by Arlene Pellicane
Did your little girl ever play dress-up, stepping into your high heeled shoes and pretending to be an adult? It’s cute when our girls put on clip earrings, scarves, gloves or purses for a make-believe outing in the safety of the home.
In a way, social media is like a little girl going into her mother’s closet to play dress up. It’s a portal to an adult-like world where she can pretend and explore. But unlike her mother’s safe wardrobe, social media can be a doorway to a world your daughter is completely unprepared for.
Many women derive their self-worth through affirmation from other people. Girls are no different. Everyone wants to be liked. Children as early as elementary school are being introduced to social media, which is really more anti-social than truly social for girls. Instead of playing with a friend in a real-life afterschool, a girl sits in her bedroom alone trying to take the perfect selfie. That isolation and focus on outward appearance is not social or healthy.
A tween on social media worries about how many people “liked” the photo she posted or how many “friends” or “followers” she has. Are her numbers growing? Does she have as many friends as her classmates? Although being online can be a positive experience, too much exposure to social media too soon can be very harmful. Girls quickly learn the road to popularity is paved by likes and the number of comments and online friends one has. It is a shallow way to live.
Social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have a minimum age requirement of 13 years old. Users who enter a date of birth under 13 can’t set up an account. However, this small detail is easily sidestepped simply by entering a fake year of birth. Well-meaning moms have helped their kids create accounts so their daughters wouldn’t be left out of the loop with friends. Before you are tempted to do that, please consider the following.
I believe your child must be 13 or older to have a social media account and that for many girls, waiting until an older age is even better. Just because your daughter turns 13 doesn’t mean it’s instant Instagram. You must consider her emotional and spiritual maturity, not just her age. These four questions will help you determine her readiness:
1 ) Does your child have healthy friendships?
Consider your daughter’s friends. Does she have faithful friends who are positive, girls who are kind, honest and respectful? Or does your daughter gravitate towards girls who are manipulative or perhaps girls who act older than their age? If your daughter doesn’t have solid good friendships to start with, she is dangerously susceptible to the counterfeit friendships offered by social media.
2 ) Is your child responsible and responsive to house rules?
If your daughter doesn’t respect rules like “take out the trash” and “do your homework before watching TV,” don’t expect her to follow your rules about social media. You might set up important guidelines like, “You may not text or message someone you don’t know in real life” but will your daughter obey this rule? Her track record is what’s important here, not the intensity of her plea for social media.
3 ) Is your child easily influenced by others?
You know if you have a girl who is easily swung by the opinion of others or a girl who stands alone thinking, “I could care less what you think.” If your child adopts the practices of those around her without thinking for herself, you’ll need to think twice before putting her in the worldly environment of social media.
4 ) Can your child disengage with screens easily?
When you call your daughter to dinner, does she put away her iPad without a problem, or does she pretend not to hear you or protest? If your daughter has a hard time going Wi-Fi free on a weekend, you’ll know that social media will most likely become a snare to her.
Let me speak descriptively (not prescriptively) from my own life. By this I mean I’m not trying to prescribe what you should do, but I want to describe what is working in my home with my girls who are in 4th and 7th grade.
Neither of my girls have smartphones or social media accounts. That was an easy and obvious decision for my elementary school daughter, but it took a little more thought for my 7th grader Noelle. Noelle uses my phone if she wants to text a friend. I’ll show her my Instagram account to look at her favorite bands or cute goldendoodle photos like our dog. She is used to not having what her friends have, yet she knows we are not technophobes.
My husband James and I know our kids will have all their adult lives to have a smartphone, answer texts and emails compulsively, and use social media. Now is the time to learn other skills like conversation, reading, playing an instrument, caring for a dog, drawing, and the like. Middle school isn’t the time for social media.
I’ve observed tween girls from school and church who have gotten smartphones and social media accounts. Within weeks, I’ve watched them turn from talkative, smiling girls into zombies staring at the phone. They are introduced to dark things like cutting, sexual experiences outside of marriage, and dressing to look older. They cocoon with their phones instead of blooming into the young ladies they are meant to be.
It’s hard enough for an adult to deal with disparaging comments online or a lack of comments which communicates “no one is interested in me.” Imagine how much harder it is for tweens who don’t yet possess the emotional maturity to cope with the digital world. Researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.
As your daughter grows into a teenager, she needs the firm foundation of being liked for who she is by real people she knows. Online “likes” are often based on performance, appearance, and shock value. This affection is fickle and conditional. Your child needs to experience the unconditional love that comes from God and from you. Only unconditional love can prevent problems such as resentment, feelings of being unliked, guilt, fear, and insecurity. That kind of love is not found on social media. #waitforsocialmedia
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of several books including Parents Rising and Calm, Cool, and Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life. If you need help with taming technology in your home, Arlene has a book for you, Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman). She has been a featured guest on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, The 700 Club, and Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah. Arlene lives in San Diego with her husband James and their three children. To learn more about Arlene, visit www.ArlenePellicane.com