As a parent of a middle schooler, I have a lot of thoughts about what the struggles this year will look like. My son just entered 8th grade, and we have chosen to keep him social media free. So far, we have even kept him cell phone free. We do allow him to have some technology, so he is not a complete luddite. Last year, the desire for a phone and social media were our biggest struggles and my son’s biggest point of peer pressure.
The Brain Game
Recently, Psychology Today published an article about why middle schoolers are not ready for social media. The article was actually reprinted and distributed in our school newsletter! Brilliant, SMS staff! Reading the article reinforced our choices for our son, and for the moment he is content being off the grid. The way the article explains the neurological development and the design of social media are superb and a huge reason why we have chosen to keep it away from our teen. Just knowing that the midbrain is underdeveloped at this age, and that addictive centers are triggered with social media and technology, is concerning.
Learning the Hard Way
I have several strong reasons why I have chosen to keep my son social media free. When my son was in 5th grade, we moved to St. Augustine. About the same time, I purchased a new phone and gave the old one to my son. I also agreed to an Instagram account with the logic that he could stay connected to his dad and friends in WV. This was a very short-lived decision.
Very quickly, I learned about the rabbit hole of hashtags. One evening, he was looking through some photos under the #fl (short for Florida, right)? The algorithm pulled up some inappropriate images, to say the least. Minimizing the damage and discussing adult topics is always difficult for a parent, and knowing what he was exposed to also caused MAJOR mom guilt. I am grateful he came to me immediately so we could disable the access and discuss the situation. The truth was, no matter how quickly he was removed from the situation, the damage was done. There is no turning back from the images that he saw.
Bullying is another factor in our decision making. Numerous articles are published showing how children have been bullied on social media, are dealing with major depressive issues, and how some have even resulted in suicide. I know the thought of “that could never happen to us” is a piece of the puzzle. However, in our home not allowing the opportunity to arise is the best option. I also do not want my son’s “social” status to be determined by the number of friends he has on the world wide web. I want him to build authentic relationships where he can determine who shares his values and are working toward similar goals. Social media is an outlet where we are rewarded for sharing only what we want others to see. And, often judgments are based on that shared material – not on personal connection.
As adults, we are aware of the power of social media. We all have felt the time suck social media can be; we have felt emotional about others’ posts, and we have compared ourselves to others. It takes a lot of emotional maturity to have a 100% healthy relationship with social media. The ability to actually “disable” our accounts is also a bit elusive. Over a year later, I am still receiving emails from Twitter trying to entice me back. Social media is designed to attract us and keep us “using.” Once we become a user, there is no turning back.