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Teenagers reproduce gender stereotypes on Facebook

Adolescents utilitzen els seus smartphones
A total of 91% of teenagers have smartphones and the majority use them to connect to social networks such as Facebook. Research reveals that they give much importance to the feedback they receive on their profiles, and that traditional stereotypes arise when presenting themselves. Since in these ages they are still shaping their personalities, it is essential that they be informed about the consequences of these presentations.
Teenagers using their smartphones. Autor: iStockphoto/MilenkoBokan

There are currently more than 36 million people using mobile phones in Spain, 75% of whom use smartphones. This percentage increases to 91% among teenagers and young adults, and the majority use them to access social networks such as Facebook. This radical change in lifestyle particularly affects the youngest, who can be harmed by an excessive or inappropriate use of these technologies, with a decrease in their academic performance for example. Another undesired effect could be related with personality development, which is still being shaped among teenagers and could be affected by this new form of communication. Facebook allows creating virtual identities which do not necessarily fit with the real ones. For example, they can describe themselves as outgoing when, in fact, they are shy, or demonstrate highlighted masculine or feminine characteristics.
This is especially delicate in girls, who use social networks more frequently and with clear communicative and social purposes. In contrast, boys use networks more pragmatically, e.g. for entertainment purposes. Thus a boy  might introduce himself as assertive, independent, reliable, etc. while a girl might be tempted to introduce herself in a socially desirable way, e.g. by highlighting a corporal image in accordance with the dominant standards. In this sense, Facebook acts as a true social mirror.
In accordance with this information, knowing in what way teenagers introduce themselves on Facebook is important to understanding changes in social roles and gender stereotypes, which contribute to shaping their identities. More specifically, it is important to verify whether the way they define themselves on Facebook differs from the way they do it face to face. With this in mind, a team of researchers from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Ramon Llull University conducted a research among 623 teenagers, aged 12 to 16, from various educational centers all over Catalonia.
Results showed that when they present themselves in social networks they accurately reproduce traditional gender stereotypes. This means that they present themselves on Facebook adapting their own image to masculine or feminine realities. In any case, they consider themselves less masculine, or feminine, than their adult counterparts and an indifferent gender profile arises (low masculinity and femininity) especially among girls. These presentations have an impact on their well-being, so that masculinity is associated with well-being whereas femininity, with images showing them as attractive and emotional, is associated with a lower well-being.
Social networks have increased socialization opportunities and offer comparison components among teens, while they also return an image of themselves that contributes to consolidate their personality and satisfies their needs of popularity. Within this context, handling the way teenagers present themselves is very important for them.
These results have implications and suggest that teenagers should be informed about the consequences and threats that can derive from how they present themselves in social networks.

Dr. Andrés Chamarro Lusar
Departament de Psicologia Bàsica, Evolutiva i de l'Educació
Àrea de Psicologia Bàsica
Facultat de Psicologia


Oberst, Ú., Chamarro, A. & Renau, V. Estereotipos de género 2.0: Auto-representaciones de adolescentes en Facebook [Gender Stereotypes 2.0: Self-representations of Adolescents on Facebook]. Comunicar, 2016, 48, 81-90.

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