Tears spilled from her eyes. One minute, she was completely zen as we discussed her day at school. The next minute, she’d burst out how lonely she felt hanging around some of the other girls in her class. When I asked why, she confessed that all the girls did was discuss TikTok videos—something she knew nothing about.
My tween has a cell phone, but we don’t allow social media. Her phone is used for texting, setting alarms, and listening to music. She’s been incredibly responsible with her phone. She’s really great about self-monitoring, alerting us of anything inappropriate, and following the rules. She is not the issue. We have told her, “It’s not you, it’s them”—because it’s true. “Them” being social media, strangers on the Internet, and obnoxious tweens who don’t have good boundaries in place.
I readily admit that we are fairly strict parents. As a writer, I get plenty of online hate including snarky comments, name-calling, and hateful e-mails. I have a thick skin. Criticism rarely gets to me. However, when it comes to my kids, I am absolutely going to protect them from any bullying or (what we deem) inappropriate online content. TikTok, just like all other social media, is a rabbit-hole of hilarious, entertaining, educational, and controversial content. I love TikTok and post occasionally myself. I’m no pearl-clutcher, but I’m also not unleashing a child into a world they aren’t ready for—a world that is, to me, for adults.
There’s another reason why we don’t let our kiddo have TikTok. We prioritize family dinners, rest and relaxation, physical activity, and (gasp) reading books. Tech time can be fun, in moderation. My tween has shared in the past that many of her school friends eat alone, sometimes in their bedrooms. Of course, they are bored, so they watch and scroll on repeat. Sometimes it’s mindless and harmless, but other times, of course, it’s a slew of content that we think shouldn’t be for twelve year olds.
When the girls get together at school, they spend much of their time talking about their favorite TikTok videos—none of which my child has seen. Since their phones have to be put away during school hours, they can’t even show each other the videos. Instead, they just talk incessantly about them. When my tween told me this, I could envision it and empathize. Middle school is the time that almost every kid feels incredibly self-conscious and pressured to fit in.
I asked my tween how this made her feel, and she said somewhat annoyed and somewhat sad. Of course, she feels left out. However, she also shared that she thought they should expand their convo topics, because talking about one thing all the time was boring. She even piped up, “Why can’t they just read a book sometimes?” (I’m a proud mom of book-loving kids.)
My tween is perhaps an anomaly. She likes to read, to learn, and to do things like bake. She loves discovering new recipes and whipping them up. It’s magical to watch her. She doesn’t care much about makeup and crushes, and she has never, not once, implored us to allow her to have social media.
I know, it’s 2021, and tech is a big part of most of our lives. I spend my fair share of time scrolling, watching, commenting, and sharing. However, I’m an adult with a full developed brain. I’m not nearly as impressionable as a kid in the midst of puberty. I can distinguish fact from fiction and airbrushed (ahem, filtered) and authentic.
Yes, my child should be developing critical thinking skills, and she is. But she doesn’t need Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, or any other social media channel to do this.
Furthermore, like many tweens, she has an interest in her appearance—though not nearly as much as some of her peers. She’s not trying to capture the perfect selfie and then spend her time filtering and editing it so she appears to be someone she isn’t. Now I don’t have an issue with a flattering angle, a cute outfit, or even makeup if that’s something she’s interested in. But when every picture and video of someone her age is one that appears flawless, I get a serious ew factor.
Grown women spend years trying to accept our bodies as they are, complete with stretch marks and saggy parts, cellulite and wrinkles, weight changes. Eventually, many of us get to the point where we realize we need to be happy with what we’ve got instead of pining away at some impossible norm. I can’t prevent my children—including my tween—from not always loving what God gave them, but I can certainly help them by not allowing social media to impress upon them that they aren’t amazing just as they are.
I want my kids to use their time investing in themselves, not in the images they think they should project to make other people fake praise and accept them. I don’t want them vying for likes and comments. I want social media for them to eventually become a tool, a way to stay connected with others, not a place to idolize others or morph themselves into a person that doesn’t exist.
Call me old fashioned. I don’t care. So many of my fellow parents relentlessly complain about their kids and social media—and I don’t know why I would push my child into a universe that is far more destructive than healthy. As adults, we’ve learned a lot about staying away from toxic people, situations, and behaviors, and to me, social media is more toxic, especially for tweens, than fruitful.
I encourage my kiddo to text, but also to engage in face-to-face conversations and real relationships. I want her to invest in herself and her peers in a healthy manner. Most of all, I want my daughter to flourish without her esteem banking on whether or not someone likes her filtered selfie.