Let me start by saying how I am going to end, or rather, how I am not going to end. I am not going to end with my predictable closing, "Happy Reading." That is because, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales is anything but happy reading. It is, at times, disturbing.
A close friend who is a wonderful mom and a social worker with a Master's degree from Columbia University, gave me the book and warned me about its contents. After reading it, I told her it was the scariest parenting book I've ever read. How did we go from parenting books about toilet training and bed time routines to this? Scariest of all, is the thought that although this book was published this year, given the speed with which social media evolves, there are definitely new ways that young people are being exploited, cyberbullied, and in extreme cases, endangered, that parents don't even know about.
The book covers the teen years 13-19, but also addresses issues 'tweens face. It even cites a 2014 study at UCLA in which sixth-graders who went just five days without looking at a smart phone were significantly better at interpreting emotions and body language in face-to-face communication than sixth-graders in the same school who continued to use smart phones. (pp 135-136) While the studies cited in this book are interesting, the really gripping part of the book is the stories shared by teens from all over the country. Remarkably, they are almost always stories of the same experience across geographic regions and socioeconomic differences. A young girl in the south Bronx who feared leaving her grandma's apartment because people were passed out in the hallway with needles in their arms, describes nearly the same online experiences as girls in Boca Raton, FL and The Hamptons, New York.
This is an eye-opening read for any parent or any professional who works with young people.