The Internet is a hostile place for adolescent girls: they access more potentially harmful content than boys
In recent years, the digital divide between adolescents has narrowed: today both they and they spend, on average, the same time connected to the Internet. What does vary is the use they make of the Internet. Different investigations have detected a worrying trend: the number of adolescent girls who access content related to ways to lose weight, self-harm, hate messages and even suicide is higher than the number of teenage boys. The data varies depending on the report, but the trend is clear: the Internet is a more hostile place for them, which can affect their mental health. Parents, who are not always aware of this situation, tend to restrict their use of the Internet with the intention of protecting them, although it is not the most recommended by the experts consulted.
EU Kids Online 2020 report, which analyzes precisely the use made of the Internet by young people from 19 European countries, is one of the most recent surveys that has found these differences between genders in Internet consumption. Maialen Garmendia, sociologist, professor at the University of the Basque Country and coordinator of the report in Spain, explains that “it is proven that the time spent by both genders in the online world is similar. But the uses are different. Boys spend most of their time in online video games. They spend the same hours on the Internet, but they spend their time exploring, sometimes searching, with certain potentially harmful content ”. It doesn’t mean that guys don’t, but they do less. “We don’t like to be alarmed. It is a trend that we have observed in recent years ”, he clarifies. “Not every risk causes harm to minors. For example, from the age of 14 or 15, the risks cause them less damage because they are more responsible and emotionally mature ”.
These data coincide with previous research, such as the one carried out by the University of Santiago de Compostela and the Harvard Medical School in 2017. This study, which analyzed information on the use of the Internet by more than 40,000 adolescents, already found that there are no major differences between the Internet access of boys and girls, but there are in the type of content that each person consumes. one. “In relation to the reasons for use, the differences are important,” says the report. “Kids are more online to access online games. They use social networks (mainly the more visual ones like Instagram or Pinterest) to share information to a greater extent than they do ”. The key is in the type of information they consume and share.
Chus Rodríguez, a member of the working group on sexist violence of the Official College of Psychology of Catalonia, finds one of the explanations for these differences in gender stereotypes. ”Personality is in part a social construction, and in that construction the roles of gender have an important weight ”. Rodríguez explains that these roles have allowed girls to show their emotions more openly and have made it difficult for boys to do the same. And this is reflected in the use of the Internet. “Gender stereotypes impose a different emotional management on us. In boys, this management of emotions has to do with action, with flight so as not to have to connect with their emotions, perhaps turning to video games. Girls may be more focused on introspection, they are more ruminant. Their searches on the Internet are also a reflection of this ”.
Rocío Garrido, an expert psychologist in risks associated with new technologies, agrees with this idea. “In adolescence there are many insecurities. The girls are looking for their identity subject to gender stereotypes that are a fundamental factor and that put much more pressure on them ”. An example that is still valid is the imposition of having a certain body type to be accepted in certain environments. “The search for the ideal body is much more impregnated in them than in them. This is clearly seen in eating disorders, where most of the patients are girls, ”says Rodríguez.
Several cases of misuse of social networks have already been made known in which adolescents uploaded their photos to pages where other users put a note on them, as in the story of Nayibe and her children. In this case, the mother was alarmed when she discovered this behavior of her daughter, especially when she saw that the images that the users sent were increasingly provocative: thus they got better grades. Her daughter’s dependence on this feedback ended up affecting her self-esteem and self-image. “She told me that she hated her legs, that she looked fat; Either eat it all or suddenly stop eating. Instagram sapped his morale ”.
Consuming this type of content has effects on mental health. “A girl with low self-esteem, some personal dissatisfaction or with an inappropriate style of coping with problems is more likely to recreate herself in these contents, which will feed her insecurities,” Garrido explains. “Above all, it affects their self-esteem, which if it was already touched, it will make it suffer even more.” A person with a healthy self-esteem tends to take care of themselves and their image for their own well-being, but someone with low self-esteem tends to do it to fit in or please others. “Feeding these behaviors can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress … in the worst case, self-destructive practices such as extreme diets or impulsive physical exercise.”
Faced with this situation, parents tend to adapt their measurements to their son or daughter. According to the results of the EU Kids Online 2020 survey, parents tend to encourage boys more than girls to surf the Internet, while often restricting girls’ online activities. These findings are also consistent with previous results: they perceive a greater degree of supervision and control. “This finding contributes to the hypothesis that there is a more protective attitude on the part of fathers and mothers with their daughters. A general view of the results found shows that gender differences with respect to Internet use are, to a large extent, an expression of existing inequalities in society ”.
However, these measures do not seem the most appropriate. “The key is not to try to control what they do, but to teach them to make more responsible use,” says Maialen Garmendia, sociologist, professor at the University of the Basque Country and coordinator of the report in Spain. “It is necessary to promote a healthy self-esteem from the family. Accompany them instead of restricting their use ”, agrees Rocío Garrido, an expert psychologist in risks associated with new technologies.