I’m not one of those dads who denies the advancement of technology. Especially when it comes to technology that accesses the Internet. In fact, I’m just the opposite. As a result, our daughters enjoy a range of devices that access various parts of the Internet. Granted, their macbook is armed to the teeth with restrictions in terms of how long they use the device, at what times, what kinds of sites they can access, what kind of content Google is allowed to return, etc. Overall I’d say our daughters are fairly safe. And they don’t lack for any Internet time.
Which brings me to Instagram. I started using Instagram last spring after some initial push-back. Now I think it’s a pretty cool social service for sharing photos – even though I don’t buy into using filters for everything. Despite the fact that filters do help make those compelling shots of grass in concrete look artistic. Anyway, I digress. A couple of months ago I noticed that one of my oldest daughter’s friends started following me there. At first I thought it was kind of cool – a great way for a child to ease into social. A few days later, another one of her friends followed. Then another. And another. And they started ‘liking’ things. And commenting. ON EVERYTHING. Even legacy shots.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate all of the likes for my pictures, as I’m sure that this positively affects my Klout score. It just troubles me how much these kids are online – most likely unsupervised. As soon as I post a picture, I can pretty much guarantee a couple of quick ‘likes’ and perhaps a comment or two from children. And that’s ok. But it’s not. I’m an adult. Sure, I’m Mr. Mitchem, but I’m also Jim. And not everything I post (whether on Instagram or Twitter or whatever) is meant for children. Not that I’m posting pictures of my package, or anything. I mean, I’m a safe follow for these kids. But what I post isn’t always contextually relevant to children. There’s no way they ‘get’ a lot of it. But nonetheless, they ‘like’ it.
I can’t ‘block’ these kids, as I understand that they’re learning the ropes and I don’t want to be responsible for squashing their confidence. Plus they’re my daughter’s friends. And it’s just Instagram – it’s not like they’re sitting on Facebook or Twitter surfing around all day. But it’s still an open platform. And that’s what concerns me. Plus, I know how highly addictive digital engagement can be. And I know that there are bad people out there just waiting to pounce on those who don’t know well enough to take care of themselves online.
I feel like my kids have enough access to the Internet, and digital media, without the need to be part of social media. I don’t feel like I’m limiting them in any way. So neither of them are on Instagram. I just don’t feel like they’re ready for the world of online relationships. Hell, they can barely manage the relationship they have with each other at this point in their lives. But, I can’t force my protective nature onto other parents. That’s not the purpose of this post. Although I’m sure I’ll end up ruffling some feathers.
UPDATE: December 2012
Both of my daughters are now on Instagram. I gave in earlier this year. Our youngest (9) barely uses it, but our oldest (11) is flourishing in her little social network that includes her old friends from elementary school, and her new friends from middle school. Granted, I put strict rules on how they each use the service. For example, both girls have private accounts and either me or my wife have to approve anyone who requests to follow them, and also who they follow. I still firmly believe that a child’s foray into any social media channel requires that parents maintain something like control. Children have enough drama in their own real life social circles to throw the hyper-connectivity of digital networking at them. And as most of us who have been around the block with Twitter and Facebook et al. know, connectivity can be pretty addictive. I realize that digital social networking is not going away and I’ve had mostly pleasant experiences since 2008 with my own use of it – but kids are different. They still need supervision before they’re set free to engage there. And besides, it’s more important that children play in real sandboxes – outside in the sunshine – without staring into a device. If you’re going to allow your kids to use Instagram – please set up firm rules. And then stick to them. And then tell your kids to put down the damn phone and go outside and play anyway.
9 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Sep 7, 2011
Once again, another insightful post. As an adman and a father of four, I’ve encountered the same problem: Your children’s friends follow you, and all seems well. But then you want to post something for a more mature audience, and you think, “Is this appropriate?”
So, I adjust my privacy settings accordingly.
One thing you’ll discover as they get older: The frequency of their likes and comments fades. And by the time they’re 13, they’ll be tweaking THEIR privacy settings so that you only see what they want you to see.
