I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my kids. I’m the mom who says no. No to the hot new movie that all the kids are going to see. No to the obnoxious, snarky shows on the Disney channel, no to the more risqué shows geared toward older kids. No to walking up to the school alone. No to riding bikes outside of our neighborhood. No to ride-on motorized toys. No, even, to reading Young Adult books I, myself, authored. No. Not yet.
Given this, imagine my surprise—and my daughter’s—when I said yes to opening an Instagram account.
I still remember how startled I was when I discovered, about eighteen months ago, that many of my daughter’s (4th grade) friends had accounts. When I thought of Instagram, images of selfies instantly came to mind, of bikini clad girls and video clips of kids partying, hundreds, sometimes thousands of followers. No way, I thought. No way am I letting my daughter jump into this cesspool of social media. She’s too young. Too innocent. This isn’t something she needs to be doing.
And my daughter, bless her heart, didn’t even ask. She knew. She knew what the answer would be. No, no, no.
So, one short year later, why did I do it? Why’d I do a complete 180 and let my daughter dive into the world of social media? Basically, it boils down to this:
- She’s a good kid. She does what we ask of her. She applies herself at school. She does her homework. She works hard at soccer and softball and choir. She helps out around the house. (She reads her brother bedtime stories!) She’s demonstrated a level of maturity, responsibility, and trust that made us feel not only comfortable that she could manage her own behavior on Instagram, but that she deserved the opportunity to try.
- It’s the world she’s going to live in. As much as we may wring our hands about the evils of social media, it’s not going anywhere. It’s the world we live in, the world our kids are growing up in. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening, but that only serves to 1) isolate us and 2) leave us woefully ill-equipped for dealing with reality. And I don’t want my daughter ill-equipped. I want her prepared. I want her ready. I want her to know what she’s doing. I want her to understand how to communicate, about actions and consequences, intended or otherwise. And the only way she’s going to learn this is if we allow her to explore the world in which she’s living.
- She’s young enough and still likes me enough that we can do this together. Two of the conditions of my daughter’s Instagram account are that it’s open on my phone at all times and that I know the password. This means I’m able to see what’s going on—what she posts and what her friends post. I see the pictures, the comments. I see who sends her Follow Requests (she’s not allowed to accept without running it by me first). We discuss who she might want to Follow. We’ve talked about why it doesn’t make sense to have hundreds of Followers, just for the sake of having Followers. We’ve talked about what kinds of pictures to post, versus those that could hurt someone’s feelings or lead to some other consequence.
- It’s an opportunity for her to begin expressing her own individuality. And as much as I may wish my little girl could be my little girl forever, the fact is she’s growing up, and growing into her own person. And it’s really kind of fascinating and cool (and heartwarmingly wonderful) to see her creativity emerge, to see which pictures she chooses to post (lots of our dogs and cats, and, just this week, a pic of her reading 43 on 41 after she had the opportunity to meet former president Bush!). It’s also fun to see some of the pages she’s chosen to follow: CatsofInstagram, GreatPyreneesoftheHour, and Imagine Dragons.
- And finally, while we’re sure there’s some forbidden fruit in our future, we don’t want it to be Social Media. We don’t want to turn this into some huge, unattainable holy grail. We don’t want her venturing out there on her own. We don’t want her trying to figure everything out by herself. Far better to stand by her side and teach her, than to shut her down because we’re not ready.
So… how’s it gone?
I’m happy to say it’s gone great. Her introduction to Instagram has been a positive experience for her, and for us as mother/daughter. It’s provided opportunities to talk about real-life situations and scenarios, such as inappropriate behavior or pictures, bullying, foul language, premature sexuality, etc. And as much as I dislike some of the content I’ve seen, I’d rather see and know about it, than to not know what was going on. Because of this, we’re able to talk about things we need to talk about. And they’re not just esoteric conversations anymore. They’re concrete, based upon concrete incidents involving people she knows. She comes to me when she gets new Follow requests, and explains why she thinks she should accept—or not accept. She tells me who she wants to send Follow requests to. She’s shown me several pictures/comments on pictures that bothered her, and she’s complained about a few of her friends who are a little selfie happy. One of them she wanted to unfollow, but before she did so, we talked about possible ramifications.
I still say no. A lot. She still can’t watch Hunger Games or Twilight. She still doesn’t have her own phone number. She still can’t read my Midnight Dragonfly books. She still can’t walk to school by herself. And she still can’t sign up for some of the more dangerous apps, such as Kik and Whisper and SnapChat. But because she’s happy with Instagram, she’s not in any hurry to branch out to other venues.
Now, six months into this new world, this No Mom is glad she said Yes.