As I attempt to muddle through the process of raising kids in this age of technology, I am often grateful that I did not grow up in such a time. While technology is beneficial in so many ways, sometimes it seems to make things more complicated.
I will admit that I am simply feeling my way through this process of raising tech-savvy kids because I have no frame of reference. I was in college when I got my first email account. I had three kids before I got a cell phone. I did not hop on the social media bandwagon until my oldest was nine; he is now 17.
We are raising our kids in a completely different technological landscape than the one in which we grew up, and that makes things tricky. We have no idea how things are going to turn out in the long run, or how much is too much (or too little) in the realm of electronics and their unique platform for communication.
At the end of the day, each parent must decide where they stand on these issues, and I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong. However, after much consideration, we have decided that our kids will not be allowed on social media until they reach the age of 16.
I know, I know…we are in a tiny minority. We are crazy and deluded. We are behind the times. We are mean parents (our kids remind us of that often). We don’t understand what it is like to be the ONLY one not on Instagram when you are 13.
We are OK with all of that, and we are sticking to our guns, despite the pushback from our teenagers.
While concerns about online safety and wasted time definitely played into our decision, the three main reasons behind it are as follows:
1. We want our kids to grasp the concept of digital etiquette before setting them loose online.
They need to learn what is appropriate and what is not in the realm of digital communication. They practice that one through texting (they receive a phone at age 13), which is somewhat different from online communication, but also much the same.
We have full access to their texts and do random checks from time to time. I can tell you that we often find things in those texting conversations that we sit down and discuss with them.
We have not found anything egregious at this point, but sometimes we see things that are unkind, such as gossip. As a result, we have had many conversations about the importance of being kind, not only in person, but also in the digital world.
Other times, we talk about how to avoid being annoying, such as waiting for the person to respond before sending multiple texts, not sending a million texts when you are included in a group message, not texting late at night or early in the morning, and only texting when you actually have something to say.
That is a lot like knowing when to post (and not to post) on a social media thread, but the audience is much smaller.
2. We want our kids to have a healthy sense of self-confidence before they jump into the realm of social media.
When I did a survey for this post, I discovered that many adults struggle with feelings of comparison and self-doubt when they participate in social media. I can only imagine what a teenager must feel under the same circumstances, as most feelings are heightened during the teenage years.
I see enough heartache over poor self-image, especially among teenage girls, including my own daughter. Instagram is the last place that I want her to hang out while she is working to overcome that.
She often begs for an account, especially since some girls exclude her from their conversations and inside jokes because “You are not on Instagram, so you wouldn’t understand.”
Seriously, girls…be nice.
That leads her to feel left out sometimes, but I am 100% convinced that Instagram would make her insecurities much worse. The fear of missing out that is already almost tangible would be amplified if she were to constantly see pictures of events that she was not invited to attend.
She would also see an endless parade of pictures of everybody’s best and prettiest. Like many, she may have a hard time distinguishing those highlights from real life, leading to increased dissatisfaction and deeper feelings of inadequacy.
Not only that, but I surely don’t want her to feel like she needs to post a thousand selfies in order to get validation from others through an arbitrary number of “likes.”
And what if she doesn’t have as many followers or as many likes as her friends and other people whom she knows? Would she feel like she is not as good or as pretty as them?
Or what if she has more followers and more likes than others? Would she feel like she is more popular and somewhat better than them?
I don’t want that for her.
There will be plenty of time for social media later. Right now she needs to concentrate on learning to love herself, which is hard enough without the added distraction and potential for comparison that Instagram would surely bring.
3. We want our kids to understand the concept of digital footprints before they create their own.
We want them to fully grasp that what they post online as teenagers will probably not ever go away, and could very well come back to bite them later in life.
We want them to understand that future employers will look at their digital lives before deciding to hire them.
We want them to recognize that being the same person online as they are in real life is a big deal.
We want them to realize that their digital trail is a huge responsibility that needs to be taken seriously.
While we have been blessed with good kids, they still do dumb stuff from time to time. They are kids, after all, which is sometimes synonymous with impulsive and irrational behavior.
Consequently, we feel like it will take them at least 16 years to develop enough maturity to responsibly navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of social media. Some of them don’t like that decision one bit, but I am OK being a mean mom in this realm.
While there are undoubtedly benefits of social media, I am fully convinced that the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits when we are talking about young teens. At least when we are talking about my young teens.