I Asked My Tween's Opinion On Social Media, And His Insight Surprised Me

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
The Good Brigade/Getty

I spend a lot of time on social media, probably too much. Since I am a writer, I tend to share more with the world than most people. I do this through words and pictures across various platforms. My kids say and do funny things that I document and I also love to share their darling little faces.

But my kids are getting older and they have started to have opinions about what I can and cannot share. I am respectful of their wishes. They also have interesting ideas of what social media is all about, particularly my 11-year-old son.

I was talking to my husband one afternoon and said that I was going to post to Facebook. My son said, “Oh boy, Facebook. Let’s look at it, girls, what do you say?” he quipped in what he calls his “Brenda” voice. (She is a middle-aged woman who is a cross between a valley girl and Pee-Wee Herman, apparently.) I was amused and asked what he meant. He explained that Facebook is a place for moms to post stuff about their kids and brag about how great their life is. I found this interesting — and spot on. I told him to continue.

“Think about it,” he said. “We take like a million pictures every day so that you can post them on your Facebook. I know other people do it too because you talk about it all the time. But here’s the thing. Does anyone really care what we are doing every day?”

That is an excellent question. Does anyone really care? I don’t know. “Care” may not be the right word. Living vicariously and being voyeuristic are two of the most appealing reasons to live life on social media. You have the ability to follow someone’s adventures without ever having to sit down next to them and listen to the three-hour story about the car ride to get to the beach. There is something to be said about the visual Cliffs Notes. He’s right. Maybe we don’t care. I wanted to know more, so I kept prodding.

“Do you like that I share things on Facebook?”

“Sometimes it’s fine, I guess. But I really don’t think that your stories are that funny. I mean, not as funny as you do. Sorry, no offense.”

None taken. I mean, not that much.

“OK, so you think Facebook is a bragging place for moms. Got it. How do you feel about TikTok?”

I knew what was coming here. He has strong opinions of TikTok. He hates what he calls, “TikTok girls.” He says that they make stupid dances and post videos of themselves trying to look “drippy.” (Urban Dictionary says that drippy is “Pertaining to something cool or awesome. Having an abundance of swag.” Don’t worry; I had to look that up too.)

“It’s just a waste of time. You don’t have to try to make yourself cool doing those dumb dances. Just be yourself.”

I found that insightful for someone just entering middle school.

He added that TikTok has some really funny stuff, but that people ruin it by trying to look cool. He ended with a jab at mom for good measure: “But how would I really know because you only let me look at it on your phone and won’t let me have it because I am too young, remember?” Touché.

And he’s right; I don’t let him have TikTok, or any social media, at his age. Maybe I’m a stick in the mud, but I don’t think that he needs it. He is still pretty young to be sucked into a world that has so many things that his little mind can’t possibly understand quite yet. I want him to stay young and enjoy Minecraft and film theory videos for a while longer. Even though he isn’t using social media, he is certainly aware, so I kept prodding.

We moved on to his opinions about Instagram next. This made me really curious because of his life at home; my husband is an Instagram influencer, so he uses it to make a living. I had no idea how he would answer this question.

“Instagram, you mean for like a job?”

“Could be. I just want to know what you think about it as a thing.”

“Oh. Well Facebook is for moms and Instagram is for businesses. It just seems like everything that they do is like advertising something. Is that right? Isn’t that what it is?”

I gave him a quick talk about how advertising works and that it is everywhere. Sometimes we are being sold things and we don’t even know it. By the look on his face, I could tell that was three minutes of his life that he’ll never get back.

We talked a bit more about Instagram and the fact that people use it for personal things too, like sharing their families. He couldn’t have cared less about it.

I wanted to know what he thought about social media in general. Was it something that he finds useful, or just a waste of time?

“Well, you have been doing this stuff my whole life. I don’t know what it’s like not to have this kind of stuff. I guess it would be weird to me if you didn’t share pictures and stories and stuff. But I don’t really get why you spend so much time doing it. I think that you are addicted to Facebook like you are addicted to Diet Coke.”

I probably am addicted to social media, Facebook particularly. That is where I waste most of my time and share the most about my family. I have more than 1,000 Facebook friends and I could spend hours just scrolling my feed looking at what people are doing all day long. But I enjoy it. It makes me happy to feel connected to so many people from all different facets of my life. I think that one day he will likely feel the same, but he’ll never know life any differently.

He will never know a world without smartphones or the Internet. Social media will continue to evolve during his lifetime and it will be interesting to see how his generation will share their lives with one another. Perhaps because we as parents have shared so much, and things like Facebook will appear to be for old people, they won’t share nearly what we have. I can’t imagine how things will be when he is an adult. It is exciting and frightening to think about. I asked him what he thought social media would be like for him as he got older. His answer was sweet.

“I hope that I will be able to stay connected to people like you do. I have friends now that I want to be friends with forever. I would also probably be friends with my brothers and cousins and stuff, so that I can see what is happening with my family and nieces and nephews and stuff. I hope that they think I’m a cool uncle. Do you think that they will?”

Yes, buddy. I’m sure that they will think that you’re a cool uncle. I am sure that you will keep up with your childhood friends as an adult as well. Social media isn’t going away; it will only change and likely get better. But remember, once you share it, it never goes away, so be careful what you say and what you do. Someone is always watching. And one day if you see a friend request from your old mom, I hope that you’ll accept it.