It’s hard to admit it but I had my head buried in the sand. I’m talking social media. My daughter is 11 and in a 5/6 composite class. She was in grade 5 but will be in grade 6 now. She has been asking me for Instagram for years. All of her friends have it. I have said we will talk about it when she is in high school. Early into grade 5 though, she started talking about musical.ly – an app where you sing songs and can share them with your friends. Everyone had it except her.
I said yes we can have a look at it. It became her favourite thing in the world. It was all any of the girls wanted to do or talk about. Make funny dances up, sing to songs and ‘like’ each other’s performances. Everyone really did have it so I said she could keep it and was very clear that her account had to be private.
I sat through watching those clips she would so buoyantly show me so many times thinking, ‘I really don’t like this, it feels so off,’ but I was taken by her enthusiasm and did not want to take something off her she loved so much. I also didn’t want her to feel left out or like she didn’t fit in. She actually said, ‘if I don’t do these things then I will be too different. I will miss out on all of the talking with my friends.’ I understood that feeling. Not wanting to be left alone. The dag.
Then one day an 18-year-old friend came over and asked me ‘why is she is on there?’ She told me of her experience of these platforms and the sexual energy that underpins them with young girls and boys singing and dancing to very explicit rap songs and mimicking the very suggestive movements of the pop stars. They then often share these publically. The average age of a user is under 12.
We looked through her account. Months after she opened it we realised she had it not set to private. A private account is only seen by friends (a limited audience), so she had opened it up to get more likes. This is by design, the psychological hook of the app, which is like a children’s own ‘top 100 charts’ with them as the stars. Kids only become ‘famous’ on musical.ly if their accounts are public. And so she had turned the private setting to ‘off’ and on her account we discovered that there was indeed a comment from a pedophile.
Even though I knew it felt wrong I was going with the notion that everyone had it and this is ‘the generation’ and you can’t hide from it, she will have to learn…but learn what? That taking dead photos of yourself and sharing them is cool? That the abusive way kids speak and swear to each other on these platforms and at school is normal? What a whack of irresponsibility I had to face. Not anymore. I am so grateful our friend spoke to me about her experience of these platforms and got me to look a bit deeper and trust what my feelings had been from the start.
The interesting thing was when I took them off her iPad she didn’t protest. She was upset of course because it was a link-way to her friends, but she did not refuse, no tantrum, we had a long conversation about it and in her I could feel almost a relief, a ‘thanks mum, you finally got it.’ When I wrote to her teacher about it he said ‘Snap Chat is one of the most dangerous sites for kids to be on. So many of them are on there.’
End point – I will trust myself and how things feel and will not give myself or in this case my daughter away to what everyone else is doing or to ‘the generation’ argument ever again. I will show her and all of the kids around us that they are worth so much more than that. That is the role model I want to be.
By Kate Robson
Photograph by Shannon Everest
The recently held Girl To Woman Festival hosted a specific Workshop for Parents to discuss what is happening for young people on Social Media and to look at ways they can truly support their kids to be safe online. A Social Media support group for parents will be launched shortly. Subscribe to the newsletter to learn more.