This morning as I was waking up with a cup of coffee and my daily dose of Facebook mindlessness, a post stopped me short. It wasn’t extra controversial, or compelling or inspiring. It just annoyed the shit out of me.
“My kid is never getting TikTok, it’s disgusting and ruining their generation”. This was followed by lots of “good for you for being such an aware mom”, “great parenting”, “it’s creepy, “it’s a platform for predators”, “the things girls wear these days”,”not in my house”, “social media is evil” blah, blah blah. All typed self-righteously by people who spend a great deal of time on social media posting things to garner responses that validate them as parents, as friends, and as spouses/partners.
And sure, I get it. A lot of content on TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram and YouTube is pretty terrible. There are lots of boobies, pouty lips, explicit lyrics, and teeny skirts. And do Influencers represent consumerism and materialism at its worst? You bet. And, do kids use these mediums to make fun of other kids or show off? Absolutely. And can predators use these platforms to lure in unsuspecting and gullible children? Yep.
But, social media is also a powerful and influential part of youth culture and socialization. Instead of demonizing the platforms, and restricting your children from using them, why not consider allowing them to navigate them so that they learn how to use them safely, responsibly and productively? These social networks aren’t going away. In fact, as we move into this next decade, I’m sure social media will play an even greater role. How your child handles that is it up to you. Do you want them to understand the dangers and risks or do you want them to be naive and novice when they do eventually join the craze (and yes they will eventually join the craze).
Both of my kids use social media regularly. We don’t restrict them from any of the platforms and other than the occasional check in, we give them their privacy. But we have lengthy conversations about what’s safe, what’s appropriate and what our expectations are. Both kids absolutely understand that there will be consequences if we discover they are abusing the freedoms we’ve provided them with. Let’s just say they’ve learned from their mistakes. And much as I hate that they made those mistakes in the first place, they have taught them how to be responsible and respectful more than any lecture, abstract conversation or banning ever could.
I do not believe that their social media use has in any way altered who they are or how they act. My 16 year old daughter does not go to school in micro shirts and tiny shorts. Sure she wears half shirts and torn jeans and mini skirts (which btw all look pretty similar to what I wore in high school which was the dark ages & pre-social media of any kind) but she understands what’s appropriate and what isn’t. She also gets straight A’s in her honors classes, plays two sports and participates in four clubs. And, she has a part time job that she works at 2-3 times a week. Plus there are always one or two friends hanging out in our kitchen, or lounging with her in her room (in real life!). Her down time includes lots of TikTok, lots of SnapChat, a good deal of YouTube watching and a fair bit of ‘gramming. Am I worried about that? Not at all.
This young generation is one of the most socially aware, the most accepting of differences, and the most technologically savvy that we have ever seen. I actually look at them and feel hopeful for the future. They have the tools and resources they need to channel their passions into actions that foster positive change. They have outlets that allow them to express themselves creatively. They have instantaneous access to information about every single topic imaginable that lays bare issues that need to be addressed and provides ideas that can be used to correct them. If they don’t learn early on how to navigate these tools and use them productively, I think we are actually doing them a dis-service. And if we are trying to censor what they see, how can they learn to form opinions on their own about what is right or wrong? Why can’t we trust them to conclude for themselves that it’s not a good idea to parade around almost-naked in “public”, use vulgar language, or disparage peers? If we can’t we must be failing as parents in other areas.
Stop demonizing social media. Instead, teach your children right from wrong outside of the digital space, empower them to make good decisions (based on the education you provide) and help turn these platforms into ones that enhance their lives rather than distract from them.