator, but it functions as a folder to hide photos, etc. To most parents, they would never know what lies behind it. Our girls are making fake secondary accounts to hide interactions as well. They can literally become two different people with the swipe of a screen.
Here is where I need to be blunt. The purpose behind most of this is to hide sexual content or inappropriate communication with people. They are sending and hiding inappropriate photos, not realizing the gravity of their decisions. And in my experience, the girls doing this are girls you would never imagine doing so. The teenage brain is not fully developed, and many of our girls are not capable of setting the limits they so desperately need. The pressure they feel to take part in this behavior is so much heavier than parents realize. They need you to step in. They need you to be nosey. In fact, according to my students, they desperately wish for rules. They crave safety.
Social media is the ultimate distraction.
TikTok is like a rabbit hole in which our girls can spend hours and hours. Not only is it full of mature content, but it steals their time. Social media is taking the place of real interaction. And more importantly, it is taking the place of the time our girls desperately need to interact with God’s Word so that they can make godly decisions.
Here’s the deal: social media isn’t going anywhere. We may be able to postpone their use of it, but our girls need to learn how to navigate this issue. They need us to teach them healthy boundaries. They need us to establish rules. Paul urges believers “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, ESV). It is increasingly harder for our girls to allow this transformation to take place because they are inundated with worldly viewpoints. I want to share some advice my students expressed for other girls and parents wishing to break the cycle.
- Hide like count on Instagram and unfollow people who cause them to fall into comparison.
This takes away the pressure to constantly post for attention, and it also helps them to stop the comparison.
- Wait on phones.
This was their overwhelming response. My 11th graders admitted that their parents gave them phones too early. They admitted they were too young to understand the risks. They also knew from the very beginning that their parents were clueless about the possibilities awaiting them on their phones; they knew it would be easy to hide their lives from them. Some of my girls desperately wish their parents had waited to give them phones because it could have spared them heartbreaking mistakes.
- Use parental limits.
Check out something like Bark-Parental Control, which is an app that has a ton of great information. Set limits for the number of hours allowed on apps. Spend time together completely phone-free. Let’s show our girls that we can lay it aside as well!
- Take up their phones at night.
This is a big one. Most inappropriate content and conversations take place once parents are in bed. It takes place behind closed doors. They literally have access to the world, and the world has access to them. There is no reason for our girls to have their phones at night. Take them. Charge them in your bedroom. This was the biggest piece of advice my students offered for fostering a safe relationship with social media. Believe it or not, they desire this boundary.
Our girls need us more than we know. It is our job to take them by the hand and show them a better way. This matters too much. They may fight you now, but one day they’ll be grateful. And you’ll be grateful, too.
Alecia Bryant lives in Louisiana with her husband, Chris, and their two children, Parker (8) and Avery (5). She loves studying God’s Word, writing, and leading worship. Alecia has a passion for discipleship and believes God’s Word is a life-changing gift. She serves alongside her husband, the Discipleship Pastor at their church. In her free time, she is likely hunting down her next favorite Mexican restaurant or curled up on the couch with her kids. Connect with Alecia: Blog // Instagram