Social media could kill your daughter, literally

I have a question. Do you let your kids smoke cigarettes? If you’re anything like me, your answer is hell no.

But I heard something the other day and it made me stop and think.

“Social media is the new smoking, and it’s an addiction.”

I was like noooo, social media isn’t THAT bad.

I mean cigarettes kill you. Social media doesn’t kill teenagers.

Or does it?

First, let me start by saying, I am NOT the perfect parent. At all. And I have made big mistakes surrounding social media. I mean heck, it’s basically been my career for the past 12 years. And we can discuss how that’s affected me (ask me how I feel when a post does bad, or the rush I get when it goes viral, or the pit I get when someone berates me in the comments). But I’m an adult. And this post is not about me. It’s about our kids.

I F’ed up.

A couple of years ago when Zoey was just 11, I let her get TikTok. I saw a bunch of her friends were on it, and I wasn’t excited about it, but I caved and I set up an account for my daughter who was technically too young for it (now I think the minimum age should be 18 or maybe even 80).

Zoey enjoyed it for a while. A lot. She made her own creative videos, she surfed other people’s cool videos, she followed her friends and they made fun stuff together. It seemed harmless. Until one day something happened.

I jumped on her account to see what she had been posting (this is the way parents think they’re watching carefully, but now I know it’s not nearly enough). So I jumped on to check out her account. Wait, where’s her account? It’s gone!!! Where did it go? Did she get banned? I impatiently waited until she came home from school to ask.

ME: Zoey, what happened to your TikTok account?!

And her answer shocked the hell out of me.

ZOEY: I realized it was making me feel bad so I decided to stop.

Woahhhhh. I couldn’t believe she had that kind of self-awareness and self-control. I’m willing to bet that 99.99% of kids do not. I mean just a few years ago our school district showed the parents a film called Screenagers Next Chapter, and all these teenagers were literally saying to the camera that social media makes them feel bad, but they can’t help it.

THEY can’t help it. But WE can.

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal (I finally subscribed so I could read it) and holy crap was it eye-opening. It was all about these studies that Facebook conducted and then hid from the public. These studies showed how incredibly harmful Instagram is to girls. Like remember how back in the day all the head honchos at the cigarette companies sat around conference tables scheming ways to fool the public about smoking? That. Only now it’s Facebook.

They didn’t tell us how harmful Instagram is for our daughters. How it causes eating disorders and social anxiety disorders and body dysmorphia and constant bullying and depression. How when our kids get “likes” on social media, that they get an instant hit of dopamine that trains them to need “likes” to feel good. How it’s harmful and addictive.

And while I was reading this article, I suddenly started to realize something awful. The same way smoking is bad for your lungs, social media can be bad for your brain. And neither of those are organs I want to sacrifice in my kiddos. No, you can’t take an x-ray of a girl’s brain and say, “Eww look what social media did to it,” the same way you can with a smoker’s lungs. But that doesn’t mean it’s not deadly.

Mental illness is deadly. Eating disorders are deadly. Depression is deadly.

There are people who are going to say that our daughters get positive things out of Instagram that make it worth the risk. Those are lies. The studies showed that the risks far outweigh the very small rewards. The same way smokers think “it’s not going to be me who gets emphysema and dies from it,” we’re going to think that way about our daughters and social media.

So what can we do? Our daughters are already hooked. What now?

If you have little kids, don’t let them on it in the first place. Put your foot down. Just say no.

And if your kids are already on it, maybe talk to them and make the decision to get off it together. Explain why it could be hurting them even if they don’t know it. They might get angry, they might be upset, but them being a little upset now could pay off bigtime in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I know this step is going to suck. 

But if you found out your kid was smoking, you wouldn’t throw up your arms and says, “Whoops, guess it’s too late!”

Social media is more similar than you think.    

Because here’s the thing. If you see your kid surfing Instagram day after day and they seem fine, that’s not surprising. If you handed them a cigarette and watched them smoke it day after day, they’d seem fine too. But there are things that are happening inside them that you can’t see. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer. Not every girl who surfs Instagram gets depressed. But the numbers are high. Very high. And it’s not worth the risk.

If you liked this or think it’s an important message, please don’t forget to like and share it. Thank you!!

There are 25 comments for this article
  1. Karen at 10:12 am

    Great article… I have to figure out how to broach the subject with my daughters-in-law about my granddaughters!

    • Marsha at 10:18 am

      Could you breach the topic with your sons?
      Sharing this article would be a good conversation starter

      • J J at 4:23 pm

        I agree, it can be risky business. Your language is pretty foul, but you’re so right—social media is bad news. It’s a shame more parents don’t agree with that. Thanks for the eye-opener!

