Parents: A Follow up Word on Instagram

This is an update to my previous post, Parents: A Word about Instagram. I originally shared this post with my friends over yonder at Patheos. They have a pretty cool site that you should check out. But, now that you’re here, feel free to stick around and see what parents and teens had to say about identity and Instagram.

Um. Wow. I had NO idea the last post would hit such a nerve, but I’m so thankful some very important conversations have stemmed from it!

Thank you for all of your feedback, comments, suggestions, and shares. It’s humbling, to say the least.

A few things:

One resounding comment I heard was, “This topic isn’t just for middle schoolers.”

You’re absolutely right.

The topic is for everyone.

It’s human nature to always be on the lookout for someone/something to validate us; social media just happens to be our current medicine of choice. (Don’t pretend like you haven’t been disappointed when people didn’t think your status update was as funny as you thought it was.)

The difference is that we as adults should have the ability to keep it in perspective. It’s a little harder for our middle schoolers who tend to see black and white. Numbers don’t lie, right?

Some have asked, “What’s the deal with Instagram? Don’t our kids do the same on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Vine?”

Yes. 100 times yes. I brought up Instagram specifically because that’s what most of our middle school kids are on, but it doesn’t matter what social site it is. The temptation and tendency to get caught up in the number game is always present.

I have to confess that as I was writing the last post I thought, “My 6th graders are going to hate me. They’re going to think I’m trying to out them to their parents.”

The reaction I got was quite the opposite.

Here’s a comment I got from a middle school girl:

“I am a 13 year old girl in 7th grade. My mom showed me the thing you wrote about instagram. I really enjoyed it and took a lot from what you said. … I think what you did was great an I hope that a lot of parents will show that to their kids because it was true and made me think about it from a whole new perspective. I will admit I am guilty of many of the things you talked about, but after I read it, it made me not care anymore. Thank you for what you did and hopefully many other teens will take stuff from it too.”

And another:

“I’m 13 years old, and I wish that other kids my age would read this. I have an Instagram, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it, because honestly, it makes me feel bad. The popular kids always have to most followers, they always have the most likes,and sometimes I think that the only reason they actually post “selfies” is for reasurance and for the comments saying things like “You’re so pretty!!” Thank you for writing this. I hope it opens up more parents eyes to what kids are posting on the internet, and the real reason they are posting these things.

Ok and maybe one more. From my new friend, Courtney:

im 14 and in 8th grade. I read what you wrote.. it made me realize I have part of ny identity invested in social media. not in where it should be, which is The Lord! it showed me where my priorities should actually be at. thank you so much.”

Courtney even went on to suggest a future post for me about a different social site. (!!!)

I want to repeat that last sentence about 5 times because it is the very reason I’m passionate about these conversations.

Courtney, age 14, suggested additional material for me to talk about with you, her parents.

She wants you to know, but she may not be the one to tell you. She wants you to be in the loop and understand the pressure she and her friends can feel. She wants your advice and craves your guidance, despite the 137 eye rolls.

So…how does that work?

Well, if you read the first post and got panicky, go back through and read the comments. Those mommas/dads/youth ministers have some excellent, practical advice.

In fact, can I just share a few of their thoughts with you?

Here are some things they mentioned:

1. Evaluate the example you are setting.

One mom is spot on:

“I think so many of these kids are following in their mothers’ footsteps. The difference is that moms do it on Facebook. They post selfies when they’ve gotten their hair done or are in some outfit that they think makes them look especially skinny. … It’s worth noting that our daughters have seen our FB pages and have watched us take vain selfies, and they are just doing what we’ve taught them to do.”

Ugh. Self-reflection is the worst.

2. Set restrictions. 

Robyn suggested a “one selfie per day” rule.

Or even less than that. The thing about selfies is that your daughter won’t be as upset about peers not liking a photo she posts of her dog as she is a photo of herself. Why? Because it’s her face, her body, her clothes. She’s promoting herself and it’s incredibly personal. Any negative feedback (or lack of feedback) feels like an individual attack.

Robyn also suggested time/location restrictions:

“we did make a new rule that has been so lifegiving for our family: phones up and on the counter at 6pm… that may seem early or extreme, but the reality is, i think they are relieved. also – no phones in their rooms.”

This is brilliant, and even something I’ve implemented for myself. Time to be intentionally disconnected from noise.

3. Encourage positive posts.

Take note of what one parent is doing with her girls:

“I’ve ‘commissioned’ my daughters to be and make disciples, so to speak, with their social media sites. It’s often hard to speak words of truth face to face with friends. When I encouraged them to use their sites to uplift and encourage others in Christ, I discovered a wealth of spiritual depth and wisdom I didn’t know was there. The beauty of social media among teens, is if they have a healthy identity in Christ, they can use it as their platform to proclaim Him and the glorious work He’s done in their lives.”

Here are some posts from my near and dear 6th grade friends that I think are awesome! No selfies, no “rate me”…just corn dogs and the Biebs.

