Social media horror...

posted on: Wednesday, 11 June 2014

This is a topic I haven't written about extensively here, as honestly, it does not fit with the normal, gentle musings of life I piece together; yoga and dog walks. However, sometimes something has to give and I am interested to see whether I am alone in my perception.

In the last year I have gone from having a daughter who is a child to a daughter who is a young adult. And she is into social media. In most cases, from a parental perspective, this is what happens when it comes to the introduction of technology and social media:

You have a toddler and at idle moments they like to 'play' with your phone; they like the colours and maybe you have a couple of kiddy-friendly games they can mess around with. At about six or seven they might sit at the family computer and play word games and you feel OK about this as it's vaguely educational. They might even graduate onto owning a Nintendo DS or some similar tablet-style device. Maybe a Kindle which has browsing capability. Maybe as they approach nine or ten, you have a family iPad that they can use and of course you have parental controls on everything.

Then they get a phone.

In this country this seems to coincide with going to senior school which happens for the majority at age 11, for some at 13. Getting a phone is the single biggest deal in the life of an 11 year old, although as a parent, you don't realise this at the time. Or at least I didn't. Suddenly they have a way to chat their friends (or anyone else for that matter), to look stuff up, to communicate in a way they never have before. And despite your best intentions, that phone becomes THEIR domain. It's their device. You might periodically check it and pay the bill but you'll see that the phone is their constant companion and given half the chance would be in use during every minute of every day. I have seen some teens where this is not the case, but as a general rule, most teens LOVE their phone.

I do consider myself to be fairly technology-savvy. Fifteen years working for one of the world's biggest and most influential technology companies saw to that. Plus I 'get' social media; I write a blog, I am on Facebook, I use Instagram and utilised Twitter as a very useful business tool when the need arose. I also get that you can form relationships on line in a way that many people don't understand. So I guess you could say I am an adopter.

But when I observe the way my daughter uses social media, and her friends, I can see that this thing we have created and nurtured over the past five years has become a monster! I only see a small side of it but try to stay pretty aware of what she is doing, who she is talking to, what she is looking at. I would hazard a guess that a great deal of parents have NO IDEA what their kids look at. Absolutely no clue. Unless you are on those apps, you'll never get a window into it. Every app she gets I automatically get, as a direct, synced download, so I try to stay up on it. I know parents who don't even have an iPhone, let alone apps.

And when it comes to what they are looking at - I am telling you - you'd be shocked! We have parental controls on our computer. But what you can't control is what is searched for within an app. So in Instagram for example, which is used by a great many children and young teens, you can search under a 'hash tag' and no one will ever know and there is no filter. No parental control can stop that.

You know how curious young minds can be? It strikes me that there is such an irony that we police our children watching films that are rated 'PG' or '12', yet everyday through the phone, images and concepts that would not look out of place in an '18' or 'X' rated film are readily available. You know when someone describes a horror film to you and you can (within the confines of your imagination) conjure up an idea of what it's like? But to watch that horror film is different; the images are presented to you and then they are there, like a stain on the mind's eye. I would liken this to the images on social media.

Anything you ever imagined and a lot you didn't, is there. And even worse, there is a pervasive action of clicking 'like' when you see such an image. They have no idea how grotesque it is to 'like' an image of humiliation or self-harm or starvation to the point of hospitalisation, even suicide. For children who are vulnerable or open to suggestion, the glorification of suffering can become habitual. You will hear of teenage girls and boys flocking around the 'drama' of a peer in distress and this is all playing out in their on-line world. To be vilified on line or to be 'unfollowed' is a public humiliation that no parent can soothe.

I write this in the knowledge that you may draw conclusions about me and even worse about my kids. I suppose I share because I am comfortable that I am aware and I observe these behaviours through a wide range of young people, friends and friends of friends. It is not limited and it seems no one is immune; no socio-economic group, no facet of Western society.

The easy (and rather glib) answer is to just confiscate the phone. That is indeed one way. But would that really solve the problem? I can't pretend that this on line world doesn't exist! It does. That would be equivalent to not playing music and abhorring Elvis in the 1950's, because some felt he danced in a sexually suggestive way. Is this simply the modern equivalent? As with most things, until you're in it, you can't authoritatively suggest what to do about it.

My daughter comments that I 'patrol' her phone life and to some extent, I do. This is of sufficient worry to me to stay close to it. But this can be a full time job and equally as I have written here before, she has to make her own mistakes, have her own privacy and I can't be there every step of the way. And whilst I may paint a bleak picture, a lot of the stuff kids do is pretty cool - honestly if I could have had a 5-way video face-time session before getting ready for a disco, I so would have!

