Instagram – The Gateway Drug

Instagram - the gateway drug...
Instagram – the gateway drug…

I haven’t written a lot lately. Our oldest recently turned thirteen and I swear it’s like gremlins snuck into his body the same night and just completely overtook our boy. I know that this blog is only worth reading if it’s authentic. I am finding it’s a struggle trying to achieve authenticity while respecting my son’s privacy as he goes through this period in his life. So this is my first stab at it…

It’s only been about six weeks since the gremlins arrived, and the amount of time this precious child of ours has spent hating us in those six weeks is probably quadruple the whole amount of the thirteen years prior.

This new phase of parenthood and childhood is presenting the steepest learning curve we’ve experienced since those first early days as parents of a newborn. And I find that so much of the struggle is compounded by social media.

So let’s start at the beginning. Instagram. To me, it’s the gateway drug. We let boy number one get an Instagram account in fifth grade. And I’m glad we did.

Say what? Didn’t I just call it a gateway drug? Well, here’s the thing…

…social media is coming for your kid. If you wait until he’s thirteen to finally let him have a social media account, you’ve waited too long. At age ten, J was still interested in what I had to say. He was open to nightly discussions about online content. Every night, we would look through his feed together. We would laugh and we would frown. We would talk about what his friends posted – how it may be perceived, why it might or might not be a good choice. There were some great conversations and learning moments initiated by Instagram content. This was my window to FORM his online behavior, to set the standard for what is appropriate and responsible – and what is not.

I am so thankful we had this time. Because I had no idea how soon we would turn the corner and find ourselves in a time where he does not seem to care for anything I have to say (about anything) and in fact, would rather abstain from pretty much all meaningful conversation with me (of course, I’ll never stop trying). And if Instagram is the gateway drug, once you pass through the gate, you’ll find yourself in the land of Snapchat. Which is a whole other post – and one that I promise is coming soon.

In the meantime, I do have some “if I could do it all over again” advice for those who are newly arrived in the world of kids and cell phones and social media. It all really boils down to one word – BOUNDARIES. When you set boundaries from the get go, it is so much easier than trying to institute them later (trust me, I am the voice of experience on this mistake). We had our son sign a contract when he first got his phone, but WE failed to consistently enforce our end of the deal. You can google or pinterest lots of options for this and then modify it to make it your own. But the most important part is consistent enforcement.

These days, our boy HAS to turn in his phone by a certain time each night and it stays on my nightstand until morning. A great idea I heard from a parent on our basketball team is that phones are not allowed to leave the first floor (or family area if you are in a one story). As this Dad said “no kid ever took a naked selfie in their living room”. Another great idea is to mandate that you will have the username and password for any app your kid has. I’m not talking about the phone password. Or the  iTunes password. This is the password for each individual app. Then you keep those apps on your phone and periodically log in as your child to check in. Same thing goes for email – I get copied on every email my son receives. Also consider removing safari/browser apps from their phone – especially for younger kids. With browsing enabled and unrestricted, you kid is walking around with a pocket full of porn readily available – even sometimes when he is not looking for it.

All in all, I have no regrets about starting Instagram when we did. Our middle man is currently in fourth grade and he just got the ability to text his classmates – via an email address and only from home wifi. We are starting from the beginning with this guy – armed with lessons learned from our first experience. As he becomes more and more responsible with texting, he will eventually work his way up to Instagram. And while I will do a few things differently than I did with number one, I can say with certainty that the middle man will have it no later than fifth grade and that I will make the most of that short window to form his online behavior.

One by one, we are earning our parenting stripes in this new world. No doubt more mistakes and more lessons are on their way. As I figure out how to share them without violating my sons’ right to some privacy, I will write more on these topics.

FOLLOW UP: Literally ten minutes after I hit “publish” on this post, I got an email from another vigilant mom warning me about a new inst account targeting kids in our boys’ peer group. To say the content of this account is inappropriate is a HUGE understatement. My original endorsement of Insta as a good starter app for teaching our kids about their online footprint is by no means the same as saying it is without danger. Every online interaction, from email to Youtube to Insta to FB to Twitter and beyond is dangerous for your child. Your best chance at safely navigating is CONSTANT oversight and a team of likeminded parents who are also watching out for their kids and yours. I know I am beyond thankful every time I get an alert from another parent. We are all in this together, my friends.

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