This piece was written by Nancy Jo Sales for Time. Sales spent 2½ years researching for her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. So she can say with certainty that social media encourages sexualization and bullying. Not surprisingly, girls are at much higher risk than boys are. This is an important read.
Once upon a time, only the wealthy and privileged could afford to have their portraits painted by a small, select circle of artists. With the advent of photography, parents of all backgrounds could have pictures of their children, which were coveted as documents of their development and a way to show off their innocent beauty and charm to family and friends.
Today, with smartphones and social media, we all have in our hands the means to broadcast our pride and joy to the world. And we are cultivating our children’s online selves from birth—or even before, in utero. Ninety-two percent of American children have an online presence before the age of 2. Parents post nearly 1,000 images of their children online before their fifth birthday. “Sharenting” has given parenting a whole new dimension: viewer-rated performance.
The usual debate centers on whether posting pictures of one’s children’s online—or allowing one’s children to do so—is safe from a privacy or security standpoint. And as we have seen in the recent abduction and murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell of Blacksburg, Va., concerns about online predators are more than just a moral panic: they stem from something real. Lovell reportedly texted with one of her alleged killers, 18-year-old David Eisenhauer, a Virginia Tech student, on Kik Messenger, an app known among kids as a place for the exchange of sexts and nude selfies.