I read the title of a few articles recently about why people aren’t letting their kids’ friends follow them on Instagram. I didn’t bother reading the article because, if the title doesn’t interest me? The content won’t. But it has put it in my head to write a little about my thoughts on kids and social media here. And how a ton of my kid’s friends follow me on Instagram.
Let me preface this with the Golden Rule Of Modern Parenting: Stay Fluid On All Regulations. Do not be naive to think the rule you set in place today won’t need modifying with new apps or capabilities or with news of terrible occurrences of misuse. I mention a “new” rule I added to the Instagram use in a few paragraphs after I became aware of something bad that could happen. BE FLUID.
This is the year the Kids Started Social Media in Nikki’s life. She’s 10 years old and in Fourth grade and some of my friends in other areas with kids the same age went through this last year, some haven’t yet. It’s different in any community, I think. I’ve never wanted to let my kids be the first in anything. As a matter of fact, the rule is that they will get a phone when A) It makes our lives easier or B) They can prove everyone in their class has one but them. We are not setting a date because rules and attitudes about technology and social media changes so fast that we are simply taking it one day at a time. Right now? No phone.
The first hurdle was Instagram. Several of her friends (many with phones) were on Instagram. Nikki has an iPod touch she’s had for 1.5 years now and she can text other apple users if she’s on WiFi, but no one else. Kids without iPhones were/are using the Instagram message function to talk to each other, so this became a way to communicate with other friends and since no one uses phones these days to TALK, it was a serious thing to consider.
Rules Of Social Media/Internet In General
First I talked to her about the internet and social media in general. I gave her examples of friendships gone bad because of screen grabs taken of private messages. I talked to her about job hunting and college applications. All of the things that can make some of the stupid stuff you do online, come back and haunt you. These are the rules I told her I live by (and reminded her I learned some of them the hard way).
1) Don’t give any “new friends” (aka strangers) personal information about your life, your schedule, where you go to school etc. Someday I want her to make internet friends (not today), I love my internet friends. BUT. I reminded her that there are predators on line and if they wanted to prey on 10-year old girls, they would pretend to be other 10-year old girls. This rule gets repeated ALL THE TIME.
2) Assume you’re dreams are going to come true and some day you’ll be a rich/successful/famous and that people will go through all of your old accounts to find stuff that makes you look bad because they’re jealous. She wants to be a psychologist so I gave the example of using the word “retard” in a post and she got REALLY MAD because, “I WOULD NEVER DO THAT!” But it was an example that if she casually used it like people in her class do, and someone made she was a successful psychologist found out, she would upset her patients.
3) Assume your grandmother will see every picture you ever post. Maybe your Grandma is not on Instagram, but what if she is some day and scrolls past your stuff? Are you okay with that?
4) Assume all of the people at your school will read all of your words so be discreet. I basically want her to just be careful who she trusts with private information about crushes and stuff. I suggested things like, using nicknames if they’re talking about boys. Establish the nicknames at school when they’re talking to each other, so if there’s friend drama (THERE IS ALWAYS FRIEND DRAMA, THERE ARE A LOT OF TEARS THIS YEAR) your embarrassing declarations won’t be used against you.
5) Don’t trust privacy settings. Just because your account is private doesn’t mean you know everyone looking at your stuff. There are ways around every setting and if someone you hate wants to see your posts, they’ll figure out a way. And there’s always the terrible “screen grab” function that someone can use to show another person your words if they can’t see them because of your privacy settings.
Now – when she gets older or gets a phone I will add this one but it’s not needed yet. THANK GOD. But still, it’s VERY important and I wanted to share it.
*) Don’t include your face in any naked shots you send someone you are dating. I hate that we even have to do that, but it’s a serious thing and revenge p0rn is serious and the only way to avoid that is to A) Teach my kids not to ever – no matter how much they hate an ex – do that to someone because it’s terrible and contradicts important tenants about privacy and consent and B) Avoid it happening to them by never allowing someone to “prove” it’s you in the picture. I’m not going to say, “Don’t send naked shots!” even though I’ll discourage it for a lot of reasons especially until she’s a legal adult, I’m not going to pretend that in college it won’t come up. (GOD, I HATE PARENTING.) And while we’ll discuss waiting until you trust someone truly before doing that, sometimes we don’t see the ugly side of someone until after a breakup. So I need to point out that without her face in the photo, it’s a guessing game as to who the body is. If the person she sent it to is an asshole (and I accidentally dated plenty of assholes) then she’s safe from future retribution.
MODERN PARENTING FOR THE WIN!
All of those internet rules in place (and we talk about those rules all the time, it’s a constant discussion in our house) it was time for specifics.
1) Her account stays private
2) She only accepts friend requests from real friends or people I approve
3) She only follows people I approve (This rule is especially important for celebrities. I make sure they’re only following the “verified” account and make sure you’ve scrolled through their feed to make sure it’s “kid friendly” before I allow it.)
