In my view (and one that is shared with many of my friends), parents are often the first real role models for any child.  In cases of girls, this is often the mother, grandmother or primary giver.  I remember my daughter bringing home her homework many years ago about inspirational women, laughing and crying at the same time to see that I had made it into her top three alongside Beyoncé and Ann Frank!  That was 15 years ago at the beginning of the social media boom for young people with the creation of sites like MySpace.

The astounding rise in the use of social media is something I would never have predicted, or in fact the impact in would have on young people’s lives, particularly girls and young women.  Role models today for many young people aren’t necessarily found at home, or taught about in history lessons, they are found on the internet and every element of their lives closely followed or watched.

A recent study found that young people spend around 27 hours per week on some form of social media.  I’d argue it’s probably more.

We can debate all day about the pros and cons of the impact of social media on young people and it’s fair to say many of the concerns where there way before the explosion of the digital age.  But, as a mother, grandmother and someone who works with young people, the risks and demands on young women to look and behave a certain way has increased dramatically.

Cyber bullying, increase in child and adolescence mental health diagnoses (particularly eating disorders), body dysmorphia, self-harm and an increase in sexual exploitation – the downside of an online presence is scary and can be endless.

Instagram appears to be the most preferred application for young people with over 600 million followers increasing by the day.  Celebrities are now measured on popularity by the number of followers on these platforms.  Selena Gomez currently has 130 million followers making her, in marketing terms, a one-woman advertising phenomenon.  Instagram and other social media apps have given young people the power to engage directly with brands, making them more powerful consumers, yet more vulnerable to corporate messaging.

The measure of popularity based on followers and likes is not only for the rich and famous, but for many of the young people who enter into this world.  For teenage girls there is immense pressure and this can often lead them to posting inappropriate images and pushing boundaries they wouldn’t do in the real world, just a virtual one.

I’m quite proud to say I’m bit of a social media stalker when it comes to my kids and step children.  This allows me to share experiences with my older kids who are both young adults, whilst seeing what they’re up to.  My step children, who are both teenagers are more checked to assess the risks.

As we are celebrating International Women’s Day – let’s get positive.

Women are challenging the social media narrative and owning it for themselves.  Over the last few years there have been many high profile, positive social media campaigns designed to empower young girls and women.  From global corporations to small businesses, it appears that women are influencing the change on how girls and women feel about themselves and their futures.  Some of my favourite ones include:

Sport England’s #This Girl Can”

Sport England launched #ThisGirlCan campaign to encourage women to be active.  According to Sport England CEO Jennie Price, understanding conversation trends about women and exercising was critical to the campaign development. “Before we began this campaign, we looked very carefully at what women were saying about why they felt sport and exercise was not for them. Some of the issues, like time and cost, were familiar, but one of the strongest themes was a fear of judgment. Worries about being judged for being the wrong size, not fit enough and not skilled enough came up time and again.”

JCPenney #HereIAm

Campaign featured several prominent plus-size women breaking the beauty-standard mold on their journeys of both worldly success and personal self-acceptance. The women featured here reveal that society has made them feel like they needed to change their entire lives—and some have spent their whole lives trying to change their looks—until they realized that society’s perception of them is not the best measuring stick for their worth and ultimately will never limit what they can do. It’s about helping women accept themselves as worthy of dignity, no matter their size.

One’s #GirlsCount

One launched #GirlsCount campaign that fights for making education accessible for more women all over the world. Poverty is sexist and girls in the impoverished countries are less likely to receive an education than boys.

The goal of #GirlsCount is to get people to record short videos of them counting a number between 1 and 130 million out loud. Everyone can join and post a picture or video online. The charity plans to put together the videos and create the world’s longest video to raise awareness of the issue.

Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel is aiming to redefine what society considers sexy by having women of all sizes to submit photos of themselves using a “personal statement of confidence” with the hashtag.

Things are improving, and women are showing that social media can have a feminist presence.  Women are dictating the language that should be used, challenging the sexualisation of their bodies and create a space where women use their voice & feel empowered.  As parents and care givers, we all have a responsibility to instil into the younger females that they can use social media in this way, and they will see gender parity in in our families, communities and city.

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