February 1st, 2012

Does media use make girls less happy?

A recent study suggests that heavy media use makes girls less happy. The Stanford study of North American girls ages 8-12 points out the lack of face-time and interpersonal interaction associated with this media use. While I know the importance of empirical research, my first thought was, is this something people don’t already assume? Perhaps not. And while a few sites criticized the research for its methodology, my befuddlement led me to ask another question. Other than a lack of interpersonal interaction, what about media use could possibly make girls less happy?

Having been a twelve-year-old girl myself during the years of AIM, I know how media and online interaction drove my self-worth. And I know how things have evolved.  The use of new media by kids 8-12 is growing exponentially and, according to the Stanford study, kids are watching multiple screens at once. YouTube and Google are verbs for most American ten-year-olds and today the tween years are a huge marketing target. From Hannah Montana to Winx Club to iCarly, television doesn’t offer the best role models for young girls. On the Internet, the girl-positive sites are often difficult to find. Unless kids are looking specifically for empowering spaces, girls are bombarded with challenges to define themselves as women much too early. Their bodies are being sexualized and their brains are being sidelined. The more media they consume, the more girls are given images that tell them their self-worth should revolve around other people’s perceptions of their body.

Sure, the Stanford study tells us we should nurture face-time and interpersonal interaction for girls. It’s something that’s important for all humans. Regardless, kids are going to use media and that’s why education is so important. We aren’t going to change the system in one day so that girls can feel empowered through their media use. It’s not possible. But there is empowerment through media literacy. If we educate children to be able to contextualize stereotypes that affect their self-image, there’s less chance they’ll recreate them or rely on them in their own lives, and as adults. And who knows? Maybe they’ll find spaces online that will inspire that positive interpersonal interaction we know they’re missing.

–Emily Breitkopf

Emily is a contributing writer for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”

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