4. Do what works for you.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I don’t believe we can just write off social media as a passing fad. It’s not going away. It’ll change shapes and sizes and platforms, but it won’t just go away tomorrow.

That said, as one mom, Jenn, pointed out:

“We for sure can’t protect them from everything in the world, but that doesn’t mean we have to allow them access to all of it either”

Absolutely true.

Decide what platforms work for you and your family and go with it.

5. Safety first.

I didn’t mention anything about safety because I know it is a huge concern to begin with and loads of much more qualified people have written about it. But just to be on the safe side (see what I did there?), two big things:

Private accounts: You can “protect” your kids’ accounts to control who follows them. The user requests to follow, your child accepts or declines. This is a great feature, but it isn’t foolproof. Middle schoolers LOVE taking pictures of each other on different phones, and each phone’s owner may not post the photos to a protected account. (That last sentence needed a flowchart to understand it.)

Location features: Be sure the geolocation (labeled “Photo Map” below) is turned off on their accounts, otherwise Instagram will tell exactly where each picture was posted from.

6. Don’t give up.

Social media changes so rapidly it can be overwhelming.

Full disclosure: As I was getting the screenshot above for the privacy settings from my own Instagram, I realized that all of my photos were tagged with location and I had no idea. So. That should make you feel better about your knowledge or lack thereof.

Stay in the conversation. Ask around to other parents. Go to classes your youth ministry offers. Get your own account. Have fun with it!

I pray hard for wisdom for you, parents, as you raise this generation of kids at such a unique time. I applaud your willingness and interest to learn and navigate this alongside your kids. And, above all, I thank God that he doesn’t leave us on our own to do this whole parenting thing.

7 thoughts on “Parents: A Follow up Word on Instagram

  1. Erin Ward

    I love that so many middle schoolers commented on your post. I totally remember being that age – wanting someone to talk to your parents about things. But I certainly didn’t want to be the one to do it!

  2. Anonymous

    Wow! I just read this via one of my friends on Facebook. Yes, ironic. I am 19 years old and the first social media account I got was Facebook and that was 1 year and 1 month ago, after I graduated high school. I did not get a phone until I was 15. The reason I am writing this is because even though I didn’t get a phone when I was 13 like all my friends (or however young they get one now) or get MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. when I was younger…..I grew up just fine without all of it. Of course I wanted them too when my friends got a phone and social media, but thanks to my dad he said ‘no.’ I could borrow a phone on basketball trips and I didn’t need social media. I thank him for that. When I was about 15 or 16 I realized why do I need social media….I see these people every day at school. Do I really need to spend more time looking at them or listening to what they have to say on social media when I am just going to see them the next day? That may sound cruel or cynical, but really do you need to know what your friend is up to every second? I didn’t think so….and I was fine not having social media. After I graduated and went to college I wanted a Facebook….it does make keeping in contact with multitudes of people a lot easier and it is an opening to a friendship so that you may eventually share the Gospel with. I don’t have kids so this is only a suggestion from a kids point of view…..if your child has a phone, TURN OFF THE INTERNET. It is possible to click on an internet app and it won’t open up because you have requested that the carrier shut it down. I do not want a phone with a data plan or internet access because I fear that I will be trapped in social media with such easy access and distract me from the most important thing…God. Just in the year of having Facebook I know I have become addicted. Social media is an addiction, the question is how much are you addicted? Thank you Sarah for your Instagram post and follow up!

  3. Like Blocker

    I really appreciate both of these articles. This is important information that everyone needs to think about. Our team has created an app that hides Instagram likes and followers. The goal is to challenge how important we think “likes” are, and to show young kids (as well as adults) that you don’t need to be validated by a like all the time. Tough world….

  4. Mr. Barrera

    The other problem of allowing our daughters/son the use of Instagram is the ability to send “direct” messages to a single person or a group of users, bypassing you the parent if your kid allows you to follow her/him.
    I can only tell you that the drama the our kids live at school on everyday basis, follows them 24/7 by means of “direct” posts.

    Also, the ability of Instagram to search posts my hash-tags is very bad.
    The internet has some very dark places that you don’t want your kid to explore on their own.
    Go ahead, try what I’m telling you, go to search by people, but instead of an user’s name, enter # followed by anything (no spaces between the # and the subject) you think is out there. Be warned. Not for the faint of hearth.

    Mr. Barrera

  5. Jennifer

    I am a 55 year old confident women who has a wonderful life, and Instagram makes me feel bad! I am constantly liking everyone’s posts, but when it’s time for my monthly pic of something I like, those same people look the other way. IG has made it so I can see they are liking OTHER people’s so I know they are on. Family members are supporting some and ignoring others. A women in my neighborhood follows my teenage children but is not friendly to us. It is equivalent to sticking your nose in people’s business or gossiping. My children think it’s no big deal and won’t block her. Cliques happen in adulthood too, and I’d rather not be visually reminded. I could tell you even more perceived evils but I’ll stop there. I am deleting mine at the end of today.


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