In his hairdressing salon in downtown Beauvais, William, 43, combs the turquoise blue crest of his young client. “Teenagers today are very simple: all trends are linked to the Internet and influencers. They make colors after seeing videos, and me behind, I catch up! “ On his seat, Mégane does not flinch under his mask. We try to guess his age, while William continues. “The problem with social networks is that it kills their personality in the bud. They comply with the opinions of the communities. “
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Mégane nods. The cup finished, she gets up, puts on her bomber jacket planted with pins, and takes off her mask. She is not a teenager but a 33-year-old young woman, mother of a 13-year-old boy. Her son, she says, does not have a smartphone but a “Old touch-tone telephone”, because she wants it to be built at a distance from social networks. “My partner and I have particular looks but there are ideas behind”, she asserts. “We still had a link with reality, William completes. Now there is a rift with teens. It’s all in their phone! “
The hairdresser knows everything: his window offers an ideal point of view on the comings and goings of young Beauvaisiens, between the Lycée Félix-Faure, the sandwich shops on the rue du 27-Juin, and the Jeu de Paume shopping center, where we find them strolling from one store to another, smartphone in hand. First observation: all the teenagers interviewed are on several social networks, most since the start of college. Second point: Snapchat and Instagram have long overtaken Facebook – “Old thing” – in their hearts, while TikTok is gaining ground every day. Third note: they can talk about social media for hours.
Wickets of the Ungrateful Age
Social networks are today the windows of the thankless age: hegemonic spaces through which we integrate the adolescent community and its culture. “There is no obligation, but it’s true that we look at you weird if you don’t have Snapchat”, summarizes Raphaëlle, 17 years old, whose “99%” friends are on the networks. From entry into 6e, the “Class groups” learn on Instagram to keep students up to date with homework assignments. “Even the teachers think it’s a good idea”, Raphaëlle notes.
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More importantly, it is via networks that college students very early on build an embryo of “digital reputation”, measured in the number of subscribers, “likes” and comments. “It’s sad, but the more popular you are on the networks, the more friends you have, explains Esteban, 18. We start a lot in the superficial in college, we look for likes to be like the others, there is a group effect. ” Emma, the same age, says she felt left out because of her fit “Late” – i.e. 13 years old – to social networks: “Everyone was on their phone,” the groups were based on that. “
The success of social networks with college students is no accident. These platforms intensify two fundamental dynamics of this age: seeking a group to emancipate oneself from one’s parents, and exposing oneself to the judgment of one’s peers to gain approval. “High school students have the maturity to sort out real and digital, but among college students there is real confusion”, alert Margaux Debruyne, psychologist in Beauvais.
The problem is also linked to the intensity of the upheavals experienced at puberty. “Physical changes cause a feeling of loss of control over the body. On social networks, teens can choose what they show of themselves, edit photos, put filters. But they don’t control comments and compare a lot. Especially the girls. “
Many of his anorexic patients stress the role of social networks in their discomfort. According to internal documents revealed in September by the Wall Street Journal, 32% of Instagram users who say they have a bad body image say that the social network would make their problem worse.
“Rumors go fast”
The idea that social networks expose young people to sexualized behavior is another frequently raised issue. “Thirteen-year-old girls are twerking, they’re doing crazy stuff on TikTok today, have fun Salimata and Myriam, 17 years old. We, when we are beautiful, we know what we are doing. The little ones imitate us, but they are not aware of it, they are displayed. The problem is that rumors go fast. “
The reputational issues around the sexuality of adolescent girls are not new, but the networks are renewing the question. In the absence of parental or educational support, young people train themselves, learn (sometimes in pain) to detect risky situations, and sometimes limit the distribution of their publications.
Melissa, Esteban’s girlfriend, took her Instagram account privately to stop receiving messages from boys. “I post pictures of the two of us on Instagram but I wouldn’t video with him on TikTok, she explains, I don’t want people I don’t like to see my life. “Especially since it seems fashionable, towards the end of high school, to display a certain detachment towards the networks.
Subjects “that we do not talk about elsewhere”
Until then, whether it is to explore styles or centers of interest, the Internet and social networks can allow you to probe your personality, seek inspiration, meet people, discuss subjects. “Which we do not talk about elsewhere”.
A 16-year-old Muslim interested in religion, Wassila has subscribed to numerous TikTok and Instagram accounts devoted to Islam. A preference well understood by applications. On Instagram, her “Explorer” thread suggests to her in a jumble of makeup tutorials, hadiths (words reported by the Prophet Mohammed) and photos of women wearing the hijab. For almost two months, she adopted the headscarf. “I had been thinking about it for a while, it inspired me. I thought I could try. “
New ways of defining yourself
By broadening the horizon, networks also help to convey and make visible new ways of defining oneself. “Beauvais, it’s not Paris, it’s not Marseille, sometimes you feel alone”, smiles Anaëlle, 18, on the terrace of the Café de la Paix, place Jeanne-Hachette. Devilishly masculine, streetwear look and pearl necklace, lesbian assumed since college, she embarked on TikTok during the first confinement. It now has 25,000 subscribers. “It helps me with my identity and it makes me meet lots of people. This is really my openness. “
Whether her generation is more open to gender issues is not obvious. “It depends on the high schools, but we talk about it more, there is more visibility. “ Still, things change quickly. “In first grade, I took a one-year break from the networks. When I returned, we no longer said LGBT but LGBTQI + and people displayed their pronouns, I didn’t understand! “, she continues.
Anaëlle got down to it, especially to clear up misunderstandings with those who take her for a boy. A purely digital phenomenon? Ask William. “A few days ago I received a call asking me if I was charging gender-neutral rates”, he reports. A customer is surprised: “Was it a girl or a boy?” ” ” No idea, answers the hairdresser. It was a neutral voice. “