Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: Social networking sites like Facebook have a serious influence on how teenage girls express themselves and interact with each other, a new study by the Girl Scouts has found. Overwhelmingly, girls distort who they are and what their strengths are when they're online.
Close to 74 percent of girls believe their peers use Facebook and other social networking sites to appear "cooler than they really are." Online, girls downplay their intelligence, kindness and efforts to be a positive influence and instead try to create an image of themselves that is "fun," "funny" and "social." Being smart is not nearly as cool as being likable when it comes to the Internet.
For girls with low self-esteem, navigating the online world can have serious consequences. They're more likely to admit that their online persona doesn't match their real one than girls who have high self-esteem. And the image they project to the world is more likely to be "sexy" or "crazy" than their more self-confident peers.
There are some upsides to the world of social networking: Nearly 56 percent of girls say Facebook makes them feel closer to their friends, and 52 percent report getting involved in a social cause because of social networking. For girls, Facebook can be a way to build and maintain important social relationships.
Studies like this one shine light on the pervasiveness of social networking sites and how they impact our kids. "Adults and teens alike need greater understanding about the ways girls represent themselves and communicate on social networking sites," Kimberlee Salmond, senior researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute, said in a statement. "If girls are portraying themselves differently online than they are in person, this can impact their identity, sense of self and relationships."
Most girls expressed concern that the things they posted online would come back to haunt them later when looking for a job or trying to get into college. And a majority of girls had had a negative online experience, like peers gossiping about them or bullying them. The most telling statistic of all was this one: Ninety-two percent of girls said they would give up all of their social networking friends if it meant keeping their best friend.