Do you ever feel overwhelmed thinking about social media, phones and your daughter? If you said yes, you are not alone!
We know now – from incoming research – that social media can have a significant impact our girls’ lives. Findings show it can negatively impact our children’s focus, learning, quality of friendships and mental health, amongst other things.
As parents, there will inevitably come a time when we need to think about our own choices for our girls. When will we get her a phone? What social media will she have and how will we prepare her?
Everyone’s path will look a bit different because let’s face it – every one of our girls is unique – with different levels of emotional regulation, awareness, impulse control and maturity. And because every family is different – with different routines, values and rhythms.
Yet despite our differences, many of the realities we face as parents and girls are also the same. Which is why I wanted to share my own personal story with my daughter. I hope in some way it might serve as a reflection for you as you navigate your own journey!
My kids, like most kids today, have had technology at home ever since they were tiny. I still can picture my daughter at age 4, standing in the kitchen where the ipad was stuck onto the fridge with a magnet, singing her ABC’s and playing a peppa pig game!
Technology will always be part of our girls’ lives and we are aware that as our girls grow so too does the complexity and challenges of technology.
So when our eldest came to us at 10 and asked, “hey mum, when am I going to get a phone?” we knew it was the start of a whole new era!
I often get asked how we didn’t cave into the demands for a phone earlier.
And part of it was in our philosophy towards getting a phone.
Basically we said, “Not yet, in a few years. But you know, before you can get it, it’s really important to us that we know you are ready .. so we would like to start chatting about some of the tricky things that come with phones, over the next year, so we know you will have the skills to handle it when you do get it”.
This moment really started many many conversations. Some quick questions in the car on the way to school – others in-depth (and sometimes passionate) discussions.
Here are some of the things we covered over that time:
🌸 We talked about her feed and the algorithm. Every post our girls like, every account she follows gives Instagram information about her that will determine what she is fed in the future. For example, if she likes a dog post Instagram will show more of that. If she likes (or even looks at) more problematic content that too can begin to appear more often on her feed! Helping our girls be conscious of the way that social media is designed is super important to be able to help them have some level of control over their feed. A documentary you may want to watch on this topic is the Social Dilemma (although I recommend you watch it first to assess if it is the right time/fit for your family and daughter).
🌸 We found accounts together that made her laugh, inspired and taught her something.
It’s so easy to know if a post uplifts us or brings us down – all we need to do is to pay attention to how we feel watching it!
Sometimes I would sit with my daughter and scroll through my feed with her to show her examples of things that uplift me or show her accounts and people who I loved and who taught me something or inspired me.
Make a list of accounts that promote positive things e.g. mental health, cultural diversity, body positivity that you think she would like and share them with her.
Also think of topics she might like to learn more about on Insta. e.g. basketball, crochet, art, travel, food and make a list.
🌸 We encouraged her to practice putting her phone down and doing things she loves.
Our girls’ brains need practice building healthy habits and self-regulation. We helped her think of new hobbies and keep up old hobbies or routines that would help support her later when she needed a tech-break, like going to the gym, sitting outside and crocheting on the porch or reading. The older our girls get this can be harder to maintain so using the preteen years especially 8-10 is a great time to keep up these habits.
🌸 We began exploring the idea of a trusted tribe of followers (quality over quantity).
The moment our girls get Instagram they will want to start adding followers. It is so easy for our girls to see number of followers and likes as a mark of popularity and worth.
But adding anyone to her account can bring more issues than value. Not every ‘friend’ is the same. Not every friend will support her in the same way.
Help her think about what kind of friends she wants in her community online. No one wants a friend who hates on their posts or share them with others without her permission. Get her to add people she has built trust with in real life.
Today almost 1 year into my daughter having Insta, she still has chosen to add only three dozen into her ‘tribe’. A number which makes sense. How many girls realistically have 1000 ‘trusted’ individuals in their lives at 13?
🌸 We asked her to consider what she’d do if she was in different scenarios.
Over the course of a year I opened up discussion organically asking her ‘hey what about this scenario – what would you do?’ And let her think it out. I sometimes showed her on my phone what she could do and talked to her about other people or myself and what they/I did in that same situation.
The reality was that as she got older – around 12 – just before she got Instagram, she began to find it harder in social situations to be the only one without it. Her friends were all on Tik-tok, Snapchat and Instagram. The first thing a new friend would say to her was “let’s be friends on Insta. What’s your Insta handle?” At school, in breaks or going out she would struggle when everyone was looking at their phones or feed or doing Tik Tok dances. And many of them stopped wanting to do old hobbies anymore; so the social thread of connection changed significantly.
The challenge of this lived experience opened up the topic of peer pressure, social norms and technology: We asked her, “what would you do if you were not tagged on a post? Or you saw a photo of a party you weren’t invited to?” “What would you do if a friend shared something personal of yours on social media or sent you something inappropriate?”
🌸 We set up expectations around keeping connected.
The instagram journey isn’t always smooth and like learning to use a car, needs some period of adaptation or “L” plates if you like, to ensure she has the right skills and guidance to use it well. So leading into my daughter having Insta one of the biggest things we did was talk about ‘rules’ or ‘expectations’ moving forward.
Here were five (of several) guidelines we agreed on:
1. We are in this together. Challenges will come no doubt and we will tackle them side by side as they arise along the way. Always being honest and transparent.
2. To keep her safe to start with we would set up parental controls (from within Instagram) This helped us know about her general activity – adding friends, new followers, sensitive content.
3. Every now and then I would do a regular check in: both asking her how she was going and doing a quick scan over her messages and feed to see there were no big red flags (e.g. violent, overly s@xual content or inappropriate messaging).
4. To help her get the best experience of Instagram (and protect her from negative body messages) we agreed she would follow only a small number of beauty accounts – following accounts that were diverse, educational and inspiring.
5. There would be no downloading of new accounts or apps without my permission (via apple). If she wanted a new app we’d chat about it face to face first.
Preparing our girls for social media is an ongoing journey and doesn’t stop when she finally has her account! But by having this wonderful period of time over 2 years to converse we were able to set her up with some awareness and practiced having honest and open family conversations.
If you feel like you are behind or have already given your daughter social media please know – it is never too late to stop, pivot and have more conversations!
👉🏻Want more help setting her up and helping prepare her? Or want to make a pivot? Book a coaching session with me and I can help you make a plan moving forward! I love supporting parents on this journey and it really is a small investment to do it right 🙂