What happens to teenage girls when their social lives play out online?
Teenagers have always excelled in befuddling their parents and teachers. While it's an embraced cliché for parents to discuss how different things were when they were that age, it's undeniable that social media has profoundly influenced the experience of teens in ways that older generations find difficult to comprehend. In her second book, journalist Sales (The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World, 2013) provides an excellent primer for understanding how the crucible of adolescence has moved to the digital world. This is not the first such book, but Sales impressively balances the specifics of what is happening online currently with the broader implications for boys and girls—no simple task given the rapidly shifting digital landscape, with the next big thing consistently eclipsing the popular medium of the moment. It would be easy to suggest that, despite the different battlefield, the kids are going through the same things kids have always gone through. But the author makes a compelling case for understanding the differences in both the quantity and quality of today’s online dangers. Having interviewed dozens of teenagers—mostly female—she explores a wide range of topics involving body image, the ways boys treat girls, the ways girls treat girls, and the different forms of competition generated by seemingly endless online arenas. Sales delves into the debate about which ideas constitute feminist empowerment and which are more misogynistic ploys to sell empowerment to girls while simultaneously endangering them. The author discovered that, despite conflicting statistics, there's an extremely high likelihood that most teenagers have watched pornography online—or will soon. Sales takes a broader view than simply being the scold of technology; she spoke with teens who point out the empowerment possibilities of a smartphone: being able to document injustices as they happen and broadcast them to the world.
For parents with young daughters, this book is an ice-cold, important wake-up call.