American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers examines the potentially insidious effects of social media on adolescent girls and American culture. With chapters organized around interviews with teens aged 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19, Sales documents patterns of online (and “real life”) interaction experienced by girls from middle school through college. She examines how the proliferation of pornography online appears to influence the behaviors of both teen boys and the girls they target with their attention. Image-centric, social media creates unrealistic expectations about the way teen girls should look and act, and it drives them toward more provocative extremes in their quest for approval (as measured by “likes”).
As a high school teacher and coach, and as the father of two young children, I found this book terrifying, fascinating, and (overly) informative. The rise of the porn and alcohol fueled “Bro” culture facilitated by social media seems to increase anxiety and insecurity and decrease empathy in teens. Students who prioritize virtual interactions through social media screens find their actual social skills atrophy hindering their abilities to read people’s facial expressions, pick up verbal and non-verbal cues, and form and sustain real relationships which last long enough to develop true intimacy. Social media may make it easier for teens to “hook up,” but in the end they find it much more difficult to truly connect. Sales does an excellent job describing and illustrating major problems attributed to social media, and the epilogue makes a brief stab at proposing some solutions, but that essential work feels like swimming against the flow of the prevailing culture rather than truly turning the tide.