The mental health of our daughters is in steep decline and it appears this is due to the social media bullying of other girls through near constant contact of social media via smart phones.
In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianov point out that since the advent of cell phones and social media the mental health of boys is as poor as ever (a steady rate of 3.5 times as many suicides as girls). But for girls it has become much worse since 2007.
Dr Niki Crick found that boys and girls are equally aggressive. It’s just that boys express their aggression physically and girls more socially. Boys and young men tend to use the internet for gaming and porn. Girls target each other on social media. When boys or girls physically retreat from male bullies they can find some reprieve. But for the victims of girl-on-girl social media bullying there is no safe space.
Haidt and Lukianov draw from the research of social media expert Jean Twenge. She has found that total screen time is correlated to negative mental health outcomes for boys but overall social media is not per se a problem for them.
It is, however, for girls. “Compared to the early 2000s nearly twice as many teenage girls now end their own lives … The years since 2010 have been very hard on young girls.”
Furthermore, the rate of self -harm (defined as non-fatal, self inflicted injuries) has sharply increased in young females especially and more disturbingly in the age range of 10 to 14 years of age: tripling between the years 2009 and 2015 from 110 per 100,000 to 318 per 100,000.
Why are girls more affected? Twenge presents three theories: One is “Social media presents curated versions of peoples’ lives.” It serves as an incarnation of the cognitive distortion called filtering. Sometimes we sift out the negatives of a situation to skew it in our mind to make things seem much better than they really are. At other times we filter events to remove the positives to make them appear worse.
Another theory could be the “bombardment with images of girls and women with artificially enhanced beauty.” Unfortunately, our daughters have almost certainly seen more airbrushed models in their 20s in various stages of undress than ordinary women of various ages and sizes and shapes dressing and undressing. This sets up unrealistic ideas of beauty.
A third idea presented by Twenge is what she calls “FOBLO or Fear of Being Left Out.”
Bullying doesn’t have to be easily identifiable, mean comments. It can just be telling the world what fun you are having without a certain person. This can be imagined by a paranoid person or can be directed and purposeful form of bullying that is almost always too subtle to even receive a reprimand.
Furthermore, “Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see friends or classmates getting together without them.” According to Twenge, unlike girls, boys just are not that interested in social media; they spend more time looking at Youtube.
For all the positives social media brings to us, Haidt and Lukianov do not consider social media, consumed through an ever-available smart phone, to be worth the trouble. They say it is “the greatest enabler of relational aggression since the invention of language.”
It’s interesting that micro-aggressions have been made a debating topic by social justice feminists. It will be interesting to see if they will be able to admit that females are often their most typical and vicious perpetrators.
Katherine Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Western Pennsylvania.