If you are a parent of a teenager today, you know two things.
One: Our kids are seemingly obsessed with and fully entrenched in the world of social media. Two: This reality affects the way they see themselves, their peers and the world around them.
The question is, what exactly is happening in the minds of teenagers as they navigate the online media landscape? How do Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook shape the way this generation chooses to represent themselves... and further, do they understand the effect their online representation has on them?
A study done by Oregon State University in 2014 found that a woman photographed in more conservative clothing was perceived as smarter, friendlier and more competent when compared to the same woman dressed in a more revealing fashion.
We decided to recreate this study with SheKnows' Hatch Teens to determine whether or not this pattern of judgment exists for them as well. We introduced the boys and girls to two photos of the same young woman. In one photo, the young woman was dressed in a bikini and holding a drink in her hand. In the other, she has just finished running a marathon. She is conservatively dressed and giving a thumbs up to the camera.
We then asked the group to judge the photos on three metrics: physical attractiveness, social attractiveness and task competency.
The results were overwhelming: The teens found the conservative photo prettier, friendlier and smarter across the board.
When we told the group that the photos were, in fact, of the same woman, they were perplexed and at times disappointed in themselves and their snap judgments.
As a group, we were faced with a sobering reality. Young women today are seemingly up against a no-win situation. From a young age, they are encouraged to post revealing photos by the media's often salacious representation of beauty and by men who affirm the stereotype, and at the same time, they are negatively judged by their peers and society as a whole for posting what is judged as inappropriate or insecure.
So, how do we help our kids navigate this landscape? As parents, it is up to us to start the dialogue around these issues early.
We do not want to censor our kids. Instead, we want our sons and daughters to become critical thinkers when it comes to what they post, why they post it and how and why they judge the posts of their friends. As active participants in their environments, they have the power to understand what it means to be authentic online and to grapple with the effects their chosen images can have on their present and future selves.
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