5 Lessons My Tween Has Taught Me About Social Media

by Tracy Morrison
Originally Published: 

I’m hurt and surprised by her harsh words, yet at the same time I get what she means and why she said them.

What I saw, as I looked over my coffee and across the room, was a beautiful scene of father and daughter together working on her algebra homework. I saw a family moment to freeze in time—a time to remember when she was in middle school and needed some help on a few equations. I wanted to remember these early mornings of school and homework and “tweendom” that will fade into just another blip of one of the ages of childhood.

Yet what she saw was only herself, with early morning bed-head, wearing old pajamas. She saw her sleepy eyes and her dad’s messed-up hair. She saw herself sitting too close to her dad while during the day she likes to give off that teenage vibe that she happily keeps her parents at a cool, independent distance. She wants to let people know that she typically brushes her hair and wears skinny jeans.

I get that.

I recently untagged myself from a photo that a friend posted on Facebook. He messaged me asking why I’d untagged myself, as what he saw was a photo full of happy memories with an old group of friends from nearly 30 years ago. What I saw was me, an 18-year-old who was horribly unhappy and unhealthy on the inside and who has spent years trying to delete any pictures that were taken during that time. His tagging me brought that girl front and center, and I could not hit delete, delete, delete fast enough.

What I saw was me, an 18-year-old who was horribly unhappy and unhealthy on the inside.

So I get that what I view as a beautiful family moment, she may view as a moment of ugly morning hair. And a few years ago, as her mother, I would have posted it without her knowledge or opinion. A few years ago she was not on social media. Now that she is 12, everything is different.

After begging for an Instagram account for over ONE MILLION YEARS (her account of the situation; it was actually just a few months), because EVERYONE in the whole world is on Instagram besides her, I opened an account for her on her 12th birthday. It’s still uncomfortable for me, even though our parental controls are probably better than Target’s IT firewalls, but we decided this would be an easy way for her to enjoy her first steps into social media under our careful watch—before the crap really hits the fan and her access explodes as she gets older. Believe me, I want to move my family to a yurt in Siberia when I think about Snapchat, cyber bullying, and even Tinder.

What I did not expect from letting her have an Instagram account, though, was that she would teach me a lesson or two about my own social media behavior.

1. Think before you post. What goes online stays online. You are leaving a permanent record out there for everyone to see and Google. Is this a post or picture that you want to remember forever? Is this something you want a future employer to see? Your grandmother? Having my daughter on social media has made me stop before I post anywhere to think about the responsibility that it truly holds.

2. It’s not just about you. Sure, you loved the picture, but is it something that will hurt your friend or a family member? Ask permission. While yes, I own the stories about my motherhood, they are not mine alone. I now take time to discuss posts and pictures with my kids, and if they don’t like something, I don’t post it or talk about it. Mutual respect belongs front and center both on and off social media. And I’m thankful my cats are not on Instagram.

3. Know who your friends are. My personal Facebook page has become a large pool of people. A few years back I started friending anyone who requested to be my friend if we had a few mutual friends in common. But now, I wonder who most of these people are. As I now have to approve who follows my daughter’s Instagram account, it has spurred me go back into my accounts and make a stronger line between what I post personally and what I want to keep on my professional pages, and I’m cleaning up my accounts.

4. Post because it’s important to you, not because of “Like Currency.” We all get caught up in how “viral” a post or picture goes. Admit it, you do. You might be 45 years old but having 50 likes on a Facebook post sure feels better than having two. Having this exact discussion with my daughter—telling her to post pictures she loves on Instagram because she loves them, not because they will be popular—has helped me figure out what I should share and realize that I don’t need to waste so much time finding the right filter so people will like my picture more. I’ve always found that the posts and pictures that resonate the most are the ones that tell my truth anyway. The rest doesn’t matter.

Don’t let social media manage your time. Manage your time on social media.

5. Put your phone down. Does every moment really need to be captured? When my daughter first joined Instagram, she was on her phone ALL THE TIME. And I saw myself in her. Was I really doing this too? Was the picture I just took more important than the moment that I just spent with my kids? Sure, social media is fun and exciting, but the person sitting right in front of me is even more important. Don’t let social media manage your time. Manage your time on social media. This has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from watching my own daughter start her journey online.

Just like everything with parenting, we all learn together as we go and they grow. She will make mistakes just like we will, but watching her explore social media over the past two months has taught me a lot as a parent as I reflect on my own behavior online. Sometimes I watch her with great delight as she improves her photography skills, but then I go into her “friend approval” list and cringe over the people who have found her account.

Parenting is wonder mixed with a healthy amount of worry. Yet as we dip our toes into the shallow end of the social media pool, honestly, it’s worry mixed with a healthy amount of wonder.

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