When my fifteen year old son came to me last year and told me he wanted to sign up for an Instagram account, I said yes immediately because I knew this moment was coming.
For several years before he decided he was ready to join social media, we talked almost daily about the effects of being responsible for an online profile. Because of my line of work as a social media manager, he was all too familiar with the time I committed to social media platforms and, since I see grown ups behave badly online all the time, I’d relay stories of social media fails to him.
And we talked everything through. We talked about online predators, cyber bullies and strangers who want to pry into your personal details. Yes, there are negatives to the internet and it’s virtually impossible to completely protect your kid from seeing or reading something that isn’t in line with your values.
But, social media platforms are also communities rich with exciting ideas, unique concepts and individuals who color the world differently. And, for teens, apps like Facebook and Instagram can be spaces where they can explore interests, learn new skills and connect with teens that share similar feelings about personal, political or social causes.
And because we had a regular and open dialogue about social media, I knew he was ready for an account.
I was excited for him, truth be told.
Since he signed on for his account, we connect every day via Instagram. In fact, there are days when IG is our lifeline, particularly when I’m traveling for work. We use the direct messaging tool and he tags me in posts that shows me how he’s feeling that day. Instagram has given us another layer to our relationship: we are able to see each other through a different lens and share experiences we might otherwise miss while he’s at school and I’m at work.
Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Instagram geared towards parents and their teens. And total bonus: I was allowed to bring my son along, too (talk about major parenting brownie points, right?). The event featured a panel of teens and adults in the social media industry and was designed to unveil Instagram’s new parent’s guide entitled, “Know How To Talk With Your Teen About Instagram.”
I hear from parents every day who tell me they significantly restrict or straight out forbid their kids from having access to social media. And, while I respect a parent’s right to do what’s best for their kid, I wish parents would let their guards down a bit and realize that social media is here to stay.
At the event I attended, panel member Collin Robinson, Digital Family Ambassador for the National PTA stated, “Parents need to accept that change is real. The social media platforms of today are not the platforms of tomorrow.” He urged parents to take the time to understand the platforms your kids are interested in not only to stay aware but to also utilize them with your teens.
Marne Levine, COO of Instagram told the audience, “When I walk into work, I look at it from the lens of a parent.” The mother of two preteens, Levine told us that she knows that her kids and the kids of this generation are the “first generation of online natives,” and she takes the Instagram experience that teens and parents share very seriously.
Not only has the Instagram team worked to improve areas like hate speech filtering and reporting bullying, they also want parents to know that their teens are interacting on a positive level, more often than they aren’t.
Teen journalist Malick Mercier poignantly told the audience, “When I’m using Instagram, I don’t think about it as being on my phone, I think about it as being on my voice.” What parent can argue with that logic? Teens are finding their voices in a much different way than our generation did and parents need to realize their kids have an incredible opportunity to affect their peers and communities in a positive, fulfilling way via social media platforms.
Haile Thomas, teen health activist CEO of The HAPPY Org, smiled as she told the audience that discovering and pursuing passions is her favorite part of social media interaction with her peers. “The power our generation has, millions of voices that can change the world, is amazing,” she said passionately.
Kids today are doing amazing things. They are creative, they are resourceful and they are savvy with the ways they connect with each other. Instagram Teen Ambassador Leia Immanuel told the audience that she has struggled with acne and found incredible support from her fans and other teens that had suffered embarrassment because of acne.
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PSA: to all my girls n guys acne, all of the hormonal preteen monsters and all of the adults with acne and EVERYBODY in between that's been insecure of their acne, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! With all the people speaking out w their experience in the petty fight, I wanted to address this. I'm a teenager and I have acne! Non inflammatory, mild acne. I've had it so far for 3 years. I've had ups and downs with it, but every day I learn to accept it a little more. Acne would take over my mind and stress me out to the point where I was in tears! I would be afraid to look people in the eye, and even talk to my best friends. It took a toll on me physically and psychologically, which completely destructed my self esteem. I don't even have it so bad, but as someone who's dealt and is dealing with it, it does have great affects on me. If I had to list all of my knowledge on products and remedies that I've gone through, it would go on forever. Acne still frustrates me for obvious reasons, but instead of tearing myself down for it, I had to realize:its normal! I'm in that 'age,' and that's okay! If you're 20 and you still have it, that's okay,! If you have cystic acne, tons of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, nodules, the list goes on and on, it's okay. You are beautiful. For those people that have tried everything and their skin still won't clear, it's okay! For those of you that were lucky enough to clear your acne, congratulations!! Seriously. A big part of dealing with this is realizing that it is not the only thing about you. Realizing that you are still resilient and incredible. As for me, I'm taking care of my diet, hydration skin and overall health. It'll take time, but its okay. Acne has made me understand myself and others better believe it or not. I feel like after dealing with it I am more open minded and understanding of people going through it or any other sort of condition. Dismiss anyone insisting that you are less than you are for it. They don't understand what you have gone through, they are in the wrong for being ignorant. So this was what I have to say. Disagree or agree. If you want, comment your story. To everyone with acne- You are beautiful.
Immanuel said that it was support from teens she had never met that helped her through a time when her self-esteem was lacking. And Immanuel’s strong body positive message was bolstered when another teen panelist, Rebecca Fairweather, told the audience that she’d been following Immanuel’s account for several. Fairweather didn’t know Immanuel would be attending and she had the opportunity to thank Immanuel for helping her through her own body image struggles. A powerful real life, real time connection that was born from an online interaction.
Sharing social media with your teens is an opportunity to “see life through their eyes,” says Robinson. And, Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World (Corwin Teaching Essentials), points out that “self regulation online is different for every child and that parents have the opportunity to help their children create an online experience that is not only safe but also encourages socialization.”
For my son and I, Instagram has been a way for us to navigate the parent teen relationship in a different, often unexpected, way.
When I see his name in my notifications on a meme about a show we watched the night before, I smile because I know he’s communicating with me.
And that’s all we want, right, for our teens to talk to us?
Sometimes, parents, it takes checking Instagram to realize your teen has been talking to you all along.