Social Media & The Adolescent Digital Tribe: Navigating the Teen World State

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The genesis of A Wired Family came about based on our observation of young people misusing technology: Specifically, how one young lady used technology to flirt with her boyfriend by sending inappropriate images to him. When she broke up with him, he became angry and sent the photo to his friends, who, in turn did likewise.

Social Media & the Adolescent Digital Tribe: Navigating the Teen World State  was written in large part to share the information we have discovered after ten years of speaking with teens – along with the results of our most recent survey with 2500 teens on their use of technology, social media and video games.

What was most startling to me was the impact of this technology on girls. From self-esteem, total hours online to the use of pornography — I misunderstood the pressures that have been put on young ladies to look, act and dress a certain way.  Sadly, how teens are using technology is often unknown to their parents.

The following excerpt from our book will provide just a brief example of one of the many findings of our survey.


In July 2018, we did a one-question national survey with young women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four and asked the following question:

Do media and social media put pressure on you to look and act a certain way?

80% of the young women said yes.

We then conducted another survey with females between the ages of thirteen to eighteen and asked the same question.

As the chart indicates, as girls grow older, they become more conscious of the expectations of media and social media in terms of how they act—and individually, how they believe society expects them to act. Within a peer group, or what I call their ADT, (Adolescent Digital Tribe) girls are often consumed with the one tool that  escalates these feelings, i.e., Instagram.

In March of 2017, British writer Lucy Whittaker penned an article for A Wired Family, entitled Instagram and Self-Esteem. In this piece, she told the story of Essena O’Neill.

“A couple of years ago, an Australian then-teenager and ex-model named Essena O’Neill admitted to her unhealthy obsession with the app, and many young adults share the same sentiments.”

“Instagram users find themselves taking ten photos before posting a so-called candid or deleting posts because of the lack of likes.

“According to The Guardian, O’Neill quit the platform, calling it “contrived perfection made to get attention.

“If this is how Instagram manipulates its older users, can you imagine how detrimental it is to our young daughters?”

It’s not just that girls are comparing their bodies to those of their friends, but rather, they often scroll through and follow the accounts of celebrities—which to no surprise are generally from the Entertainment World State or (EWS.)

As of the time of writing in July 2019, these Instagram accounts had the most followers.

Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift represent seven of the top ten Instagram accounts defined by their number of followers.

With the possible exception of Taylor Swift, each provocatively presents themselves to their followers.

For example, July 17th, 2019, at 10:56 A.M., Kylie’s new photo of her breasts spilling out of a black bikini and titled: A Bikini Kind of Life had 4,747,026 likes in eleven hours.

Selena Gomez, on the other hand, deleted the app from her phone for mental health reasons.

She said:

“I used to use it a lot, but I think it’s become really unhealthy for young people, including myself, to spend all of their time fixating on all of these comments and letting this stuff in.”

Although Gomez still occasionally posts, she borrows a phone to post any believed to be necessary. However, about a month before she quit the app, she posted a photo of herself in what appeared to be a red bra or bikini top and received almost 12 million likes.

Kendall Jenner, who often models for Calvin Klein, posted a very revealing underwear video ad to her account. Although you might see more revealing promos during a thirty-second Victoria Secret ad, the focus on her “thigh gap” and posterior aren’t exactly therapy for a teen girl follower with body issues.

However, even I must admit the video of her piloting a jet ski and then knocking off the cap of a bottle with her foot without moving the floating plastic decanter was impressive.

On July 14th, 2019, Ariana Grande posted a scantily-dressed picture of her snuggling up with equally sparsely-clad Normani. The image was followed by a photo—or a photo-shopped image—of her naked body painted in purples and blues. It certainly was artistic and well done. But again, is it healthy for young teen girls that might already be struggling with body image?

Beyonce’s recent posts on Instagram seem to have been toned down from years past. Perhaps motherhood has that impact on young women? However, videos of her stage act from 2018, much like the other accounts I mentioned above, are both revealing and suggestive.

Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift’s accounts are what you might expect, with Kim K selling products along with an exposition of her breasts and butt, while Taylor Swift, almost 30 years old as of this writing, has so far avoided the over-sexualization of her brand.


As I said earlier, as girls grow older, they become more conscious of the expectations of media and social media in terms of how they act—and, how they believe society expects them to act. How could they not – given the way media stars portray their own lives using SnapChat stories, Instagram, Tik Tok, VSCO and many other apps?

This is all part of the digital filter from which teens often view the world – a world mostly foreign to parents. It is the world that we attempt to unfold and the meaning of the book’s title, Social Media & the Adolescent Digital Tribe: Navigating the Teen World State.

The images kids see today could not have been imagined 10-20 years ago. The ubiquitous nature of social media has had many unintended consequences.

For example,  most adults have little idea of:

  • The role pornography plays in the lives of teens
  • How many hours their children are online
  • The late evenings that their children are texting when parents think they are asleep
  • How kids actually will meet strangers online
  • The percentage of sexting that exists within their child’s peer group
  • How bullying and cyberbullying impacts a child

These are just a small sampling of the many issues we cover in the book.

I hope this brief excerpt provided a glimpse of the Adolescent Digital Tribe – and why parents need to understand the world state in which teens find themselves. It takes time – but it’s worth every minute.

Allow me to leave you a quote from former First Lady, Barbara Bush:

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

Good luck with the most critical job you’ll have in your lifetime: Being present. Being a parent.

You can order Social Media & the Adolescent Digital Tribe: Navigating the Teen World State here.




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