It's lonely being the parent who goes against the grain, but here's why you should do it anyway.
My 12-year-old has been asking me if she can have her own Instagram account all summer.
I told her I would think about it — after all, she doesn’t have a phone yet, so any instagramming would have to happen from my phone, with my supervision. I would see responses and things she was tagged in. It would be a good way to introduce her to the world of social media while still keeping it locked down and under control.
At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. I tried to talk myself into it, I really did. But yesterday as she was getting ready for a back to school bash, I watched her put her hair into ponytail after ponytail, examining each one critically before sighing in disgust and tearing them down to start all over. Right then and there I decided that no, she wasn’t getting her own Instagram account — even though literally all of her friends have one.
I hate being the “no” mom, because she’s the one who has to live with the consequences. Her friends look at her like she’s sprouted an extra head when she tells them that no, she doesn’t have a phone, or Instagram, or Snapchat. She gets left out of games and group texts and goofy Snapchats, and I hate it for her. I hate that she’s being left out, and I hate that it’s because I’ve said no. Over at Her View From Home, Whitney Fleming wrote a post on this exact feeling — the loneliness that comes with being the mom who says no:
It’s lonely when you are the mom saying no in a world that always seem to say yes. It’s not only about social media. It might be about curfews or sleepovers or Fortnite. And being the only mom to say no — regardless of how right you are — can come with consequences for your tween and teen.
A friend of a junior in high school called me during prom season to say she was the only parent out of 20 kids who said her daughter couldn’t attend a co-ed sleep over, so the group dropped her off early so as not to disrupt their plans. Another friend said she was ostracized for not allowing her 16-year-old son go to Mexico for spring break without any adults.
It’s a delicate balancing act, raising big kids. You want them to be independent, yet one mistake can change the trajectory of their lives. You want your son or daughter to be accepted by their peers, but not at the expense of risking safety. You want them to become trustworthy, but sometimes you know they can’t yet be trusted.
Ultimately, my decision not to let Sienna have an Instagram account was for two reasons: first, I want to protect her from the perfect-body-perfect-face pressure that comes with viewing the world through airbrushes and filters. The pressure is already high for teenage girls — it was high for me, and that was before social media even existed. Instagram acts like a pressure cooker, ramping up the intensity of social expectations and creating a much greater disconnect between reality and staged perfection than the fashion magazines that dominated my teenage years.
Second, I don’t want to give her temptations that I know she’s not ready for. Whether that’s the temptation to look at things she shouldn’t look at or the temptation to fall in with the mean girls of Instagram, shaming others to make herself feel better, these are not battles she’s prepared to fight yet. She needs time to develop and strengthen her character and space to figure out who she is and be confident in herself before she’ll be ready to face those temptations.
I hate that she has to pay the price socially for my no, but at the same time I know it’s a smaller price than the one she might pay if I said yes. And that’s a tradeoff I’m more than willing to take — no matter how lonely it feels for both of us.
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