I was blown away your flood of responses to my quandary as my daughter headed home from camp and we had yet to decide how to handle the issue of whether she should get Instagram. Your comments were honest, raw and funny. Some of you sounded confident and empowered and some of you sounded exhausted and defeated. Some of you had drawn a hard line in the sand and some of you were trying to navigate choppy waters as you approached them. Some of you were living with real fear of what is to come with technology and social media and others of you had a more “go with the flow” approach. Which is all to say that our responses to our children’s technology and social media use is a microcosm for anything else in parenting — we all have different approaches, different reactions and a variety of different strategies.
To give you a taste of what came my way in your responses, here are some gems that I can’t help quoting verbatim:
“The genie is out of the bottle and it’s impossible to sequester your children until, as parents, we feel they’re ready.”
“I’m desperate to keep my daughter away from Instagram. I just don’t see anything positive coming out of it. It’s hard enough for women with FOMO. How are we expected to help our 11 year old girls feel good about themselves with so many outside forces.”
“I clearly am a derelict parent and let my daughter have Instagram when she turned 9 (or maybe 8, I don’t remember!)”
“I have started to put a little fear in her when it comes to social media overall. Fear in the sense where I am trying to open her eyes to potential dangers of putting yourself out there on social media platforms.”
“This is such a rabbit whole conversation. Sigh.”
“She doesn’t seem to care yet about IG (she’s too busy texting). She would much rather have a dog!!”
“Aren’t you glad you’re not my child?”
What these quotes demonstrate to me is the range in perspectives that people have around their kids, technology and social media. Many people expressed the feeling that smartphones and Instagram are now the norm and we just need to help our kids navigate it as best we can. Other people felt strongly that we need to push against the tide and not just say no to Instagram, but also say no to giving our kids smartphones at all. Several of these folks have committed to the https://www.waituntil8th.org/ movement that delays giving kids a smartphone until 8th grade. In addition, some responses went even deeper on the issue of social media, for example one father expressed the concern that “the strides women have made over the past 40+ years against objectification are being undone by this generation.”
In addition to the broader philosophical stances, I also received a ton of great practical advice packed with the strategies your families use to foster responsible use of smartphones and social media. Probably the most common thing I heard is that Instagram requires a minimum age of 13-years-old to have an account, so many of you held to that rule and have not yet allowed Instagram. This alone was instructive for me (clearly my older sons bypassed that rule without my realizing it…) The ideas and approaches you shared really helped clarify my thinking on this issue — some things I agreed with and some I didn’t — but I appreciated that people trusted me enough to offer up how their families deal with these complex issues. One thing I know for sure is that I can’t cover all these topics in one post, so this will be a miniseries of sorts, and sadly not the “made-for-TV Danielle Steel” kind of miniseries but rather the “there are a lot of ways this can go and let’s hash it out” kind of miniseries.
The largest response group I had were folks who are allowing their children access to smartphones and social media, so in my first piece in the series, “The Middle Ground,” I am going to share the ways in which different families have found to occupy what might be considered the middle ground on this issue at the moment. These families have allowed smartphones and technology and are working within that reality to create practical parameters around their kids’ use of social media as well as hone their kids’ thinking and understanding about social media. Below are some nuggets from folks that address first, the practical parameters created in their households and second, the broader skills of cultural critique they’re looking to instill in their kids.
- Start slowly — give your kid some access, like an old iPhone that can only text with WiFi, and build from there so that they learn to handle one challenge at a time.
- Generate together a list of the parameters for phone and Instagram use in your family instead of just telling her how it’s going to go.
- Use technology like Apple screen time limits to eliminate the need for you to nag your kid to get off their phone.
- Instagram’s policy states that it’s for people aged 13 and so follow that rule.
- Make sure you follow your child on social media, have access to her account, ensure that her account is private and ensure that she only accepts followers whom she knows.
- Require your approval for everyone she follows on Instagram and for “everyone she follows that you approve, like a friend, family member etc. separately find her someone who is inspirational, motivational and worthy of her time.”
- Use the “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t show to your Grandma” line but don’t assume it will work forever.
- She is only allowed to DM someone she actually knows.
- Require your approval for downloading apps that involve interaction with the outside world and review her apps periodically.
- Ask her why she wants Instagram. Have her present a list of pros and cons to being on Instagram and ask her how she might avoid the cons.
- Spend a lot of time talking, talking, TALKING talking about what it means to make a version of yourself online and look behind the scenes with your kid on what influencers do to make their posts – the planning, retakes, outtakes, perfect lighting, filters, etc.
- Have open conversations about what she is posting or what she wants to post.
- Instead of Instagram being private to her and therefore, her burden to manage privately if things go south, “make social media ‘super social’ and bring it out in the open in your home and become a part of your ongoing family dialogue.”
I hope these suggestions are useful. I certainly found them to be. I guess I myself am occupying the middle ground too? When my daughter got home from camp, the first thing she asked was when she was getting her phone. The second thing she asked was whether she was getting Instagram. To the first question my answer was “soon.” To the second question, the answer was “not until you’re 13.” That was my gut reaction after I had waded through all of your feedback. Like everything else in parenting, we’re all going to do things differently and make different decisions for our families. This was what felt right for me, for now. The conversation continues…