We’re Making Instagram a Family Experience
“Hey, Mom! You’ve got to see this!”, exclaims 7-year-old Reid, handing me his iPad. “Get it?”
“Get it? Fanta-Sea? Fantasy?” he says, laughing. He loves the play on words, but he doesn’t actually know the Queen reference. So, it’s a chance to introduce him to a new song. I love these moments. And, his budding sense of humor.
Just about every day, I learn something football-related from my 11-year-old, Davis. Earlier this week it was: “Mom! Antonio Brown and Kirk Cousins broke the Guiness World Record for most one-handed catches in a minute!”
Me:”Where did you hear that?
Davis: “Instagram. You gotta see this,” he says, turning his phone to show me. “They beat Odell Beckham, Jr. & Drew Brees’s record.” So, we watch this video together. [The Instagram posts keep disappearing, so I’m embedding the full YouTube video, instead.]
We’re doing our best to make social media a family experience at our house. At 7 and 11, many consider my boys too young to be on social media. Partially driven by my love of everything digital and partially driven by my oldest son’s curiosity and creativity, we decided to explore social media together when he was 9 years old – on Instagram.
We started with a storytelling-focused Instagram account called @ElementalWarriors, featuring Lego characters Davis had built and named. We kept the account private and enjoyed Instagram purely as a creative outlet for the first year. When he turned 10, he became interested in using Instagram more broadly.
Our entire family has been using Instagram for nearly a year. I love how it has opened the lines of conversation around the things that the boys are interested in. Am I fascinated by every football fact and dad joke that I’m shown? No. But, I DO love the boys asking me into their world. Telling me about their passions. Sharing what they think is funny. What they think is cool.
After all, when I am the one initiating conversations with the boys, they tend to go something like this:
Me: How was your day at school?
Jensen Boy (smirking): Goooood.
Me: What did you learn?
Jensen Boy (shrugging): I don’t know.
So, I’m happy watch football videos, look at (many, many) cat pictures and laugh along to the cheesiest jokes. And, I’ll cherish every time a device screen is turned my way to share something funny or silly or cool. Because it means I’m learning about who my boys are becoming.
When I talk to parents with full-fledge teenagers who won’t connect with them on social media, I’m sad and a little bit scared. I don’t want to imagine my boys navigating the world of social media without me. While my boys may not always have the words to express how their day went, they don’t yet have a belief that anything in their life should be private from their parents. And, because nothing on social media is ever really private, I think it’s more important than ever to talk about and explore social media while they’re most open to sharing their lives with me.
Digital parenting has become an increasingly important part of our roles as parents. It’s critical that we teach our kids to be safe and to help them learn to navigate a connected life. There’s lots of great information available online to help us grow our digital parenting skills. But, there’s also so much fear-mongering. There are so many things to worry about. Combine that with an overwhelming amount of technology to learn, and it’s no surprise that many social media conversations with our kids center around words like limits, safety, protection and monitoring.
I want to encourage us to think about social media as a family in terms of connection rather than just protection. Instead of tightly controlling the limits, jump in and engage. Be a part of of their digital life. And, make digital life a part of your family experience. I believe that our kids are safer and our family life is richer if we go beyond montioring and use our social media experience as a platform for a deeper connection. That transforms the conversation from “is everything you’re posting okay?” to “what do we know about you because of what you’ve posted?” And, that is an opportunity for a whole different conversation.
I’m deeply thankful for what I’ve learned with and about my boys on our journey so far. My hope: when my boys see articles like this one from Wired magazine — Your Mom is About to Follow You on Snapchat — they’ll shrug and say, “my mom has always followed me.”
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the conversation that were key for getting our family started on Instagram and what our Instagram family checkin looks like. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.