“Mom, don’t take that picture!” she yells as she covers her head with her blanket. The morning is cool, dark and quiet, and her stern tone changes this serene moment immediately. But it was too late for her, as I had already snapped a picture of the scene. “I hope you didn’t take that!” she continues “And if you did, don’t post it on Instagram or Facebook!”
I’m hurt and surprised by her harsh words, yet at the same time I get what she means and why she said them.
What I saw, as I looked over my coffee and across the room, was a beautiful scene of father and daughter together working on her algebra homework. I saw a family moment to freeze in time – a time to remember when she was in middle school and needed some help on a few equations. I wanted to remember these early mornings of school and homework and “tweendom” that will fade into just another blip of one of the ages of childhood.
Yet what she saw was only herself – with early morning bedhead, and wearing old pajamas. She saw her sleepy eyes and her dad’s messed up hair. She saw herself sitting too closely to her dad while during the day she likes to give off that teenage vibe that she happily keeps her parents at a comfortable distance of coolness and independence. She wants to let people know that she typically brushes her hair and wears skinny jeans.
I get that.
I recently untagged myself from a photo that a friend posted on Facebook. He messaged me asking why I untagged myself, as what he saw was a photo full of happy memories with an old group of friends from nearly 30 years ago. What I saw was me, an 18 year old who was horribly unhappy and unhealthy on the inside, and has spent years trying to delete any pictures that were taken from that time. His tagging me brought that girl front and center and I could not hit delete, delete, delete fast enough.
So I get that what I view as a beautiful family moment, she can view as a moment of ugly morning hair. And a few years ago, as her mother I would’ve posted it without her knowledge or opinion. A few years ago she was not on social media. I’m also pretty sure almost every “Mommy Blogger” has at one time or another written a post about what is “our” story versus what is “their” story as our children have gotten older. Because while posting pictures of your toddler playing in the mud is all fun games, well posting pictures of your tween with her friends is off limits.
But this really has nothing to do with what is my story of motherhood versus their story of being my child. This has to do with how I now feel a new responsibility for what I share because my daughter is now on social media.
After begging for an Instagram account for over ONE MILLION YEARS(her account of the situation, it was actually just a few months), because EVERYONE in the whole world is on Instagram besides her, I opened an account for her on her 12th birthday. Honestly, I’m still not comfortable with the whole thing even though our parental controls are probably better than Target’s IT firewalls, but we decided this would be an easy way for her to enjoy her first steps into social media under our careful watch before the crap really hits the fan and her access explodes as she gets older. Believe me, I want to move my family to a yurt in Siberia when I think about Snapchat, cyber bullying, and hell even Tinder.
What I did not expect from letting her have an Instagram account though, was that she would teach me a lesson or two about my own social media behavior.
This is what my daughter being on social media has taught me about living life online…
1. Think before you post. What goes online stays online. You are leaving a permanent record out there for everyone to see and Google. Is this a post or picture that you want to remember forever? Having my daughter on social media has made me really stop before I post anywhere and the responsibility that it truly holds.
2. It’s not just about you. Sure, you loved the picture, but is it something that will hurt your friend or a family member? Ask permission. While yes, I own the stories about my motherhood – they are not mine alone. I now take time to discuss posts and pictures with my kids and if they don’t like something – I don’t post it or talk about it. Mutual respect belongs front and center both on and off social media.
3. Know who your friends are. My personal Facebook page has become a ‘mess’ of people. A few years back I started friending anyone who requested to be my friend if we had a few mutual friends in common. But now, I really wonder who most of these people are. As I now have to approve who follows my daughter’s Instagram account – it’s really made me go back into my accounts and make a stronger line between what I post personally and what I want to keep on my professional pages, and I’m cleaning up my accounts.
4. Post because it’s important to you, not because of “Like Currency.” We all get caught up in how “viral” a post or picture goes. Admit it, you do. You might be 45 years old but having 50 likes on a Facebook post sure feels better than having two. Sometimes we never leave the angst and emotional turmoil of puberty, amiright? So having this exact discussion with my daughter – telling her to post pictures she loves on Instagram because she loves them, not because they will be popular, has helped me with what I share and how I don’t need to waste so much time finding the right filter so people will like my picture more. I’ve always found that the posts and pictures that resonate the most are the ones that tell my truth anyway. The rest doesn’t matter.
5. Put your phone down. Does every moment really need to be captured? Live in the moment. When my daughter first joined Instagram, she was on her phone ALL THE TIME. And I saw myself in her. Was I really doing this too? Was the picture I just took more important than the moment that I just spent with my kids. Sure, social media is fun and exciting, but the person sitting right in front of me is even more important. Don’t let social media manage your time. Manage your time on social media. This has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from watching my own daughter start her own journey online.
Just like everything with parenting – we all learn together as we go and they grow. She will make mistakes just like we will make mistakes, but watching her explore social media over the past two months has taught me a lot as a parent as I reflect on my own behavior online. Sometimes I watch her with great delight as she improves her photography skills, but then I go into her “friend approval” list and cringe over the people who have found her account.
Parenting – it’s wonder mixed with a healthy amount of worry. Yet currently as we dip our toes into the shallow end of the social media pool – it’s honestly worry mixed with a healthy amount of wonder.