The “Instagram Five”: Helping Teens Use Social Media With Integrity

Our family has had more than our fair share of roundtables on the topic of social media. It’s not an easy topic, and whether or not your family is on social media, we can all agree it’s complicated. Social media is still so new, relatively speaking. We know a lot about it. But not everything. We especially do not know what the long-term implications of social media use are.

We do know that the average teenager spends a LOT of their day on social media.

An article from the Washington Post reports that teens spend 9 hours a day consuming media (much of which is social media) though I can hardly wrap my brain around that number. (Tweens are a mere 6 hours, if that makes anyone feel better!?) And this article suggests that teens total time spent on social media beats time spent eating and drinking, socializing, and grooming.

Does that make anyone else a bit nauseous?

I can also tell you that I’ve put more time into my chapter on Technology than on any other chapter in my up-coming Boy Mom book. And though I’ve got lots of good information and some helpful suggestions to share, I will not be able to offer a one-size fits all way to approach social media.

Because, as my boys and I conclude each time we get into it on this topic: Social media is really an individual issue. Even a heart issue. And everyone needs to decide for themselves if they want to be a part of it, and how they want to manage their use of it. This is challenging for everyone, even mature adults. So obviously, it can be incredibly difficult when you’re dealing with an immature teenager, whose brain won’t be fully developed for many years.

How can we expect them to make difficult judgement calls on things like:

“Is social media dragging me down?”

“What are my motivations for posting this or that…?”

“Would I be happier if I quit social media?”

How can we trust our kids to put healthy boundaries in place, when everyone around them (it seems) is on social media 24/7?

As a parent, we have a couple of options. Of course we can say no to our kids being on social media. Depending on your child’s maturity level, and a whole host of other factors (including their social situation, level of self-confidence, and so on) this may be the most wise choice.

OR, if you do allow your kids to be on social media, then I encourage you — no, urge you — to coach them in their use of it. To have on-going conversations and to help them set boundaries. Yes we need filters on devices to protect our kids from dangers like internet predators and pornography (I cover that in this post) but there’s more to this conversation than that. We need filters to protect kids in the area of identity and self-worth. Kids also need some coaching on what to share on social media (and ideally, the heart behind what they share.)

These are the topics that come up in conversations with my teens.

At this point my 3 oldest boys all have Instagram accounts. Luke, 14, uses Instagram mostly for his surfing, and my husband co-manages that. Josiah and Jonah (turning 17 and 19 this week) have been on Instagram for a few years. Today they will tell you they have a “love/hate” relationship with it.

Originally these two loved the idea of Instagram as a place to share their photography, and in general stay connected to the world (as homeschoolers, this seemed especially great.) They enjoyed the entire platform, growing their followers and being inspired by those they followed. It was a lot of fun.

Until it wasn’t.

Looking back now, they believe that time on Instagram triggered more feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and general FOMO (Fear of missing out) than anything else. They believe that all of the typical teenage struggles are only compounded by daily scrolling through an Instagram feed.

Aware of how this has affected them, my boys have taken many breaks from Instagram. After a few months off of it, they have reportedly felt happier. And with that in mind, they have come very close to deleting their account many times.

Over an afternoon coffee last spring, Josiah brought it up again: “I think I want to quit Instagram.”

I nodded, aware that this has been on his mind before. But then I thought of some of the positives of Josiah’s Instagram use. About college next fall…and how I know his Grandma and other family and friends awould love to keep up with him via Instagram. (I’ve enjoyed following many of my friend’s kids during their college journeys!) Josiah has also shared plenty of positive inspirations he has found through Instagram. He’s even gotten to know his new college roommate through it.

Monica Swanson
Monica Swanson
Monica Swanson and her husband Dave are raising tropical fruit and their four (surfer) boys on the North Shore of Oahu.  Monica home schools her sons, and offers encouragement and inspiration for families on her blog, Monica’s book, Boy Mom will be released in August of 2019.  You can find her on Facebook, IInstagram, and  Twitter

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