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.