To let my kids have social media accounts like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook? That is the question. My answer is no. Not when they’re old enough, not when they’re 16, not while they’re living in my house, unless it’s a shared family account. No. Heck to the no. Kids and social media is a tricky thing.
Kids and Social Media
My oldest child is 14 years old. Admittedly, I’ve felt myself waver. I feel myself getting weak, because I’ve heard the begging.
“Mom, everyone at school has Snapchat.”
“Mom, how do I know what’s going on? I don’t have an Instagram account.”
“Mom, please, can I just have one? I’m a good kid.”
The mom guilt is strong with this one.
I used to be a Child Protective Services Worker, and I had a pager and a cell phone for work. The cell phone had no wifi access. The abuse I witnessed is enough to change a person. I can’t even imagine if social media played a role back then. Lately I’ve heard too many scary stories of my own friends’ children being targeted. These are the reasons I won’t let my kids have social media accounts.
It’s not that I don’t trust my child. There are too many perps out there waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting kids. No social media account is ever private. You can monitor your child’s accounts (and I highly suggest you do), but there is private messaging on every type of account. Anyone can pretend to be anyone online.
I remember when I was in middle school I had a Prodigy account. Good old dial-up where I was President of an In Living Color Fan Club. What? Yeah. I thought Damon Wayans was hilarious.
I wrote a newsletter about each episode. I’m pretty sure I lied about my age, because who wants to read about In Living Color from a 12-year-old? I messaged back and forth with someone who contacted me wanting to talk about the show, and so we chatted online. Harmless, right? We had similar interests.
One Thanksgiving while I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, I got a phone call at my house from a man who asked for me by name. I said it was me speaking. He said, you don’t sound 21. I was paralyzed with fear and then hung up the phone. I will never forget that feeling.
How did he get my phone number? I never disclosed my location. Even though I thought I was tech savvy back then, there will always be someone even more savvy.
The Damage to Self-Esteem
I don’t want my child’s self-worth to be measured by likes and comments. As much as I tell her that it shouldn’t be, there will always be doubt that creeps in. I see it in myself sometimes. My job involves getting likes and engagement, and sometimes I get down when something of mine isn’t popular. Then I think how ridiculous I am and snap out of it. These kids are finding themselves. They don’t have the maturity right now to snap out of it.
You know how you feel when you see some friends get together, and they post pictures of the fun times they’re having online and you weren’t invited? Well imagine tweens and teens having to see that over and over. Some of the occasions may be innocent and unintentional. Others may be an intentional slight.
Peers often use social media for bullying. These words and photos live forever. Bullying will always happen, and we can teach our children the tools to respond, but my kids don’t need social media accounts. It’s not a necessity in their life. The risks far outweigh the benefit.
Time Spent Online
Social media is addicting. There are so many better uses of time. I know I sound like a hypocrite since I spend a lot of time online. That’s how I know! A lot of my middle-schooler’s schoolwork is online, so yes, she needs computer skills (and nunchuck skills and bow hunting skills according to Napoleon Dynamite). Those skills are important to navigate the interwebs.
Chatting online and scrolling through pictures are a serious waste of time for these bright minds. I did cave on Pinterest for my daughter until I found porn on Pinterest! Is nothing sacred anymore?
Once kids accidentally come upon these images, the damage is done. Some won’t think twice about it, and for others, the images stick in their minds. Curiosity overcomes logic. Slowly they become addicted and are filled with a desire to explore something more. I have interviewed their victims.
I’m not saying there is nothing good or positive to be found online. There is! Kids can be creative on YouTube, write good content, make videos, etc. My children are welcome to borrow my account under my supervision. It’s just a difficult space to exercise self-control. Our President can’t even be trusted with a Twitter account!
I wish there were more mean moms (and dads!) out there. More moms doing random phone checks. More parents willing to contact other parents when they saw something questionable on their child’s social media.
I wish more parents were willing to take away phones and say no to social media. I also wish there were less parents in denial. I’ve got a lot of wishes.
Filters are fun. Helping out a friend in need when you saw their Instagram story is a great way to serve. Posting uplifting messages is inspiring. Just be aware that private folders, private messages, and private pictures exist.
If you do allow your children to have their own accounts, please be vigilant. Protect your child and mine, please. I don’t plan on sheltering my child from the world. I’m not trying to ruin their social lives.
I have to teach them how to use it and until I’m willing to dedicate the time to learn about every social media channel I would let my child have, I’m not going to set my child loose to explore for themselves. The possible consequences are too high a price to pay.
ETA: Some readers suggested having a family Instagram or Facebook account. I like this idea to teach kids to use social media, before they leave the home and are on their own. They also have a safe place where adults are monitoring all access.
Do you have a good balance of how you allow your children to use social media?