Bad Girls Giving Us a Bad Rap?

Yesterday while browsing the Globe and Mail online, I came across this article about a researcher in Indiana who plans to use GPS-enabled cell phones to track teenage girls for a year. The study intends to discover whether there's a correlation between geography (i.e. certain places where teens hang out) and bad behaviour (i.e. teenage sex). Once the correlation is established, if the girls wander too close to an off-limits location, the GPS system alerts the parents and pings the girls with a message of disapproval or an inquiry about what they're doing. The subjects are all girls between the ages of 14 and 16, and all of them were required to sign the appropriate release forms.

This article intrigued and annoyed me. On one hand, it's an interesting application of human geography in an age when parental units have less control and knowledge of their child's every movement. On the other hand, the inherent gender bias in this study kind of irritates me. Is nobody else disturbed that all the subjects in this study are female, as if it's only girls who engage in risky behaviour? I have no clue what the scientific rationale is behind that. Teenage boys can just as easily engage in delinquency, bullying, and other forms of bad behaviour...and hey, FYI, it takes two for teenage sex to happen, so why not track members of the opposite sex as well? Using a sample size that's evenly split between boys and girls could also provide a fuller picture of the locations linked to risky behaviour for both sexes and raise questions about gender differences: Will a location that leads to risky behaviour for girls also lead to risky behaviour for boys?

There is one scary possibility for why the researcher decided to just track teenage girls, and it is that we have been so bombarded by stories of female celebrities behaving badly that people take it as a given that girls do all sorts of wild things. Perhaps society has internalized the sentiment that young girls rarely act like young ladies. The Parises, Lindsays, Britneys, and Nicoles of the world have given the rest of a bad rap because nowadays it's the It girls who dominate the tabloids.

If there's anyone out there with a background in experiment design or psychology, I'd be interested to know why the researcher decided to use all girls in the sample. (I only took one course on scientific methodology in second year before I decided psych was not for me, so the details are a little fuzzy for me.) Leave your explanation in the comments section please!


  1. There are more social controls placed on young girls than young men and this is just another example of that. It's sexism, plain and simple. Boys are condoned for their independent leanings in young adolescence and girls are condemned for the very same actions.

    You're right though, both girls and boys are capable of getting into trouble, so they should probably track boys too. However, I don't think this is the answer either. Surely parents were able to ensure their children didn't get into trouble before GPS was invented?!

  2. This study sounds ridiculous. Firstly, teenagers are smart enough to realize they're being tracked and will avoid any measures taken to censor them, so if any parents get any "ideas" about using this on their children, they are too naive. Plus, doesn't bad behaviour such as sex happen everywhere?? It's not as if your teen daughter is having sex in a strip club, or on skid row - I think at that age it happens anywhere from inside the parent's house (or bed!!) to the parking lot at 711 so unless someone is going to not let their daughter out anywhere, she's going to do it. Sorry parents. I think a better idea would be to actually try parenting and condoms always make nice gifts :p

  3. Michelle - Yeah, there's no substitute for good old-fashioned parenting!

    Jordana - Some of the Globe and Mail commenters picked up on that, making jokes about how if they were these girls, they'd pay someone to hold their phone for them in a church. I think part of the purpose of this study was to come up with proof for why GPS-enabled cell phones would be a valuable and marketable cell phone company service. Part of the article talked about cell phone companies trying to sell parents on the idea of "geo-fencing."


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