“Will my kids miss out if I do not give them social media?” I get this question at almost every one of my conferences. As parents, it is heartbreaking to think of our children being left behind. The struggle of fitting in seems to start earlier and earlier. By the end of elementary school groups are forming, certain friend circles are established, then middle school hits. Identity formation begins. Teens begin looking for friend groups to identify with. Fitting in, being seen, and feeling as if they are a part of something becomes paramount.
Research tells us this desire to connect and be a part of friend groups leads to many social media fueled missteps. Devices, apps and social media platforms provide grossly under monitored, unfiltered access for tweens and teens to reach out for acceptance when they cannot meet their needs within their own immediate friend groups.
Teens use the platforms to connect with one another. Why? Because it FEELS easier. A few filtered pictures, attention grabbing videos, and comments that can be made in less than 10 seconds can provide a sense of fitting in. Especially when face to face conversations still feel so hard and sticky. The response that is received on videos, pictures, and under comments can be either hurtful or uplifting. Either way, it begs the teen to return to chase the fleeting feeling of being seen and heard. And with 90 percent of kids over the age of eight…yes eight…having access to a device or social media platform, this way of connecting has become their way of life. However, it is wrought with problems.
So back to our original question. What are your kids missing out on if they do not have social media? Will they be left out? The incredibly short and hard answer to accept is yes. With 90 percent of children sitting in this space, unless as parents we come together and collectively decide as one that our youth simply will not have access until a certain age, this is the reality that our children are facing. They will miss out on Snapchat conversations between friends. They will miss out on knowing where their friends are and what they are doing. They will miss out on parties and get togethers. Some kids will miss out on conversations between teammates if they are on a team that encourages social media as a way to communicate.
Now, let’s look at the other side of what they are missing out on if they don’t have access to social media. They will be missing out on pornography access. Instagram drama between friends. Ridiculous and sometimes dangerous Tik Tok trends. Predator access. Addictive gaming behaviors. Body image issues. Cyberbullying. Tech addictions. False connectivity. Ghosting. Access to platforms that rob our children’s innocence.
So it begs the question…is it worth it? I am not naive enough to think that teens will, or should never, have access. This does not serve them either. But allowing our young children and teens untethered access does not serve them. It DOES rob them of a childhood. It does force them into a situation where the body and mind have to dance between the intrinsic desires to be a kid, and the forced idea that they should be a part of an incredibly adult space…because everyone else is.
So where is the balance? Do we let them feel the pain of being left out or do we allow access that can truly strip their childhood away from them, something that is so precious and that they are truly entitled to. They have but one chance to be little. To be innocent. To feel the freedom and wonder that comes with this innocence. Shouldn’t we protect that as long as we can?
After doing this for many years, I feel a certain way about our youth and protecting the space they are in. To me, being left out feels like such a small price to pay to shield them from all of the adult spaces they will have to navigate the rest of their lives. How amazing would it be if all parents felt the same way? What if we come together and say NO MORE. Our kids are worth it. Their sweet, precious, care-free childhood hopes and dreams are worth a few missed conversations. A few skipped parties. What if we, as parents, made it so incredibly uncool to allow social media to rob them of that time? Maybe, just maybe, they really would not be missing out at all.
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.