Tech & Media
Social Media Is A Struggle, Especially When You Have a Teen
By Karen Habashi
Photo © oksana.moroz82/Twenty20
Apr 5, 2022
When it comes to raising kids, I know social media is a controversial topic.
Because many have a love-hate relationship with it themselves.
Some spend hours scrolling. And scrolling. The effects are varied, too. Comparison traps can lead to people feeling bad about themselves, while others take inspiration from what they see — from makeup tutorials to recipes.
And then there are some people who find everything too toxic, from the endless fighting to so-called “culture wars” to “cancel culture” and beyond. It can become a lot, and be a strain on mental health.
So, where’s the limit?
Where I Dip My Toes
When I use social media, I want it to be a distraction.
If I find myself overthinking, and I need to numb myself just a little, I turn to the endless scroll. It pulls me out of my environment and into someone else’s.
I like how it connects me.
This was particularly important years ago. I was in and out of hospitals because of a chronic illness, and social media provided a connection outside of the cold, impersonal walls of a hospital.
That was a use that felt valuable.
"I don’t believe she’s capable of understanding the lengths people will go to showcase a carefully curated life."
But social media has become far less of an escape these days, so I use it less. Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve found that being online overwhelms me.
I’ve had to set boundaries. I’ve unfollowed friends or accounts that don’t align with my beliefs anymore. And if I find that viewing someone has an effect on my mental health in any way, it’s not useful for me to keep up with them.
Even with boundaries, I know how hard it can be to enforce them.
It can be too easy to get sucked in. But in getting sucked in, it is too easy to fall into old patterns, like seeing if you measure up. If I don’t, it could mean fretting about my body, my family, the house we live in or our financial situation.
And I don’t have time for that.
Raising Kids Online?
Some kids use social media.
At the very least they are exposed to it.
Even if they aren’t the appropriate age, it does seem as though some will find a way to get on TikTok and Instagram.
But I don’t want that to be my daughter’s experience.
That’s why I’ve set a limit: she can’t get social media until she’s 16.
"I think kids have it tough enough already."
I said this because I don’t think she’s ready to discern between reality and fiction. I don’t believe she’s capable of understanding the lengths people will go to showcase a carefully curated life.
And I’m not being ageist — because sometimes I even forget that. And so do many people I know.
I’ve seen how people can measure their worth by seeing how they stack up against other friends, just by looking at photos of people who are projecting happiness (a happy couple photo) or prosperity (taking a lot of trips).
I have fallen into this trap a lot, especially on days when I’m already not feeling so great about myself. Because I’m human, and I have weak moments and I experience self-doubt.
Now magnify that experience for a young person, who is endlessly striving to figure out who they are and want to be.
I’ve learned in time that on Instagram … what you see isn’t what you get.
The horrific Gaby Petito story is a prime example of a couple who shared their life on Instagram, depicting a version of their lives that seemed good. But it wasn’t.
I think until my daughter is able to understand that this is a virtual world, where flaws can be concealed, and troubling ideology can be reserved for quieter corners, I will keep her away from it in the best way I can. I want her to achieve some level of digital literacy before her first roll in the scroll.
"I don’t want her to think that the only valuable commodity that projects a person’s worth is a like, share or subscription."
What it comes down to is: I trust my daughter, but I don’t trust others. Who among us has not witnessed how quickly social media can devolve into bullying, peer pressure and threats?
I think kids have it tough enough already.
There is a struggle to make friends. Schoolwork might be challenging. Kids may feel different and othered by kids in the schoolyard. Perhaps they have difficult lives at home and at school.
There is so much going on in a child’s formative years that it doesn’t feel useful to just hand a kid a phone and say: go wild.
I encourage my daughter to keep strong connections in real life.
To enjoy the company of her friends and family.
Because in these relationships she’ll pick up on social cues, and she’ll build on her conversational skills.
I don’t want her to think that the only valuable commodity that projects a person’s worth is a like, share or subscription.
"It’s frustrating enough as an adult. I don’t think a teen can really handle that."
I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of ruthlessness on social media. My name is Karen.
I’m also a person of colour, I have an invisible disability and suffer from anxiety and many health concerns.
And yet, when I’m online, I am attacked for my looks, or they say I’m “dumb” because of a name I was born with, rather than having a respectful conversation.
It’s frustrating enough as an adult. I don’t think a teen can really handle that. Because some days … I cannot.
Social Media For Me But Not Her
It feels like a long time, but social media is still a younger technology. At least in the way that we experience it today.
But I believe it is addictive, or at least habit-forming.
When something is new, we want it.
When I was growing up, we had MSN Messenger and ICQ. Both were new, but our parents had no idea what they were. At that time, many homes still didn’t have a home computer. Internet was on dial-up. AOL sent CDs in the mail.
The difference today is that the new-new is used not just by kids who know more about computers than their parents. A lot of people, at every age, flock to these services daily. Hourly. Refreshing every few minutes.
So, forgive me if I want to keep her from that chaos for as long as possible.
Parenting changes from day to day. If she can show me that she has the capacity to enjoy certain areas of social media, we can have a talk about it.
But until then, we have Netflix nights, we read together and we chat, person-to-person. And I’ve learned to unplug myself as much as I can — to set a better example.
I sleep better when I do.
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