My kids and social media
I've had a post knocking around for years that I haven't published, called "Why my kids aren't on social media." But it would have to be called "Why my kids weren't on social media" now. Until a few months ago, my oldest had no social media accounts at age 16, but we caved. And my son did get Instagram last year. Why the change? Well, I have to start with why we were hesitant in the first place.
It all started for a really good reason: pedophiles. I used to work at a small local newspaper and I learned something from the police detective I got to know going over the police blotter feature we regularly ran in the paper. In his experience, people who were arrested on pedophile charges often admitted that they stalked their prey by reading about kids in the other regular feature of the weekly newspaper: charming stories about the local school science fair or little league winners. Creepy! It seemed natural that I wouldn't want my own children featured in the paper. That was pretty much before social media, and before my own kids, but when those two things showed up in my life, I kept them separate.
It continued because my husband is absolutely nuts. Okay, he's lovably nuts. But he does have a sort of "don't tread on me" libertarian streak that borders on the paranoid. At times we take trips well over that border. So, he doesn't want the kids to be monitored by the NSA and we have to do all sorts of fun things like use Duck Duck Go for our search engine and turn off our location services. He's not down with the kids being on social media at all. And in the end, I don't think we get enough back from social media to justify the risks. What if he's actually right?
On the note of what we get out of social media -- the kids were basically on our side. I mean, I'm pretty sure they don't have burner phones with secret twitter accounts, but nothing is impossible. Those scary stories they tell to middle schoolers now -- it seems like the mangled carnage of drunk driving tragedies have been replaced with online bullying woes -- have really worked. My daughter was pretty sure that she would be judged harshly for whatever she might post, and interestingly, she was afraid that she would see evidence of a friend doing something they shouldn't and then have the burden of whether to tell an adult or not. Since they weren't on social media, they couldn't conceive of the benefits. And what they saw of my Facebook posts was so mommed up it doesn't seem appealing at all.
So that's where we were a few years ago. But then things changed. It started to be that the kids were oddballs. And in my daughter's case, she had a great sense of who she was and didn't worry about being different. That was something she embraced. My son is a more social person in general, and he was more interested in being part of the crowd. In the intervening time, my increased presence on social media because of my blog showed me ways that an older kid could navigate it successfully.
After a lot of pestering from my son, he was allowed to get Instagram. He had to give me his password and also let me follow him (his account was private of course). I monitored him very closely. It was very enlightening for me to see the posts on other kids' Instagram accounts. It was a window into adolescence I would not otherwise have seen -- all of their accounts are private and I wouldn't dare try to follow them and they probably wouldn't accept a friend request from a MOM!!But looking at my son't account on his phone, I could lurk. There was maybe one worrying drug reference, but that was it. It was otherwise totally drama free and innocuous.
Is it okay to give them a little FOMO in lieu of total MO? FOMO is a bit of a buzzword in the discussions about kids and social media or just kids in general these days. It means Fear of Missing Out. And while it's true that a kid is exposed to a whole world of what they weren't invited to when they join social media, they simply don't know about anything when they are not on there. In the end, we let my daughter get Facebook because a few of her school-sponsored groups were using it to communicate and it became impractical for me to relate information to her. She's on there, but you'll never find her because she uses an alias and her profile picture is actually a drawing. I mean, probably the NSA knows, but I'm ok with that. Maybe they can tell me if she's getting into any trouble?