If you wonder when your tween is finally going to ask you for a Facebook account, you can stop wondering. She isn’t. The Facebook train left the station years ago with a bunch of hyper-enthusiastic forty year old women (like me) on board and no tween in her right mind wants to hop on and sit down next to us. “Oh, honey, what a sweet picture you posted!! You look adorable! I’ll share it with all my friends!” No thanks, mom. I’ll find my own ride.
Enter Instagram and…All Aboard! If you have a tween, she’s on Instagram or badgering you daily for an account. (While girls are more likely to be active on their Instagram accounts, boys use them, too, but often with less dedication.) If your child wants an Instagram account but you haven’t said yes, both you and your kid could be missing out.
Most moms I know lump Instagram into one of these categories:
A) Pointless social media app that lets kids share pictures. Big deal.
B) Growling social monster that eats up our kids’ self-esteem, making them uncharacteristically mean, weak for approval, pathetically brand conscious, and limp with self-pity.
I’d like to offer an alternative view:
C) Creative communication tool kids use to express their interests and concerns, and powerful parenting tool to stay connected with kids when they begin to pull away during the tween years.
Are you slightly more interested now? I hope so because Instagram has a lot to offer. That’s not to say there aren’t important ways to be cautious. As you would before you put any tool into your child’s hands, you must teach them how to use it safely and productively. But before we get into the HOW of Instagram, I’d like to make a case for the WHY.
When kids become tweens, they begin the important job of developing an identity apart from their parents. Naturally, this involves spending more time alone or with peers and less time tucked under your parental wing. This can be sad for parents, and many wonder how to stay close during this period of change. Social media is a great way to witness your child’s developing values, humor, relationships, interests, and concerns. It gives you the opportunity to talk about things that truly interest your kid. Perhaps you notice on your daughter’s account several posts of hockey pictures. You never knew she even liked hockey! Maybe she has a new found genuine interest, or maybe the cute boy in fourth block plays hockey and she’s quick to seem a fan. Either way, seeing a new trend allows you to open up casual conversations that could lead to bigger topics.
Some of you are thinking, fine, it’s one thing to see pictures of hockey, or horses, or even a shirtless Liam Hemsworth, but I’m concerned about the far less innocent things my kid might see – or post – online. What kinds of things are we talking about? Beauty contests in which kids rank each other based on appearance. Spongebob dropping the F-bomb. A middle school couple kissing. (Honestly, this is one of the grosser things you could ever see. They look like children and I can only imagine the noxious smell of Skittles and Axe body spray colliding. Barf.) A cartoon marijuana leaf. An expression of self-hatred.
I understand that you don’t want your kid to see any of these things. But it is a fact that without an Instagram account, your kid will STILL see these images on a friend’s phone or iPad. The bummer is that you will not see them. And because you will not see them you will miss the opportunity to talk about them with your child, leaving her to process the experience alone (or through the comments of her peers.)
So, how do you help your child use Instagram safely while still having fun. That is, after all, the point of it all. Here are 10 Instagram Guidelines for both of you:
1) Before you give your kid access to any new technology, let her know you must have her password, and you can browse through the content at any time.
2) In return, promise to never comment on your kid’s posts, or her friend’s posts, online. If something catches your attention and warrants a conversation, promise you will have it privately.
3) Most importantly, promise you will have this conversation calmly and rationally. The moment you flip out because you saw something inappropriate on Instagram is the moment your kid resolves never to tell you anything important again. Quite possibly, this is followed by the moment she creates a new Instagram account under a disguised name.
4) Don’t comment often. Truly, this is her new playground and she won’t want you hovering there constantly. Save the comments for serious issues of safety or morality and let the rest of it slide. She’s just trying to figure things out so whenever possible, default to cutting her some slack.
5) Be sure the geotagging/mapping feature is turned off on Instagram. This means pictures your kid posts will not identify her location.
6) Do not allow your kid to post any photos with your home address or activity locations obviously displayed.
7) When naming her account, tell your child to use her first and middle name only, or a nickname (SoccerStar2000) but not her last name.
8) Have a conversation with your kid about collecting “likes”. Some kids use Instagram as a way to campaign for popularity. They enter “beauty contests” or beg for more “likes” on their posts. Ask questions that encourage critical thinking like “Why would a girl want to be evaluated on her beauty by a bunch of people she doesn’t know?” “How do you think the lowest ranked girls feel?” ” What would happen if you and a friend posted the same picture but hers got more likes?”
9) Encourage your kid to devote an Instagram account to a hobby or theme she loves. My daughter, for example, loves Harry Potter and Hunger Games, so she has an Instagram account devoted to the books and films. No one even knows she manages the account and one of the actresses in the newest Hunger Games movie gave her a compliment on Instagram, which made her day, week, LIFE. Her experience is not about collecting likes from peers, it’s about celebrating her favorite stories with fans who feel the same way. Full disclosure, she has a personal account, too, so we’ve covered all the points above.
10) Encourage creativity. There are lots of apps your kid can download to make edits. Rather than just posting “selfies” (a picture she takes of herself, often with a weird duck-faced expression), or reposting what others have made, your kid can become an experienced young graphic designer, selecting images, quotes, and treatments to convey her personal style.
Like, I said: ALL Aboard! Are you coming?
For more of Michelle’s wisdom, please visit her website, Michelle in the Middle, and sign up for her monthly newsletter. Also, don’t miss her mother-daughter conference for girls in rising 6th/7th grade and their moms THIS WEEKEND! It’s not too late to get a ticket.
Great insight! I have a nine-yr-old daughter who uses it, but we have discussed it at length. I encourage her to have fun with it, but she cannot repost those crazy things (“your mother will die in the next 24 hours if you don’t repost”), and she is not allowed to participate in “rating” games or “elimination” games. She knows she will lose the use of the account if she doesn’t follow the rules. And I “follow” her. She gets to share silly photos of herself, her pets and her friends, and I think it’s a fun photo history…as long as it is used correctly.
Thank you! Excellent article – very insightful!
As a therapist working with adolescents and families, I have this discussion in my office almost daily. Thanks for the helpful and practical tips for parents and kids to keep social media fun and safe. I plan to share!
We aren’t there yet, but this is awesome insight and advice. Thanks!
I think it really depends on the age of the child, and your relationship with them…
Thanks, great article!! My daughter and son both have Instagram and I do too, so I can follow them.
Miichelle…timing couldn’t have been better.
My 11 year old son got an Instangram form a “girl” in CA the other day and she said he was “sexy” ( He told me – I hadn’t been checking his stuff). He was all smiles and I simply said, that’s not something a 12 year old girl should be saying to you. That raised the hair on the back of my neck and about an hour later he came out of his room. His brother was waiving this device n front of me and thei “12 year old girl” asked him if he ever gets boners!!! I had to explain all the above points that you mentioned.
Can you add #!11 – tell you children that just because someone says’ they are a 12 year old girl – it doesn’t mean that ‘s true! And don’t instagram with people you don’t know!!! At least that’s the rule in our house now.
Michelle – Much needed advice! grateful for your post!
Oh Carmen! What an unsettling experience for you and your son. Blech! Great idea to add number 11!
Thanks for the advice Michelle! What is your take on Snapchat?
I’m less freaked out by snapchat although kids have to absolutely understand that a recipient can take a screen shot of the picture you send so truly, it never disappears from cyberspace and may have been captured by someone’s phone in the seconds before it “went into hiding.” Follow me on FB to read some comments about the app I truly dislike: ask.fm http://www.michelleinthemiddle.com/middleschoolrelief
Thanks! – M
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