This week I was having a catch up with my 11 year old daughter at a coffee shop and I asked her if she had any issues she wanted to chat about. She said yes, and brought up her desire to start using Instagram. She wants to start posting photos of what she is doing so that she can keep in touch with her friends. Immediately I thought ‘no’ in my head but I restrained myself from saying ‘no’ out aloud and managed to ask her a number of questions (without it sounding like I was interrogating her!).
The questions I asked her included:
• Why do you want it?
• What would you use it for?
• How would you use it responsibly?
• Who are the people that you would communicate with?
• How are you going to use it when you don’t have an iPhone etc?
• How are you currently showing that you are responsible in your schoolwork, chores, management of finances, family life and communication with each family member?
• How are you currently being affected by peer pressure?
• How do you think posting pictures of yourself and then seeing the comments others make about it or the number of likes or no likes would influence your self esteem? What happens if the people you want to impress don’t like your photo but like others similar photos instead? How will that make you feel?
• Do you realise that the legal minimum age for Instagram is 13 despite what a lot of your friends are doing using it at 12?
This discussion then led on to responsibilities and proving that you are trustworthy in all areas of your life as well as a talk about communication issues within our family unit. We also had an extensive chat about peer pressure and how she reacts around certain of her peers and groups of girls that are exclusive from her and her response when they see her in a different environment.
This is an issue that we all have to deal with at some stage. Princess has hinted a few times about how all her friends are getting iPhones and how she would like one. We have explained each time that there is no need for her to have one at this stage and that we don’t believe in just doing something or giving her something because everyone else is doing it. In fact, that makes me want to do the opposite so I have to be careful to balance the situation. On the other hand, I want to keep the conversation open enough so that she can feel that she can communicate with us about any subject.
Fellow parents, I believe the main issues are that our children need to prove that they are firstly responsible humans whom we can trust completely. I also believe that they need to be able to adequately communicate at all times with family members and friends face to face before being granted an iPhone, Instagram, Facebook, twitter account. I believe that a healthy self-esteem and an ability to handle negative peer pressure need to be evident as well.
Parents, just because Facebook and Instagram say the minimum age is 13 to use these, doesn’t automatically mean that it is the right age for your child. It is a minimum age. Children mature at different ages.
Parents – please stand up and be assertive. You are the parent. What your child wants is not always the best and most appropriate thing. Do you need to give your child a phone so that they can ring you if they miss the school bus home? What did you use to do when that happened to you? I realise times have changed but seriously, our children need to learn responsibility and problem solving, not jumping on the phone to get mum to help them out. Please seriously think through these issues. I am yet to hear (or read) a comment from a parent who says that they wish they had given a phone to their child/tween/teenager at a younger age. Every comment seems to be based around the fact they could have waited a few more years until the child was more mature as well as the accompanying horror stories of when things went wrong because of the child’s immaturity and the phone use.
When we do grant Princess access to Instagram etc, we have decided that we will have tight boundaries and privacy settings. Princess will know very clearly our expectations and the consequences for not abiding by them. There will be time limits, no use in the bedroom, social manners when out or having meals, only posting stuff that you would be happy to have plastered on the front page of the newspaper, no photos of other friends without their permission, etc. All something that we need to model ourselves in relation to our mobile phone use and technology use.
Also, for iPhones, I believe that they need to realise that they cost money to use and they need to be able to pay their own way and be able to earn the money they need to pay for the calls and monthly charges. Otherwise, what are we teaching them about future life as an adult.
At this stage, we agreed we would revisit this conversation but that she couldn’t have an Instagram account until she was at least 13 years of age as that was the legal and ethical requirement. If we lied about her age so that she can have an Instagram account, then what are we communicating to her about truth telling? Let me confess here that we allowed Princess to create a Facebook account when she was 10 years old purely for the “Books 4 Cambodia” project, not for personal social use. We closely monitored it. Since the project has finished, she hasn’t accessed the account at all and understands that she won’t be until she reaches 13 years of age, the legal minimum requirement for Facebook.
I have warned her that she won’t be getting a phone until we believe she really needs one, not just because she is going to secondary college a bit further distance away, as there is no need at this stage for her to have a phone. The main reasons to revisit this conversation was that she has requested it so we will keep the lines of communication open, but I mainly want to see how she has improved in showing how she is responsible for completing her schoolwork and chores without being asked. Also we would look at how she is handling how she feels about and reacts to the peer pressure she experiences in an area of her sporting life and how she is managing being assertive.
I think the crux of the matter is – why is my child wanting this? I believe most times, the answer comes back to self-esteem and peer pressure. The question to ask ourselves is then, “Is this the most effective method of filling that void?”