Sunday, January 07, 2007

Danger for Girls or a Safe Place for Boys?

A new report by Pew Internet and American Life shows that 15-17 year-old boys are twice as likely to use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to flirt than are girls the same age. They are also more likely to say they use these sites to make new friends in addition to maintaining existing friendships.

Though we can't know for sure why this is the case, a few theories come to mind. One is that girls are more likely to be on guard and wary of meeting friends (or more) online -- unfortunately, girls simply have more to be afraid of, since they are more likely than boys to be the victims of sexual violence. Thus, girls are not going to reach out into cyberspace to meet boys. They've been taught to be careful.

Another possibility for this finding is a bit more optimistic. Perhaps boys are more likely to reach out to girls online because it is safer for them to express themselves there. In the face-to-face environment, boys are socialized to be tough -- the strong and silent type. However, this macho front does not really allow a boy to take a chance on reaching out to a girl he likes or even wants to get to know better. The possibility of rejection and ridicule is simply too much for the fragile ego underneath the bravado.

Enter the cyberworld. Here is a place where boys can perhaps open up a bit more, using the computer monitor for protection against rejection. Boys can practice opening up, expressing themselves, and making themselves vulnerable with someone they are attracted to. I don't think that it is a good idea for boys to stay within the safer boundaries of cyberspace, but starting there might be a good idea.

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