Lifestyle

How I Stopped Being Afraid of My Kid’s Future Relationship With Social Media

Many moons ago, when I was a sophomore in college, a newish website called Facebook became available at my school. I had been waiting for this moment for months. After hearing about it through friends at other colleges who were already on the (then) exclusive network, I was planning my profile photo and details with the eagerness I usually reserved for getting ready for frat parties. Which is to say—much to my chagrin now—far too long.

Such was the beginning of my social-media journey. I am unabashedly a forever fan. So it should be of little surprise that I planned our 2015 pregnancy announcement post to a T—or more specifically, a onesie, which played on the “I Love NY” logo with Chinese takeout food and a heart-shaped pizza.

And once we decided on our daughter’s name, I even made her a separate account. Let me be clear though: I did not create a handle for her to make her a social media superstar; I did the same thing for our two cats when we brought them home a few years earlier. I know not everyone wants to see a million pictures of cats or babies, but for my friends who did, I was ready to serve.

While her profile was public, it was only a handful of friends and family who actually followed it.

After she was born, we, like many new parents, populated her feed with countless photos of her doing what all newborns do: sleeping in a swaddle, sleeping in a swing, sleeping on Dad—you get the idea. While her profile was public, it was only a handful of friends and family who actually followed it, and my mom made 95 percent of the comments, naturally.

That changed a few months later, when my kinda-famous cousins (and their blue-checked, verified accounts) came for a visit and we posted some cute photos of the kids together, as one does. Overnight, my daughter’s account went from a few dozen followers to hundreds. Mouths agape, my husband and I immediately made it private, but it was the splash of cold water I probably needed. It was unsettling to know so many strangers were now following her, but even more unsettling that I had allowed that to happen.

As a parent, you wear many hats, but I think most of us would agree that the biggest, widest-brimmed one is to protect your children. And while I’m not that parent who forbids any photos of her kid online, I am now far more careful of what I post. Moreover, our daughter’s starting kindergarten this fall, and I am acutely aware that her exposure to social media will only increase with time.

As a parent, you wear many hats, but I think most of us would agree that the biggest, widest-brimmed one is to protect your children.

Right now, she loves watching the occasional video of venomous animals or cats doing silly tricks (she is my daughter, after all). But I know in a heart-stoppingly short time, she’ll want her own account, and the privacy that it affords. And while ceding that kind of control and allowing her to have social-media independence is terrifying to think about, I’m finding it helpful to have a framework of what my game plan will be.

padlock with social media person icon

When she’s scrolling on her own through feed on whatever platform is cool by the time she’s a teenager, those sweet animal GIFs will be replaced with filtered or digitally-altered images of her peers and celebrities. As an admitted high-frequency social media user, I’m all too familiar with the toll that unrealistic body standards have had on my own millennial confidence. And I know how the thrill of receiving hundreds of likes on a post can flip in an instant to feelings of unworthiness over a (probably doctored) photo of an influencer who seems to have nary a visible wrinkle or flyaway hair.

It goes without saying that I don’t want my daughter to grow up dealing with any of that nonsence. It’s exhausting. It’s unproductive. It’s sad. But navigating this world—one where she has a degree of autonomy, but where I can hopefully still insulate her from the worst corners of it—is new territory for me.

eye on screen

Knowing the years will go fast, I’ve been determined to get ahead of the game, and have found helpful information from resources like The Dove Self-Esteem Project (they offer free age-specific guides to help parents navigate difficult topics like body image issues). I’m now armed with sobering stats, like the fact that 80 percent of teenage girls compare the way they look to other people on social media. But I’m also prepared to talk with my daughter about digital distortion and “social media vs. reality.”

I know there will be a time in the not-so-distant future that my daughter will ask for control of the account that I created for her. She may streamline her grid and delete all those adorable pics I took while she slept. But hopefully, whatever new photos she posts will show her smiling, confident, and not caring what anyone else thinks. The gift of positive self-esteem is one of the most precious things I could give her.

And as for me? Don’t worry; I’ll still have my cats’ account.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project is a helpful resource for parents to teach their children about body confidence and body image. Shop Dove products to show your support at a Sam’s Club near you. For every item product purchased, Dove donates $1 to Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

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