I have to start this off by saying I went to college in an age before email (yes, we had color television, thank you). Having a cell phone was a luxury, which meant you actually had to be in your dorm room to get a phone call. So trust me, young people, when I say you can live without social media. But as a mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, I know how hard it can be to convince Gen Zers otherwise.
My parents were of the “because I said so” generation and didn’t spend a lot of time explaining why certain rules existed in our house. All I knew was that my curfew was early AF, and any dude who thought he was taking me on a date had to bring his dusty butt inside our house and look my daddy in the eye first.
But my husband and I decided to try a different approach with our kids, encouraging open dialogue. You get a cell phone in middle school (because who the hell are you calling before that?), social media apps can’t be dowloaded without our approval, and all technology is turned over to mom and dad before bed time. I laid this out for my daughter last summer before she started sixth grade, explaining that she should only be “friends” with family members or people she knew from school or extracurricular activities. I even explained that there are middle-aged weirdos out there pretending to be Ariana Grande fans just to prey on wide-eyed 12-year-olds who don’t know any better.
At the end of my speech, my daughter looked me in the eye and said, “I understand, mom.” And for a kid who rarely causes us any trouble, that was as good as a signed contract. So you can imagine the pearl-clutching that occurred when I discovered my daughter’s secret TikTok account loaded with videos and over 1500 friends. When confronted, my daughter doubled down telling my husband and I that our rules were too strict. I’ll spare you the details of my rant and just tell you that it ended with her losing phone and social media privileges for a time long enough to let her know we meant business. So you can imagine how done I was when just yesterday, we discovered yet another secret TikTok account with even more videos and “friends” she didn’t know. I still haven’t decided what to do about that one.
According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of teens say they’ve used TikTok, with 16 percent saying they use it almost constantly, so do I understand the “everybody’s doing it” argument. I use TikTok (reluctantly) to discover timesaving cleaning hacks and makeup tutorials that help me with my work. But I know that a twelve-year-old, who is still discovering her identity, could be setting herself up for a world of hurt. When success is all about clicks and likes, her popularity online could directly impact her self-esteem, something her father and I have been working really hard to nurture.
Social media can be a great way for teens and tweens to maintain connections with friends. But it can also leave them vulnerable to bullying and peer pressure. A 2019 study of over 6,500 American 12- to 15-year-olds revealed that those who spent more than three hours a day on social media could be at an increased risk for mental health issues. In this age of social media, schoolyard beefs don’t necessarily end when the school day is done. And the consequences can be extremely dangerous.
I know we’ll have to find a way to work with our kids to keep them safe online. And as much as I’d like to keep them unplugged until they turn 35, I know we’re going to have to find some sort of compromise that works for everyone. I guess that’s why my parents stuck with “because I said so.”