Yesterday the 10-year-old daughter of a friend of mine asked me when I thought her mum should allow her to have Instagram.
The first thing I did was ask her why she wanted to be on it. She said that all her friends were already on it and that when they talked about things they saw and shared, she felt left out.
Don’t you remember that feeling? I so utterly get that. It’s that feeling of being out of the loop. Not part of the conversation. Not in on the joke.
But here’s what I said to her about Instagram (and every other social media platform).
I said that what we know is that Instagram (and most other social media platforms) are not great for our brains. And that they are highly, highly addictive.
I said that just like every adult I know who still smokes and is trying desperately to give up, (nearly) every adult I know is trying desperately to spend less time on their phones and on social media.
I said that while I TOTALLY understood that desire to stay in the loop that she needed to think about how joining Instagram she’d be trading one set of problems for another set of problems.
LISTEN: Robin and Bec discuss social media rules… Post continues after audio.
Suddenly every time she logs on she’ll be confronted with every party, every outing, every get-together she wasn’t invited to. And she’ll have to constantly remind herself when she’s looking at her friends’ photos that it’s their highlights reel — especially on those days when she feels her most fragile or lonely or blah.
I said that she’ll have the rules her mum and dad set her about who she can follow or friend and when she can log on. But there’ll be a whole other set of often unspoken rules that her friends make. You can’t look “up yourself’, can’t look like you’re bragging or showing off or trying too hard. All that type of thing.
And of course, she'll have to have really good judgement about what she posts and what she LIKES and how she responds to all manner of things in her feed. Every like, every share, every mean-spirited off-hand comment become part of your online legacy.
Your behaviour online (and your history of behaviour online) is on the list of what future employers look at. Your choices online tell the world what you stand for which is a lot to ask of a tween or teen.
But most of all I said that as she goes into high school I would like to see her living her life with both hands. Swimming. Bike riding. Rock climbing. Knitting. Sewing. Baking. Playing netball or basketball or hockey or rugby or soccer. Building. Sculpting. Painting. Singing. Dancing. Writing. Composing. Playing guitar or piano or violin.
You can spend your days creating and doing OR you can spend your days looking down at your phone, obsessing over likes and viewing every moment, every interaction as to how it can best be curated for Instagram.
Social media is highly addictive. It has a habit of white-anting our lives when we don't have strong boundaries in place.
And it has a tendency to leave us feeling miserable.
Wait, I said. Wait. Trust me.
You can buy Bec Sparrow's book Ask Me Anything (heartfelt answers to 65 anonymous questions from teenage girls) here.
Rebecca Sparrow is the author of Ask Me Anything (heartfelt answers to 65 anonymous questions from teenage girls) and Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I'd known in high school). She co-hosts the award-winning health and happiness podcast The Well with Robin Bailey and #TeamGirls in 10 - a podcast specifically designed for mothers and daughters. Each year Bec talks to thousands of school students about friendship, resilience and giving back. She is a proud ambassador of Givit.org.au, The Pyjama Foundation and #TeamGirls.