I Begged My Son To Go on Social Media


Photo © vesnoi_/Twenty20

Nov 23, 2020

Of all the parenting challenges I expected to encounter, I never thought I’d have to plead with my son to give social media a whirl. Last year, at age 13, he had a phone that was mostly used for listening to music, occasionally Googling hiking trails and texting family and — sometimes — friends. He didn’t use it to play games. He wasn’t on SnapChat. He had zero interest in TikTok. He wouldn’t play video games, whether on a phone, computer or console.

Sounds pretty idyllic, right? He certainly received some praise from people outside the household.

But not me.

This mother worried about her daughter’s time spent on Instagram, so she drew up an Instacontract. Read that here.

As his mother, I was worried. I could tell he was missing out on socialization opportunities by not having SnapChat, the exclusive means of communication for many of his friends and classmates. I knew he was missing out on Pokemon Go bike rides with friends to chase down a rare species, or join in a raid. I suspected that some of the inspiration I gained from the creative aspects of social media were lost to him.

But my biggest concern was that he was operating from a place of fear.

He was so scared that he would become addicted to social media or video games that he banned them outright. When the nature organization he volunteers with was hoping students would amplify their message over social media, or at the very least make use of a closed Facebook group as a means to communicate, he declined. My son was even distrustful of Discord, the conferencing app they used for virtual meetings.

I understand the fear of technology addiction. I am one of many who wish that we all weren’t all quite so captivated by our phones, social media, screens and video games.

But I believe there is a place for these platforms — and the key is balance.

Find out why Natalie Romero banned TikTok from her home — here.

In my son’s case, there was no grey area, only one end of the spectrum or the other. And so rather than being thrilled that my son was refusing almost all technology, I saw it as an opportunity to talk about how to use technology for good and positive means rather than banning it outright.

We talked about some red flags and no-go zones. We reviewed positive, inspirational messages, sites and images on sites like Instagram. We talked about how to be vigilant about protecting privacy, or identifying inappropriate or risky behaviour. We discussed the power of connection over video games and SnapChat, and when to power down and go for a walk outside instead.

I see these as essential life skills in a world that will never truly disconnect ever again.

These days my son is an avid Pokemon Go player, clocking several kilometres on his bike with friends — “Gotta catch ‘em all,” after all. He has an Instagram account with exactly one photo posted — but he follows some accounts of interest. He’s not on TikTok, but he is chatting with just about his entire Grade 9 cohort over SnapChat. He has Minecraft on his computer, but jokes that he’s such a rookie he keeps breaking things in people’s worlds, and so rarely plays.

If this father never let go and let his kids play Minecraft, he would have had a different pandemic. Read that here.

Sure, these days he’s on his phone more often. But he’s also in touch socially with so many more people; before, he would mostly text me. And I live with him. He doesn’t fear social media any more. When I start to pontificate on being hyper aware of knowing the identity of the people he is talking to, safeguarding personal information and never sending photos, he hears me out with good-natured patience.

The fact is, he already knows more about a lot of these dangers than I did a few years ago, from the excellent job that school does and from his own common sense and awareness.

His social media know-how is also the result of kids growing up with the reality that screens and social media aren’t going away. As much as I dream of retreating to a simple life without technology, I doubt that’s realistic.

Every job posting I read requires familiarity with computer systems and social media channels. Socialization takes place over these networks, especially in a pandemic world. 

"The fact is, he already knows more about a lot of these dangers than I did a few years ago…"

And so we need to learn how to integrate them in a positive, creative and balanced manner, not hiding out at either end of the spectrum of use.

These days I’m happy with my family’s use of social media. I feel it’s a force for good, not isolation. We may each have our preferred apps, and use them in different ways, but one thing is for sure — my kids are proving to be patient, creative and social creatures. Even if I’m pretty horrible (or sus) at playing Among Us.

Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a writer who moved from the big city to Orangeville in 2014 and never looked back, claiming a need to take the scenic route through life. Her blended family includes five kids, a wildly overgrown garden and a whole lot of coffee. Janice cherishes creative writing as a treat, right up there with overstuffed tacos, '80s mixed tapes and walks on beaches scattered with dunes. 

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