Is screen-time different for girls? Absolutely, according to new research … and not in a good way.
As researchers begin to investigate how boys and girls use their devices, some clear differences are emerging - some of them dramatic. Last week we put the spotlight on the experience our boys are having. This week, it’s the girls’ turn.
Here’s what we know:
In general, studies have shown that girls spend more time on social media, and boys more time online gaming. And that difference makes a big difference when it comes to mental and physical health and wellbeing.
In a nutshell, girls love social media - but social media doesn’t love them back. Instead, it is making girls especially vulnerable to body-shaming, bullying and sexual abuse.
How vulnerable? In the past year alone
That’s according to a survey of 2000 females aged 13 to 21 conducted by the non-profit Girlguiding UK.
The survey found incidents of bullying and trolling to be especially high among 13- to 15-year-olds, “suggesting it may stem from senior school culture,” the research found.
In a nutshell, girls love social media - but social media doesn’t love them back.
But girls are being targeted at ever-younger ages - like 11-year-old Eva, who was relentlessly bullied by middle-school peers who accused her of having sex with boys and told “If we were as ugly as you, we would kill our parents and kill ourselves.”
The bullying began when the child was nine years old.
Eva’s mum told journalists her daughter “didn’t even see some of the worst ones as I took her phone away. She would barely leave her room and was refusing to leave the house.”
The family eventually moved house to escape the abuse.
We hear much less about the boys whose sexual cyberbullying of their female schoolmates - in the form of unwanted dick pics and relentless pressure to share nudes - is not just a nuisance, but a serious and constant threat to girls’ wellbeing.
An extreme case? Definitely. Yet the problem it illustrates has become all too common for today’s girls.
But there’s more here to consider. The media often shines its spotlight on mean-girl behaviour online. But we hear much less about the boys whose sexual cyberbullying of their female schoolmates - in the form of unwanted dick pics and relentless pressure to share nudes - is not just a nuisance, but a serious and constant threat to girls’ wellbeing.
What parents can do to protect their daughters
Once girls enter high-school, and in many cases well before, their social lives will revolve around social media. That’s simply a fact of life.
And it’s a fact that asks you, as parent, to assume more - not less - responsibility for what their online life is like: what apps they’re using, who they’re connecting with, what their concerns are.
Taking away a phone - as Eva’s mum did - is not a solution except in the rarest of circumstances.
The best protection you can give your daughter -and your son, for that matter - is communication: regular, open-ended, blame-free conversations. (For tips on how to begin, start here.)
Parental controls are another invaluable way to safeguard your daughter’s health and wellbeing, letting you put up sensible guardrails on device use, while blocking or limiting risky apps and features.
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