I was lucky to meet Beth Meleski at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop this spring and we hit it off as moms of tweens and writers who focus on this age group. Beth writes for a lifestyle website for tween girls. I'm thrilled to have her guest posting today. Her argument in defense of social media for tween offers a counterpoint to my viewpoint on the subject. I' happy to be able to present a different take on the topic, though I am a little worried my tween will read this and run away to New Jersey to live with Beth and her family.
Every few weeks, someone in my circle takes to Facebook or group text to crowd source responses to the all-consuming parent-of-tweens question, To Insta or Not To Insta. Friends chime in to share anecdotes, research and suggestions, and to opine about time limits, location restrictions and the wisdom of giving impressionable preteens access to social media and technology at all. I tend to keep my virtual mouth shut, not because I don’t have a policy but because I do:
- I am a dedicated player for Team Social Media. In the spirit of full disclosure, I write for a lifestyle website for tween girls. We mostly communicate with our readers through Instagram posts and text alerts.
Even so, I find social media, when used correctly, to be an exciting way for awkward preteens to communicate. Some tweens are warm, outgoing and self-assured when speaking with adults or young children, but struggle to find common ground with kids their own age. Instagram and texting can be comfortable methods for them to open up to their peers and build relationships at their own pace.
- I don’t check my kids’ texts or Instagram feeds every day. I used to, but now I do random checks at irregular intervals. My kids don’t know when or how often I will ask to check on them, but they know I will ask. They also know I don’t like surprises.
- I don’t know my kids’ passwords and I don’t go into their accounts without their knowledge. I want them to freely give me access and then stand right next to me as I scroll. I want to see their faces and ask them questions in real time. I reserve the right to change my policy at any time without notice.
- Likewise, I don’t follow my kids on Instagram. Rather, by logging into their account as them, I get a clear idea of the sorts of posts they are viewing and the comments they are receiving.
- I am absolutely certain that my kids will make mistakes while using social media. But they will make more mistakes offline than they will on. In the life of my tweens, situations have become unfamiliar and the lines they navigate are thin. Relationships are tricky, choices crucial, emotions big and actions consequential. I can’t shield them from everything that can hurt them or protect them from every blunder. But I can educate, commentate, and guide. When that fails (and it does) I can pick up the pieces and help them move on.
- I am absolutely certain that my kids will see and hear things online to which I would prefer they weren’t exposed. I also know that there is no way for me to stop this from happening. If it weren’t online, it would be in the school locker room or the grocery store or on the radio or TV. I would far rather explain it as it comes up than try to anticipate it, block it, or leave them to figure it out on their own.
- I am more afraid of the school lunchroom than of anything my kids will encounter online. To me, Instagram likes, TBH comments and birthday collages are just the online extension of saving seats at the lunchroom table, offhand comments in the hallway, matching t-shirts and decorated lockers. I don’t want to be so distracted by my kids’ imagined online escapades that I miss the boat on the perils of the social without the media. In fact, my kids’ presence online gives me the opportunity to have more insight into the life they are living increasingly out of my reach, hidden from view. I don’t have to rely on the information they choose (or don’t choose) to share with me. I have a record, handily dated and time-stamped, at my disposal.
- I preach good manners online and off. Just as I’ve taught my kids to look someone in the eye and to give a firm handshake, to say “Please” and “Thank you”, and to put their napkins in their laps, so have I taught them not to post pictures of parties online in deference to the feelings of those not included. I’ve shown them how certain photos can be unflattering, even when they think they’re not. I’ve explained that tone and the language we use has the power to uplift or to slay. I’ve taught them that kindness matters.
- I’ve made sure they know that some people don’t have good manners. Not everyone finds online etiquette to be important and it is not my job to parent other people’s kids. It is my job to make sure that my kids behave in a way that reflects well on them and on me. More importantly, it is my job to ensure that they know how to respond when faced with someone who hasn’t received similar lessons in courtesy.
I am not naïve, nor am I cavalier in my vigilance. I detest the idea that children are able to post anonymous cruelty. I understand the risks of online predators. I think that a social media account in the hands of an eight-year old is ludicrous. But I trust my kids to behave as respectfully online as they would off. And I trust my parenting if they don’t. And I trust (most) other kids and parents to follow the same rules. Plus, I’ve decided if I can’t beat ‘em, I might as well join ‘em. Because much like parents of old who wanted hemlines to stay long and Elvis to stand still, I’m pretty sure I don’t have much of a choice.
Beth Meleski writes for betwixtgirls.com, a lifestyle website for tween girls. Follow @betwixtgirls on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Beth @bmeleski on Insta and Twitter. Or, you can follow her on her regular route in Ridgewood, NJ where she can be found driving carpools or going to the grocery store…again.
You can find information I think parents need to know about Instagram here.
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Filed under: Technology