Here is a major problem that parents regularly struggle with today that was literally not in existence less than a decade ago: having trouble preparing children for an Instagram world.
It may sound trite or much ado about nothing if you do not currently have a child over the age of seven, but most parents of youngsters are discovering that there are multiple challenges with which they now have to contend that are the result of social media. Instagram, in particular, is one of the leading platforms that is causing such issues.
Numerous studies and in-depth articles have recently been published that reveal how serious and stressful these problems are. One key thing to be aware of is that Instagram is not a simple problem for parents at one particular point in time. Instead, many are finding that there are several key moments in their lives as parents when they have to grapple with the new and challenging Instagram world.
Parental Misuse of Social Media
Many assume that the biggest and perhaps only difficulty with respect to parenting in the age of social media is going to be the use of it by children. In fact, the root of the Instagram problem for children is very often squarely based on parental usage of social media.
Given how tech-savvy parents are today, many of them are regularly using social media. They are sometimes subtly and other times overtly modeling for their children that it is okay to have a lot of "screen time" in their lives. Demonstrating poor behavior with respect to social media and handheld devices sets children up for their own problems, and it undermines the ability of a parent to make and enforce rules for their children. Parents who are often on their devices and using Instagram need to seriously consider ways that they can change their parenting approach with respect to "screen time."
In addition to failing to model limited use of electronic devices and social media, many parents are also oversharing about their children using their own Instagram accounts in ways that could be harmful to them. Parents sometimes fail to recognize when it comes to Instagram that children are not like pets in that they often care about and even dislike how they are being portrayed online. Too many parents wrongly assume that the joyful sharing they are doing is having a positive impact on their kids. It is important to not overshare, and to also make sure that children are comfortable having photos of them posted for the world to see.
Instagram and Age Appropriateness
Just a decade-and-a-half ago, engaging with social media was something almost exclusively used by teenagers and young adults. It has only been in recent years that both older people, such as parents and grandparents, and younger ones, like children, have been using it as well. While it would have been unheard of a decade ago for an eight-year-old to ask for a Facebook account, it is now common for children that age and younger to be on social media, particularly on Instagram.
This presents a thorny challenge for many parents related to determining when a child is "Instagram-ready." There is no "right" answer in terms of what is the appropriate age for allowing one's child to start using Instagram, but there are several issues that all parents should consider.
- Peer group. Whether moms and dads decide to let their kids use social media or not, it does help to know what the deal is with their kids' peers. Talking to other parents helps. If few of them allow their children on Instagram, it could make the decision easier. Even if many of them do allow their kids to use it, having conversations about it with other relevant adults is key.
- Children going rogue. Even if a parent forbids a child from going on social media, he or she will probably find a way to use it anyway, especially if they have access to a phone or computer. Mine went as far recently to sign up for an automatic Instagram likes service. Parents should always be mindful of this, knowing that it might be easier to encourage better behavior if it is out in the open.
- Monitoring or censoring. When parents do think their children are ready for Instagram, they have to decide and be transparent about how they will monitor or censor their usage. Especially for younger children, parents should feel fine monitoring all usage every day. But it is important to know that some savvy kids can always hide some of their online behavior. Often, but not always, some of this can be limited by installing software that either monitors, limits, or censors social media usage.
- Setting rules. Regardless of whether usage is monitored, clear rules must be set and enforced. If Instagram usage or any other privilege is abused in any way, social media privileges should be suspended.
Social Media Presence as a Career Goal
This might sound insane to many, but children are increasingly looking up to "celebrities" that their parents have never heard of, stoking a desire to emulate their lifestyles. Whether on YouTube, Instagram, or nearly any other social media platform, there are numerous somewhat well-known and other lesser-known people making careers out of their online presence.
This might sound harmless, and in a lot of ways it is. However, children and teenagers are quite impressionable and easily distracted from focusing on difficult, but worthwhile, challenges such as school and working real jobs.
It is bad enough that parents have to worry about the problem of social media bullying, but they also have to be concerned about their children naively thinking that their online presence can lead them to fame and success. While it is of course true that in a few cases some people do make a living off of Instagram, it is generally not a realistic or worthwhile goal for kids to have in their heads.