Girl Scouts Research Institute celebrated its tenth anniversary yesterday with the release of its latest study into the relationship between girls and social media. The findings are based on an online study with 1026 girls ages 14-17 who had social network profiles.The
91% of the girls in the study said they used Facebook regularly, while only 28% said the same about MySpace. Demonstrating that teens do not eschew Twitter, 38% said they had a Twitter account, and averaged about 8 Tweets per day.
Nonetheless, the vast majority said they prefer face-to-face communication. And 92% said they would give up all of their social networking friends if it meant keeping their best friend.
Girls' Self-Image, On- and Offline
The study also found that girls see a disparity between their online and their offline image. 74% of girls agreed with the statement that "most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they really are." And 41% admit that this describes themselves.
But many girls also indicated that they think they portray a more well-rounded image in person than they do online. In person, girls say they come across as smart (82%), fun (82%), funny, (90%), kind (76%), and cool (55%). But when they describe how they come across based solely on their online profiles, they describe themselves as fun (54%), funny (52%) and social (48%). These results suggest that girls downplay positive characteristics about themselves online, particularly their intelligence and their kindness.
And the study also found girls who have a low self-esteem are more likely to admit that their social networking image doesn't match their offline image. Furthermore, girls with low self-esteem are more likely to claim the image they portray online is sexy (22%) and crazy (35%).
"Safe" Social Networking
Although the vast majority of girls say they've talked with their parents about how to be safe online (85%), 50% admit they aren't as careful as they should be. And only 59% said they think they have complete control over what happens with the videos, photos and other information they post online.
Many girls said they're concerned with how things they've posted online may hurt them in the future. 42% say they fear they won't get into the college of their choice, 40% say they worry they might miss out on a job opportunity, and 40% fear they'll get in trouble with parents or teachers based on their social networking posts.
Girls' Online Reputation
68% of girls have had a "negative experience" on a social networking site, such as being bullied or harassed. And nearly half of the girls in the study - 46% - said they think that social networking actually damages their personal relationships, causing jealousy among friends. 40% said they'd lost respect for a friend because of something she or he had posted online.
But the news isn't all bad. 56% said that social networking does help them feel more connected to their friends. And 52% say they've gotten involved in a cause they care about through a social network.
But overall, this research suggests that social networking does not necessarily boost girls' confidence and self-image, and girls online are (often knowingly) taking risks - with their reputations and their self-esteem.