Zak: “Mum, can I have an Instagram account? Pleeeaaase?”
Me: “No absolutely not.”
Zak: “But whyyy??” (sad face) “all my friends are on it, I’m the only one left out!”
This conversation is repeated at least three times a week between my son and I. The conversation always continues with him quite correctly pointing out that I am forever uploading pictures to my own Instagram account and questioning why is it ok for me and not for him. He may have a point but then again he is ten years old and he always has a point these days *rolls eyes*.
I love social media and in particular I love Instagram. I like uploading photographs and sharing snapshots to create a story of my life – after all a picture tells a thousand words. Instagram delivers instant gratification – snap a shot with my phone, choose a filter, add some hashtags and upload. I get a little buzz each time someone ‘hearts’ my pictures or likes them enough to actually follow my account. Equally enjoyable, is browsing through other people’s pictures – it’s a bit like looking through little windows into their lives for a brief moment and that really appeals to someone as nosey as myself. So then, if it is all so lovely and enjoyable, why the double standard? Why do I object to my son having an account?
Aside from the fact that Instagram is supposed to be for age 13+ (when has that ever mattered to a wannabe teen?) and the obvious concerns over privacy, explicit content and and stranger danger, it’s a self-esteem issue. Let me explain… Whilst I am a self-confessed Instafan, I am also mature enough to know that what I’m seeing is only an airbrushed snapshot of what that person wants you to see. We are all basically just promoting our lives in a “perfect” light, showcasing our beautiful children and sharing our witty anecdotes in a modern day version of keeping up with the Insta-Jones’s. However, I know that behind every beautiful shot of my perfectly clean, happy, smiling, adorable baby is a pile of shitty nappies and vomit covered clothes that I need to sort out, not to mention that it has probably taken at least twenty minutes of snapping my fingers and making “coochy-coochy-coo” noises to get her to look at the camera. So I’m under no illusions that what I’m seeing from others is also fake reality.
Passive consumption of our Instagram feeds has the power to suck us out of the real world and into an unrealistic, airbrushed, parallel dimension that can make you feel inferior. If you aren’t careful, watching other people live their apparently beautiful/glamorous/sexy lives can really emphasize feelings of loneliness and even depression. If, as an adult I sometimes feel this way, how much more so are children likely to feel it amongst an already competitive peer group? In my mind, seeing everybody showcase their so-called “perfect” lives would do absolutely nothing for my son’s self-esteem at an already vulnerable and impressionable time in his life. More than likely it will trigger a state of envy and resentment not to mention leave the door wide open for cyber bullying. In my day (oh God I sound so old!) if you were being bullied it would stop at the school gates or if you were really unlucky, when you got off the school bus. Now with the rise of technology it can go everywhere with kids. Anyone can leave nasty comments in a relatively anonymous manner.
When I asked Zak what types of pictures his friends were posting, he replied “mainly just selfies and stuff”. They’re ten for God’s sake! You couldn’t have paid me to have my picture taken at that age. All this selfie taking must surely be making them even more image obsessed and lead to children being increasingly self-conscious? Despite all the obvious downsides to kids being on Instagram, I still find it to be a difficult balance to get right as a parent. I don’t want Zak to be singled out as different or feel socially isolated because all his friends are communicating via their Instagram feeds. At the same time, it is my job to protect him at what is such a sensitive age. It’s a constant struggle as a parent and one which I know I will eventually lose as he gets into his teens.
What do you think? Do you think it’s fine for kids to use Instagram? Am I being unreasonable, or do you think as parents we should make sure they are kept away from it for as long as possible? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what is an extremely tricky parenting topic but one we must inevitably all face.