As parents we watch our children struggle. To make friends, to find their voice, to find their way. This is a normal part of the growing up process. But today's heavily driven social media landscape has changed the way our children interact with one another. So I think it begs the question, if we deny them access, are there consequences?
One of my sons is incredibly social. Has no problem being in a group of people. He lives for the next adventure and always wants to be in the center of everything. His FOMO is real. My other son is the complete opposite. He is a one on one kid. Big groups are not his thing and make him feel uncomfortable. And while he manages them well, he always needs down time after. A moment to recover from what seems to be an overstimulation of his entire system. Recently he managed to create a Snapchat account, download it, and hide it on his phone. (yes...these things happen in my house...because teenagers are smart and crafty and...well...teenagers.) I found it and we had a long conversation, again, about why I am not ok with him having Snap Chat or Tik Tok. He shrugged it off and we moved on. What I DID notice was that in the small amount of time that he had the account, he already had a few hundred "friends". My kid, who doesn't love large groups, who has a hard time with the big energy it sometimes takes to be a part of these groups...now had hundreds of kids from school that he was talking to. Regularly. He has instagram and is allowed to text. But the other kids never reached out there. But it was an immediate follow and subsequent conversations on Snapchat.
Which became the catalyst for some pretty in depth thought on social media connections. Can social media be used as an outlet for kids that have trouble making connections? Also, are we holding back or hurting the kids that have trouble by not allowing them access to this medium. This is truly the space they are sitting in. My son and I had a conversation about this. I asked him if he felt he had more "friends" when he is on snap chat than when he doesn't have it. I also wanted to understand why he thought kids are not using instagram as much. He told me that Snap Chat is easy. It is a "one stop shop" where you can do messages, videos, and pictures. I also believe that the disappearing nature of the app, while being able to do all of those other things, is also a part of the appeal. He denies this, but most kids will. While he had the app he felt comfortable reaching out and talking to other kids he did not feel comfortable talking to in person. Kids also reached out to him that had not done so before. With this comes a sense of belonging. Which is a huge part of the process as a teenager. Feeling like you are seen, heard, and belong is everything to a teen. He then said that it helped him to be more comfortable so when he did see other kids at school, they had more to talk about. The proverbial "door to communication" was already opened on another platform so in person it was just easier. If you are in sales you know that a "warm call" is better than a "cold call". Meaning if you have spoken on the phone before you meet with someone, the conversation is much easier than if you just show up unannounced.
As a parent, this is where we feel the peer pressure to allow our children to have social media. We do not want them to be left out of their peer group. It is an incredibly overwhelming and valid feeling. The underlying problem is access. If our children only had access to one another. If the accounts and platforms could be monitored with 100 percent certainty, then this would not be an issue. Unfortunately this is not the case. It has become a risk versus reward situation. Are the risks we take in giving our kids access to cyberbullying, predators and porn worth the rewards they will get in friendship connections? Ideally we want to encourage them to have the hard face to face conversations. Face to face confrontations, or conversations....and the ensuing awkwardness that comes with it...is part of what helps to shape our children's mental and social growth. Social media has given teens an out, a work around if you will. They can avoid the uncomfortable "cold call". The weirdness of struggling through initial conversations. This continues to have consequences that show up later in forms of zero conflict resolution skills, and the ability to easily "ghost" any situation when it gets hard. The real problem is, parents that with hold social media from their kids in order to protect them are fighting the masses that do not with hold. And so the viscous cycle continues. We can not put the toothpaste back in the tube. Social media will never go away. Teens will always have access to it. The landscape will continue to get larger with future generations.
So the real question is, can with holding social media hurt your child? What does more damage? With holding or allowing access? Risk versus reward. I continue to sit in the space of the risk is too great. Kids want to be kids. If they are allowed the space to be kids, they will be. This has been proven time and time again in our own home. When all devices and media are removed, after the initial anger, they revert to age appropriate activities. Basketball with friends. Baseball in the yard. Playing with the dogs. Walking around the neighborhood with friends. There is a wealth of research that supports this, but it only take a few days in your home to see exactly what I am talking about. Remove the devices and watch what happens. It is our responsibility to make sure they have access to a child hood...free of worry about social media responsibilities. Free of predators and porn. They are entitled to a free child hood full of friends. Laughter. Late summer nights. Going to football games. Having sleep overs. Building forts. Riding bikes. Gymnastics in the backyard. They are entitled to weird, hard conversations with one another. Fights that are resolved face to face. I do not have an easy answer. I do know that we keep showing up. We continue to protect them the best that we can. And if you are struggling, please know that there are many others struggling for answers with you.