Funny how the tables turn.
Sep 7, 2011
I’ve been wanting some kind of “who sees which” option for Instagram for some time. I usually put up artwork and calligraphy, and some of it tends towards the dark and disturbing. I was surprised recently by an 11-year old girl who asked me to write her name. I visited her IG stream and she’d been posting chat screens with her friends, last names blurred but with avatars intact. I didn’t know how to tell her not to do that because she was compromising not just her privacy, but her friends’.
Sep 7, 2011
You have a great perspective on kids and technology. Those of us who are technology friendly know where the potential problem areas are, but so may parents don’t have a clue and they mindlessly allow their kids to go and do without supervision or boundaries.
Sep 7, 2011
I have the same problem with my younger nephews who are on Facebook. For some reason their parents thought it was okay for kids under 13 to be on. I personally did not like the idea and what I do is monitor them and what they post. If I see something out of line, I will send a note to their parents telling them to talk to them. At times I have wanted to tell their parents to delete their accounts, but I am not sure they understand my reasons. I think one thing you touched upon was the fact that kids are just learning how to build relationships in real life and I don’t think they understand how on-line relationships work. I have witnessed how adults have berated eachother on-line and would hate to see my nephews go through that. I also have to censor some of my friends and let them know that since I do have my nephews on Facebook, they need to watch what they write to me when I make a comment intended for adults. This is a great post and one I will share with my friends. Regards from Puerto Rico!
Feb 25, 2012
Jim: Thanks for writing an article about this. My 5th grader asked if he could get on instagram a few weeks ago. I checked it out and figured out I could make his profile private and he could block “followers”. Of course, he would not use his real name thus thinking it was safe and innocent. He was interested in following his friends from school many of which are on Instagram so we set it up. Another part of the agreement was that I would read the posts everyday. Within a week of being on Instagram I was shocked and speechless. He accumulated several followers all of which were 5th graders at his school. Very few of these kids had their profile marked private so it is wide open to any child predator looking for their next victim. In addition, they were using their real names, giving their ages, where they lived, who their friends were, and in some cases, where they went to school. It became apparent to me that many of these kids parents did not know their kids are on this social networking site based on the posts from these kids. There was foul language, posts with sexual undertones from 11 year old girls, and reposts of inappropriate pictures. Needless to say, I know a lot about the kids he goes to school with by reading their posts – both good and bad. It will not be long before we are reading headlines about an abduction and assault or murder on a child that a predator found off instagram. My son is no longer on this site.
May 4, 2012
Hi Jim, I just wrote a post about this same thing yesterday. I am on Instagram as well and had been looking through my contact list to find friends also on the site. A friend of my daughter showed up so I started looking around. I found a ton of other classmates and was amazed at how many were not marked private. They used their real names and some of the kids, mostly boys, posted several inappropriate things in re: to language and sexual content. I felt obligated to write my post to parents letting them know the dangers of this outlet media for young kids.
The potential for danger here is alarming. I’m
glad to see another parent with the same views. Everyday I feel like a fish swimming against the current but I believe with my whole heart that I am doing the right thing.
(My daughter will be thirteen in August and she does NOT have a phone. Nor are there plans to get one.)
Jun 4, 2012
I just unplugged this past weekend to reconnect with my inner kid. I feel like a lot of magical moments have been lost to me, an over 40 year old. I can’t imagine how many fun summer memories might have been wiped from my history if I had all the ways to connect that kids do today.
You’ve made me think. If my kids do as I do and not as I say, and if I continue to stay constantly plugged in, they will also learn to stare at screens instead of actually communicating with people. I think I need to do some unplugging… for all of our sakes.
Jun 4, 2012
Online ‘exclusion games’ spark worry among parents, expertsmaxiherna.eu | maxiherna.eu
May 1, 2013
[…] All crony requests and requests to follow their accounts go by Mom or Dad before being approved. […]
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