Why I Won't Let My Tween Use Social Media

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Getty Images | diego_cuervo

There is a new phenomenon in parenting that is quite baffling to me. Instead of making rules for kids that are rooted in their welfare and best interest, parents are letting social trends and peer pressure dictate what they allow their kids to do. I’ve met parents who let their kids drink alcohol as long as they do it at home. Some of them even give their teens permission to smoke e-cigarettes. Where I’ve seen this new leniency the most, though, is when it comes to social media.

That darn social media. It didn’t even exist until I was on my way out of college. Now, all my tween daughter and her friends talk about is Instagram this and YouTube that. Most of them don’t even have an account of their own. They’re just repeating what they’ve heard older kids say, or they have engaged on their mom’s page a few times. I know that’s the case for my daughter because homegirl is not going to be using social media on her own anytime soon.

My child is not allowed to use social media and there are a number of reasons why.

First, as a tween, the terms of service of most platforms state that you have to be at least 13 to have an account. That’s not just by happenstance. Although I still have some reservations (okay, a lot of reservations) about teenagers on social media, at least they have a little more understanding about what’s appropriate online behavior. Can we really expect a 10 or 11-year-old to be clever enough to understand and not to succumb to the pressure of a stranger who is intent on grooming them to send nudes or engage in other inappropriate behavior? There are some sick individuals out there who study the playbook for being creepy to kids, and I’m not giving them access to my child.

It’s not just the perverts that we have to worry about on social media. Other kids can be incredibly cruel. I remember when I got my first pager. My dad gave me hell about choosing an iridescent turquoise color instead of just black. During the school year, he’d take my pager at bedtime because my friends and I would type cryptic messages to each other ten numbers at a time. I wish that’s all we had to worry about as parents these days. It’s not like that now. Kids have sophisticated telephones with state-of-the-art cameras and access to people all over world any time of the day or night. Social media has a way of breaking down any barrier a parent might try to put up, and allow anyone access to the kid on the other end of the screen.

That access plus the ability to be anonymous is way too much power for an immature tween to manage. A recent Pew study discovered that 59 percent of teens have been bullied online. Ditch the Label did a study that found more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds were bullied specifically on Instagram. From fake Instagram accounts that are set up to humiliate a classmate, to school gossip pages that spread lies and other embarrassing information, there are so many ways for kids to get hurt online.

There are certainly ways to monitor what a kid is doing on social media, but tween and teens have proven over and over that they are way smarter than parents, especially when it comes to technology and social media. Once they realized they’re being monitored, they start to use codes, set up secret accounts, or override the programs that are monitoring them.

Not to mention social media is an addiction that some adults have a tough time with. No way am I giving my daughter up to the web.

There are plenty of other ways for tweens to connect digitally without signing up for social media accounts. I let my daughter use my phone to video call her cousins and friends who live in other states. Occasionally (when I feel like relinquishing my phone), I let her have text sessions with some of her buddies. She has an Amazon Kindle Fire Kids Edition tablet with strict parental controls so I can let her have some freedom online, just not on social media.

I don’t care if my tween feels like I’m stunting her socially. She’ll be okay. It doesn’t matter to me that she gets upset with me because I won’t let her be on social media. I am her parent, and my job is to keep her physically and emotionally safe. It’s totally okay if she doesn’t like me because I am not her friend.

When she becomes a teenager, we can revisit the topic again, but until then, I guess she’ll just have to live her life in analog.