Ask the Experts: Victoria Harding

May 24, 2022

In the seventh installment of FOSI’s Ask the Expert Series, Erin McCowey spoke with Victoria Harding, who offered recommendations for parents of middle school girls as they navigate raising mindful and conscious social media users.

Victoria Harding is an enthusiastic team player who embraces optimism, lifelong learning, and helping others. She was first involved with MEDIAGIRLS as a Social Media Intern in college and she was thrilled to return to the organization as the Program & Marketing Manager in 2021. Victoria oversees all marketing initiatives for MEDIAGIRLS and delivers programs on social media literacy to students, parents, schools, and organizations. She is passionate about teaching others how to navigate the world of social media and empowering them to build healthy relationships with it.

Middle school is such a tough time for girls and their parents as the relationship between the two changes. How can parents have an authentic conversation with their daughters about social media - perhaps for the first time? 

This can definitely be a tough time for parents to navigate. Our advice is that parents shouldn't wait until something bad is going on to discuss social media with their children. Instead, they should make social media a regular topic of conversation. They can initiate conversations with their children by asking what social media platforms they enjoy using, what kinds of posts they've been seeing, who they like to follow, and how their peers use social media. If a child shows their parent something on social media, the parent should take an active interest in it. If parents do this, they establish themselves as people who understand social media and can be trusted with questions and concerns. It also makes it less likely that children will feel put on the defensive if parents talk about social media regularly rather than only taking an interest when something negative is happening. Parents should also make sure to model healthy social media behavior. This can be unplugging from social media during family time when you ask your children to, not engaging on social media with people/accounts you feel negatively towards, and not trying to look perfect or present unrealistically on social media. Children will take their parent's rules more seriously if the parents also follow them. 

What can girls do to curate their social media so it reflects their values?

Young people can curate their social media experience by actively consuming social media content rather than passively consuming it. When they're scrolling through their feeds, they should consider how each post they see and the people they follow make them feel. Do the posts on their feed make them feel inspired or inadequate? Drained or joyful? We encourage girls+ (Girls+ is the terminology we use to show that our programming is open to young people who identify as girls and non-binary, trans, and genderqueer young people) to unfollow or mute accounts that have a negative effect on them and brainstorm what types of content they want to see. Once they know what types of posts they want to see and accounts they want to follow, we encourage them to search for and engage with accounts and content that are aligned with what they are looking for. Additionally, young people should consider who is missing from their feeds. Does their feed represent different races, cultures, genders? Or mostly people who look like them? We always encourage students to make sure there is diversity and representation of different groups of people on their feeds. Girls+ should also consider why they post on social media the way they do and how they would post on social media if they weren't worried about the opinions of others. They should then try to post in a way that feels authentic to them when posting on social media. 

What is your definition of a #REALMEDIAGIRL?

My definition of a #REALMEDIAGIRL is someone who uses social media in a way that feels healthy to them. Although no individual can "fix" social media, everyone has the power to self-regulate their social media use and decide what boundaries they have with social media. A #REALMEDIAGIRL also posts in a way that represents their true selves and uses social media as a tool to speak up for what they believe in and connect with and uplift others.

Written by

Erin McCowey

Erin McCowey is the Program Coordinator for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) where she curates the Good Digital Parenting (GDP) program, supporting parents and educators as they navigate the digital world with their children and students. Erin coordinates resources and external contributions to GDP; publishing blogs, parenting resources, and parenting tools. In her work with GDP, she aims to boost the work of other experts in this space so that parents, educators, and other stakeholders are able to benefit from an overall greater digital experience. Erin contributes to FOSI’s events and communications practice, and regularly consults with member organizations on their parenting related resources.

Erin studied Political Science and International Studies at the University of Michigan, graduating in 2017. She joined FOSI as the Program Assistant in 2018 after previously serving as a Program Intern in the summer of 2016.