What I do think is that her generation have met with a perfect storm of the social media phenomenon. I accept that it has been a wonderful invention and some aspects of it are so life-enriching I can't imagine being without them. Surely there is a ground swell of realisation about the potential horrors of social media, and eventually (hopefully) it will become more understood and more legislated.

As with all parenting matters, there is no right or wrong answer. You have to trust your instincts and hope for the best. Does anyone have any suggestions? I am all ears...


  1. I believe that what you have written today is a hugely important piece of writing. I hope you can get this post "out there" in the wider world somehow. I am in accord with all you say. I really hope that someone with influence picks up on this post and features it elsewhere. I worry less about my daughter and social media now that she is 21, I think the way you are dealing with your daughter and her use of it is great.

  2. Jesus i cannot even begin to understand how tough it would be! I think i was just at the complete beginning of it all with things like MSN and would chat on it as much as possible - but i was limited to specific times because I was on a family computer. So much easier for parents to control. Then when I got my first phone for high school, I hardly ever used it because all it could do was call a couple numbers haha. Now I look at family friends who are 10 years younger than me and I just cannot believe it!! It is just insane what they will put up on instagram and facebook thinking that its cool. But what needs to be taught is that those sorts of things can stay on the internet forever!!!! I think people my age still need to get their heads around that too. I love social media but I love the "media" part of things like instagram/pinterest and twitter to help promote business etc. The social aspect is good (i mean I met you through it :) which is the best thing ever) but I prefer the normal way of catching up with friends - face to face (or email/phone call/facebook private msges if that's not possible). Humans have this weird obsession with being "liked" and it's kind of disgusting that you're judged on how many followers/likes you get. It really means absolutely nothing but it's not that easy to remind ourselves.
    I've never been one to say bad things about social media but I totally understand how horrifying and scary it would be in regards to young teenage girls. Hopefully nothing too horrendous comes from it :)

  3. I believe this article should be published in national magazines. We've created a "monster" with social media. It has many benefits and so many pitfalls. In addition to what you say, I've noticed a human "disconnect" . Everyone on cell phones, IPad, computers even in restaurants.

  4. I hear you Lou....and couldn't agree more, as you know.

    As a blogger, like you I can see the positives of social media etc....and can also appreciate how you need to turn it off. I think we are also aware of the balance & we know the truth - that having a face to face conversation with a "real" friend can never replace the texting to so-called friends or "liking" of an instagram - anyone can do that.

    I agree with the above comment about the "human disconnect" really concerns me that a whole generation of young people are obsessed/so hung up on how many likes/comments they get on any old nonsense that they put up on social media - many of them from people they barely know but on whose opinion they are hanging their feelings of happiness/unhappiness, feeling good/feeling crap about themselves.

    Yes, social media is everywhere....but phones etc can be addictive & sometimes you need to get away from all that, We know that as adults....the difference is that young people don't necessarily know it.

    School doesn't end at 3.20pm anymore, it goes on 24/7 thanks to mobile phones....I think this is a terrible thing! My daughter has got caught up in all kinds of dramas that she never would have got into because she has a phone - a phone that she is permanently connected to.

    It's been the source of more arguments in our home in the last 2 years than anything else - a few of her friends appear to be able to almost forget they have a phone & they hardly use it, my daughter is, unfortunately, not like that!

    I've tried all kinds of different approaches & we've had many conversations about it - and yes, we have confiscated her phone at times. At the moment she has in fact lost her phone & so is having to use her "old" phone which doesn't work that well - hence her phone use has gone down.

    She doesn't appear to be able to put the phone down & get some balance/perspective - I think it is that which concerns me.

    She has also been bullied by phone - by BBM on her Blackberry - we removed that immediately when we discovered that.

    Although I know adults who focus way too much on how much likes/comments they get on Instagram, it completely horrifies me that my daughter will post a photo on Instagram, something that she clearly likes, for example - and then some moron at her school is able to make a disparaging remark & she changes her view or stops wearing something simply because of it. This person would not have approached her at school because she isn't even friends with them - but thanks to social media, they are able to have an impact, often negative, on her life.

    I think as adults - and having experienced a world without social media - we can separate the importance of people we barely know making comments & we can let it go, if we even absorb it in the first place....whereas our children know no different.

    And not every single thing needs commenting on, FGS!!! Say nothing....if you like it, that is enough, who cares what others think.

