One of the main resources for this unit is a book called American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. In this text, Sales interviews teenage girls from thirteen to nineteen years old on their habits, thoughts, and feelings around social media. One of the greatest takeaways from this book has had a profound effect on how I think about my students: “For the first time, most American girls are engaged in the same activity most of the time. And this seismic shift in how girls spend their time is having a profound effect on the way they think and act, as well as how they make friends, the way they date, and their introduction to the world of sex.”8 I had never considered this before--typically I think about what makes my students unique and how I can differentiate my lessons to meet their individualized needs. However, this is a glaring similarity between the students in my classroom, one that could serve as an advantage when designing lessons.
At Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School (Co-op) students can choose a major from five art disciplines: Theatre, Dance, Music, Visual Art, or Creative Writing. 630 students were enrolled at Co-op during the 2018-19 school year. 430 of these students identify as female. A significant marker of this generation of individuals is that practically every teenager has access to a smartphone. What this means is that almost all American girls are connected through the digital world.9They all have this common experience. However, we do not see this reflected in the world of popular television, movies, or theatre. If you walk into a public space, it’s not easy to find someone not on a device. People, especially adolescents, are finding it increasingly difficult to exist without looking at a smartphone. Why isn’t this reflected in popular media? It’s almost as if we are too embarrassed to admit that this is the way we spend most of our social time.
I think we are missing an opportunity to reflect on this new digital age. Jean Twenge has been studying the effects of screen time on teens and young adults. Through her research she has found a correlation between the usage of social media and depressive symptoms. Specifically, she has found that rates of depressive symptoms and loneliness are higher among girls than boys.10 While it is not possible to identify social media as the culprit; it is a gateway to endless images and captions for girls to obsess over. Considering I work predominantly with girls, I feel it is valuable to consider these effects and how I can use my theatre classroom as an avenue for students to explore their relationship with social media and to share with an audience how it may be impacting their feelings of self-worth.