All around me, I see girls forced to become rat racers in the College Application Industrial Complex, the subculture where students must craft themselves into the perfect specimens for college admission and often lose their authenticity, love of learning, and sense of self in the process.
A girl's social networking profile is a persona she constructs, a photoshopped billboard on the information superhighway. It also offers a salve for the anxiety so many girls feel about relationships, providing the answers to burning social questions like, What do other people think of me? Do people like me? Am I normal? Am I popular? Am I cool?
When I did the original research for 'Odd Girl Out,' I asked every bullied girl I interviewed to tell me what she needed most from her family. The answer truly surprised me. It wasn't having the best solutions, calling the school, or trying to act like everything was okay. It was empathy.
Sometimes comparing can be a good thing: it can inspire us to work harder and reach farther. But for the most part, excessive measuring yourself up against others - especially when it becomes a way to put yourself down - is a colossal waste of time. It's a dead end. It won't make you do anything except feel horrible.
Classroom teachers can play an active role in instructing children about appropriate conduct online, even where there is no school policy on the issue. By promoting public discussion about their lives on the Internet, teachers and students can work together to share advice and develop 'rules to type by' or similar Internet-minded guidance.
When I went to prom in the early 1990s, I seesawed between my wish to get asked by the right guy and ride in the cool kids' limousine with the burgeoning realization that I was gay. I had a fun night, but I was far from my authentic, assertive self that night. Prom felt mostly like a job I had to do to maintain my position in the social hierarchy.
Happiness doesn't just happen. It must be pursued. And if the pursuit of the 'ultimate currency' of happiness helps us choose occupations that confer present and future benefit, and these choices, in turn, motivate us to succeed, this strikes me as perhaps the most powerful non-cognitive skill of all.
Social media forces girls to bear witness to painful realities of relationship that were previously hidden from view. It is a new kind of TMI, or 'too much information': publicly posted photographs of an outing or party you did not attend, or a personal web page like Formspring, can send a girl into paroxysms of anxiety and grief.
Most parents would not hesitate to assume responsibility for their child's behavior on a playground, at school, or in someone else's home. What happens online should be no different. Parents should talk with their children about computer ethics, stipulate rules of conduct, and - most importantly - establish consequences.