    I limit my daughter's time in Instagram - she doesn't have it on her phone & so she has to ask to use my iPad or my phone to go on it. I don't know if it makes a difference but I am sticking to it.

    I think social media can indeed enrich our lives....but from my daughter's point of view, I feel the total opposite, sadly.... I almost feel that she is controlled by it. I hope one day I will feel different - as will she.

    Great post Lou Xx

  5. Fabulous post!! I think you are doing the right things. Keep doing them and keep talking, talking, talking about appropriate online behavior, etc.

  6. You are right that kids are exposed to much more these days and keeping a handle on it is tricky. our son has an ipad (he's almost 10) and I do from time to time check links/apps however we are very open to the fact that he may come across things which are 'inappropriate' and then we discuss what those kind of things are with him.

    We try to keep it fairly low key and not a big deal. We always answer any questions he may have - sometimes I need to take 5 mins to figure out how best to explain to him but we do because I dont want him to feel he cant ask or tell me things and that things are 'bad'.

    I know some of the other kids parents are very strict with their children and my son then tells me the things they get up to behind their parents back!

    I think its about finding a balance - giving kids the freedom to grow and learn without putting them at risk.

  7. Very thoughtful and scary post. As you know, I'm several years behind you, but I look to parents of slightly older kids in order to prepare myself for what's coming. I watch how they navigate those treacherous waters in the hopes that I will be ready when the waves hit home. I am a user of it of course, but I can absolutely see how nerve-wracking it would be to watch your kids start to engage in social media. I am hoping to delay it as long as possible, but of course at some point they will have's the world we live in at this point. Keeping an open dialogue is the most important thing. And patrolling.....well they may not like it, but we'll just have to continue to remind them that we're doing it to protect them, like it or not.

  8. I am with you on this...I have a 19 year old daughter, a 16 year old daughter, and an 11 year old boy (who does not yet have his own phone!) With the girls I have learned to be a life coach. We constantly have conversations about what they are reading or looking at or what other people are posting. I have become a very good listener and have CONVERSATIONS with them. Too many times parents jump in, judge, react swiftly and shut down any further communication with their teenagers. There have been times when I during a bullying session with my oldest daughters on a website, I told her to delete her profile and remove the updates. Those few months were painful but she got through them and I used it as a lesson how the internet can make people braver and more brazen with their behavior and remarks then they ever would be in person and that it truly DOES affect people on the other end. Once my daughter was removed from the site she began to relax and feel the love of the room she was actually in. There are those times when I demand that my children, "Be Where You Are." and enjoy the people you are actually with.

  9. I enjoyed reading this piece very much. I have 2 sons, 7years and 5 years old so a little way behind you but I'm absolutely fearful of what is down the line in terms of mobile and internet access. I have made a stance and the boys have NO access to any kind of games at all but I know that this is just stemming the inevitable. A year ago I had 'games' on my I phone and the eldest used to play it - however he wanted to be on it all the time and I could see how addicted he was getting - I tried time limits but the whinging and bad temper that followed when I asked him to stop or give it back was almost as bad! so I decided to be ruthless and I sat down and deleted every game - paid or free from both mine and my husbands I phone- I have to say it felt totally liberated and so from that day onwards even though we have an ipad now and lap top - we are a 'game' free and internet (for kids) zone at our house. They were upset but soon stopped asking after a couple of weeks and now seem to have accepted this is the way it is. One of the many reasons I have done this is that my eldest has a short attention span - potential attention defecit - and spending time on games and computers - there is evidence that this makes the ability to concentrate a whole lot worse. Also I believe strongly that children should be out making dens, riding bikes and so on - not holed up in a room on a sunny day playing angry birds. However there is the argument and discussion I have had with friends that technology is inevitable and I should move with the times for the sake of the boys, and that there are of course educational games, but at their tender age of 5 & 7 I feel that they aren't being left behind and thankfully I can control what they do and see. At times when I've been trying to work at home or we have been on a long car journey or at restaurant and I see other children absorbed on their tablets being quiet - it does look very tempting and easy parenting ! However in a few years time I know that i'll be up against a battle and with most kids having mobiles by their early teens I will have to revise my position and work my way through this minefield! something I'm dreading! For me, its not only the policing of what they can see, but the potential bullying that can take place but also the amount of time that children seem to be on their phones looking at facebook etc - and I'm praying that there is a balance between that and spending time outside and on other traditional activities! I know our parents had challenges but the parents of today have so much more to navigate.