To make sure these rules are in effect I periodically just scroll through her feed. I don’t go through her messages, I’ve told her until she does something to jeopardize that – she has privacy protected from me.
Here’s the problem with Instagram. You can “tag” someone in photos even if they are private. Some adults I know have been “tagged” in photos and when they click the photo or the profile of the person (b/c it’s just a tiny thumbnail on the message window) BAM! up pops illicit photos/adult accounts. It can be shocking to an ADULT, but a kid? Not acceptable. Those accounts get reported and shut down fast but I didn’t want that happening for Nikki so I told her about it EXACTLY and our new rule was:
4) If she gets a notification saying she has a message or a tag from someone she doesn’t recognize, don’t do anything but take a screen grab and tell me about it so I can flag and report the account and she won’t see whatever she was sent.
It happened once and by the time I went to report it the notification was gone because the account had already been reported. That’s why they need to do screen grabs so you can make sure to report the user.
Allowing Her Friends To Follow Me
Here’s the thing: Nikki’s friends follow me on Instagram. I mean, do I love it? Eh. Not always. Because sometimes she gets made when she goes to school to tell a story and they already know (hee). It does add a little bit of pause on me sometimes, like when I post pictures of beer etc. But I allow it and don’t fret about it.
Here’s the thing: I have always followed the internet rules I discussed WAAAAAAAAYYYY up at the top of this too-long entry. I didn’t expect to be teaching this lesson, but I am now one of the FIRST exposures she and her friends have to adults on social media and I’m trying to show how easy it it is to be funny and entertaining without being insulting or mean. I’ve always said “f*ck” because I don’t like the real curse word showing up anywhere and I still do that. I have really religious conservative friends I don’t want to offend either, so it’s not just her friends I consider. I don’t know what that article was about with the title something like, “Why I Won’t Let My Kid’s Friends Follow Me On Social Media” but I think it’s a great chance for me to give a lesson on how to be on social media in a GOOD WAY.
I mean, I’ve been online blabbing since 2003, I’ve learned a few things and this is finally my chance to use that power for good.
I used the term “af” (it stands for “as f*ck” if you are old like me and didn’t know for awhile) in an instagram post yesterday. Because A) It was perfect and funny and B) Nikki’s friends are on all sorts of other social media too, and they have big brothers/big sisters so I’m certain they’ve seen it. And you know what? It’s a way to say a curse without saying a curse and THAT IS MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD TO DO. Curse without cursing! Woot!
I have an adult child who has friends who have followed me in IG for years and I don’t think it ruined his life at all.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I DO NOT FOLLOW THEIR FRIENDS ON INSTAGRAM except in certain specific cases. I don’t follow any of Nikki’s friends. I don’t want to be Creeper Mom. Now, I do curl up in bed at night with Nikki watch her scroll through her feed just to make sure none of her friends are doing anything crazy but Nikki doesn’t mind and it does keep me up to date on how kids are using Instagram these days.
Internet Simplified: Use Your Power For Good
And most importantly, I remind her that the internet gives a place for cowards to be assholes without repercussions. So, there is a LOT of negative shit out there. I’ve told her my few stories (I was told to kill myself on Twitter once! It was like I was finally a cool kid!) of my own and general stories of harassment and evil from around the web and even from some of her favorite content creators. So, I point out, that adding GOOD where you can combats the evil. AND TO ALWAYS REPORT THE EVIL. If someone is crossing the line between been “ass” to “harassing” then they need to be reported. Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and YouTube are all struggling to keep harassment of their platforms. Users have to help.
Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart are two YouTubers I’ve had no problem introducing Nikki to. They’re edgy and young enough to be very cool, but they’re great examples of how you can use your power and your platform to build people up and not tear people down.
1) Don’t be an asshat
2) Spread joy where you can
Always Keep Dialog Open And Stay Familiar
Once we had the sex talk, I started throwing it out there all the time whenever she asks related questions about words she’s heard etc. “Well, you know what sex is…” “Oh god, Mom…” But by constantly making it an easy discussion to get into, we keep those lines of dialog open. Same with social media, I try to tell her funny stories about things my friend’s have posted so she’ll do the same. I want her to want to talk to me about social media and saying, “I’m too old…” does nothing but make that barrier hard to cross. She wants Snapchat now. I’ve been on Snapchat for a long time but mainly as a “watcher” (The White House snaps!) and don’t use it much as a “user” but I’ve been trying to lately because she wants it so bad. It’s a hard “NO!” for now because she doesn’t even have a phone so she could only use it at home and only ONE of her friends is on it so I don’t feel a lot of pressure. But her friend are on it so I think it’s going to be the next hurdle.
SO I AM LEARNING IT, because if she’s going to be on it someday, I need to understand how it works.