33 SES 12, Gender Violence and Education
In this presentation, I describe the actions, practices, and interactions employed by teenage girls to negotiate their online safety with school-based friends. I draw attention to the contradictory positions that frame their practice and point to a number of competing discourses that influence the ways in which teenage girls translate online safety protocols into their online interaction with friends. The presentation draws on data from an Australian study that asked this question: what practices and strategies do teenage girls use to navigate their online experience in friendship settings?
Online communication is an integral part of teenage girls’ everyday lives. Not surprising, many say they could not live without their mobile phone. Reasons given are primarily social – ‘it’s a fun way to keep in touch’, ‘organise social events’, and ‘find out what’s going on’ (Thompson, 2016). While both girls and boys use the internet in equal amounts, girls are more inclined to use social media as means for self-presentation and managing friendships (Common Sense Media, 2012; Lenhart et al, 2015). They are more likely to experiment with their appearance and identity using visually-orientated platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat and they are some of the heaviest users of social media services (ACMA, 2015). Despite girls’ positive claims about online engagement, cyberbullying, sexting and girlhood meanness have been linked to their online experience. Indeed, girls (especially girls aged 11 to 15) experience higher levels of bullying and are more likely to be pressured to produce nude images than same-age boys (bullyingnoway.gov.au, 2017). The emotional effects of being bullied, especially covert forms, are greater for girls than boys (Rigby & Johnson, 2016) and often result in symptoms of emotional distress including depression, anxiety, and, in extreme cases, suicide ideation (Alexander & Krans, 2016).
In the past 10 years, anti-bullying strategies and cybersafety agendas have emerged worldwide to assist with these challenges. In Australia, as in other countries, programs have included whole school cyberbullying policy, school assembly information sessions, direct sanctions, teacher-led learning activities (e.g., social skills programs), resilience training, mediation, restorative models, methods of shared concern, government cybersafety programs and presentations by free-lance cybersafety experts. These programs have been moderately successful in dealing with overt forms of bullying but many Australian schools report that indirect forms of bullying (e.g., cyberbullying) have either stayed the same or increased (Rigby & Johnson, 2016). Regardless of intervention approach, for girls, online participation remains far from risk free or gender neutral. Understanding why girls are disproportionately impacted by these challenges is critical to developing effective cybersafety policy and ground-level practice.
This presentation draws on the premise that teenage girls’ friendship practices are critical to understanding their cybersafety practice as well as the challenges they face. I discuss the ways in which friendship expectations influence their decisions about online activity and suggest that friendship norms offer important clues as to how cybersafety protocol is interpreted, translated and enacted by girls. I articulate these ideas through feminist elaborations of Goffman’s notions of impression management (1959), strategic interaction (1967), and frame analysis (1986). Using these theoretical resources, I examine the ways in which teenage girls actively translate cybersafety protocol into practices that manage friendship tensions while simultaneously negotiating adult demands concerned with safety. The girls’ online friendship dynamics discussed demonstrate how mechanisms of policy can be informed and reconceptualised by exploring parallel discourses, local circumstances, and the often invisible social conditions of everyday interaction.
Analyses discussed in this presentation draw on survey data, focus group contributions and journal entries generated in an Australian study that investigated teenage girls’ online participation (Thompson, 2016). The study involved two data production stages. In the first stage, 130 girls aged 13 years from four Australian high schools completed a project-designed survey. The survey asked the girls questions about their online practice and the strategies they used in online contexts. In stage two, sixteen girls from one high school were involved in focus group discussions and activities in a virtual classroom setting. The activities involved discussion about video clips and cartoon illustrations of fictitious girls experiencing online challenges with friends. Following group sessions, the girls moved to an online space where they completed a personal journal. Here, the girls had the opportunity to share individual stories and retell meaningful online events in private. The approach aimed to provide a research environment that consciously engaged the girls in discussion about matters of concern to them as well as generate moments of peer-to-peer interaction not produced using other research methods. First level content and thematic analyses (Boyatis, 1998) were conducted using survey data, group discussion content, and journal entries. Contributions were organised into categories that highlighted trends and themes concerned with local friendship norms and online safety practice. Frames of interaction (Goffman, 1986) between groups of girls were also observed then analysed. Observation provided examples of what the girls did with friends, how they spoke to each other, how they managed impressions and how they navigated challenging moments. Data offered a means for charting and examining the expectations, obligations, routines, rituals, and rules of conduct (Goffman, 1959) that guided the girls’ interactions with friends. In turn, this mapping became useful for systematically analysing the girls’ discussion of online friendship practice in relation to risk and safety protocol. Girls’ online patterns of interaction with friends were cross-compared with discourses and government mandates concerned with cybersafety.
The analyses showed friendship had a significant impact on teenage girls’ online practice and that online contact with friends made them more vulnerable to particular forms of interpersonal conflict. The highly visible and socially dense character of online platforms was described by the girls as an important space for gaining acceptance from friends, shaping social expectations and managing impressions. Indeed, the thorny issues of friendship and the emergent tensions around online safety were critical dialogues that forced decisions about online practice and safety. Striking a balance between online safety protocol and friendship expectations often required adaption of safety rules that placed at least some of the girls at risk for interpersonal conflict. The practices and experiences claimed by the girls emphasised how policy concerned with cybersafety is often written in a generic way which does not take into account the specific needs of particular groups of young people. As demonstrated in this study, girls’ online practices indicate that cybersafety education could be extended to include skills and understandings specific to relationship building, friendship negotiation, and impression management. The need for gender-specific cybersafety guidelines emerged from this study, however, further investigation is recommended so that the typicalness of girls’ online practice at various ages and in different socio-cultural contexts can be examined. More research at local, nation and international levels would help to clarify gender-specific directives for cybersafety policy.
Alexander, R., & Krans, B. (2016, August 16). Anxiety, depression, and suicide: The lasting effects of bullying. Healthline News. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/bullying-affects-victims-and-bullies-into-adulthood-022013 Australian Communications and Media Authority [ACMA], 2015. Aussie teens and kids online. Retrieved from http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Research-snapshots/Aussie-teens-and-kids-online Boyatis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. BullyingNoWay (2017). Bullying statistics in Australia. Retrieved from https://nobullying.com/bullying-statistics-in-australia/ Common Sense Media. (2012). Social media, social life: How teens view their digital lives. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/social-media-social-life-how-teens-view-their-digital-lives Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. St Ives, UK: Penguin Books. Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behaviour. Ringwood, Victoria, Australia: Penguin Books Australia Ltd. Goffman, E. (1986). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, L., & Parker, K. (2015). Teen, social media and technology overview. Pew Research Centre. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/04/PI_TeensandTech_Update2015_0409151.pdf Ribgy, K., & Johnson, K. (2016).The prevalence and effectiveness of anit-bullying strategies employed in Australian schools. Adelaide, SA, Australia: University of South Australia. Thompson, R. (2016). Teen girls’ online participation: An Australian study. Doctoral Dissertation. Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.
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