    • Kate at 1:48 am

      Just a suggestion: talk to your sons first. You raised them. And as fathers, they should have a huge stake in the well-being of their daughters. Telling your daughters-in-law how to parent their kids could be seen as giving unsolicited advice, could alienate them from you, and may come off as though you don’t trust them to do a good job of it themselves. And if you really don’t trust them to broach social media with your granddaughters well, talk to your sons. And then ask to talk as a family of adults who care for these kids about the parents’ rules for social media and how you can best support them all.

  2. Kelly at 10:19 am

    Wow, thank you so much for putting this into words. So important to think carefully about social media and mental health…both for our kids and for ourselves.

  3. Robin at 10:25 am

    I wish I had a script or some way to talk to my (tiktok addicted, 13 yr old) daughter about getting off it. She even screams bloody murder if I even ask her to charge her phone in a different room! (Which she won’t do!). She is on the app hours a day and I’m SO worried ?

    • Jen Maley at 11:54 am

      Look at; even though the creator Colin has passed away, there are still some good resources there. Screenagers is a good resource, too. Good luck!

    • MuthaFodder at 6:19 pm

      She’s 13. I’m perplexed by the “Which she won’t do!” statement. So apparently, she has a choice? Does she pay her own phone bill?

    • Teresa at 9:32 pm

      You can get machines that shut off internet on their device. So long as they don’t have data, that’s it for the day. We have a neighbor that uses it for their 4 kids. Depending on child’s age, their access to the internet shuts off at different times. Less fighting.

  4. Kristen at 10:29 am

    Tis goes for boys too! I have a 12 year old boy and I totally feel this article. I feel like we are the last holdouts among his age group because we have not let him get a phone or any social media accounts. He begs us daily. It is really hard to continue to say no, but I believe it is so important to keep letting him be an innocent kid!

    • Jaymee at 10:44 am

      Check out the Gabb Wireless phone. That’s what my daughter has and it’s been a fantastic compromise. : )

    • Caryn G at 10:51 am

      I completely agree – exact same situation with my 12 year old son. He does have an iPad (monitored and locked down), but zero social media. The big mistake we initially made was in allowing too much screen time, but have backtracked and are in the process of limiting his usage much more than we have done previously.

    • Laura at 10:55 am

      Keep telling him “no!” My son lost his phone a week ago and he is a completely different person without Tik Tok. We’ve talked a lot about how much better he feels and even though the phone is somewhere in the house, he’s not looking for it. He misses being able to text and FaceTime his friends, but we’ve both agreed that he is better off without social media and we will not be going back once he finds his phone and/or if he gets a new one.

  5. Sandee Harned at 10:45 am

    It’s not just girls. My (then) 12 year old son was cyberbullied by 2 girls he went to elementary school with during the shut down. I monitor his online activity and warned him that these girls were becoming increasingly jerky. I got the teenage “MOM, IT”S FINE!” Then they started encouraging him to kill himself. He cut them off and I got the school involved. Being cut off enraged the girls and before the school had the opportunity to react, the girls made a fake snapchat account in his name and shared a photo of a p***s with a whole bunch of 6th graders claiming to be my son. We had no choice but to get the police involved, there was an investigation, court dates, the whole she-bang. It was a living nightmare. He’s fine and back to his normal self now, but it scares me to think of what might have happened if I didn’t monitor his social media interactions.

  6. Margie at 11:09 am

    I’m am totally with you on this post. I agree completely. I would just like to add, it’s bad for everyone. We all get sucked in. People walk and are their phone. They see nothing!
    My daughter in law, is 47 and when she posts something and gets no likes or comments she thinks she isn’t liked.
    I myself can’t stay off this d**n phone most days. I love the connection to people we don’t know. I have several beautiful friends I met in a quilt group. We have known one another for 20 years. I can be as close as a click to my family and friends. Video chats are great!!
    This is a great post. I hope it helps people realize the dangers. If you figure a way to get us away from the craziness let everyone know

  7. Cole at 11:15 am

    I’m the uncool mom. The mom that won’t discuss getting a phone for her 6th and 8th grader. The mom who won’t allow tik tok or social media accounts. The mom who screens their discourse comments and kids messenger comments. I know their passwords and take their electronics away when they try to change the passwords. The mom who makes them go to bed at 9pm so they’re less moody and less teenager attitude the next morning. I may be uncool but they’ll thank me later. Now if I can only get my 6 year old to comply ?‍♀️.

  8. Nicole at 11:16 am

    This was so eye opening. My 14 year old has depression and anxiety issues. Now I wonder if it is social media. Something I will talk with her about and my email her therapist about as well. Thank you for bringing this forward for parents to be “awakened” to what might be happening. And Kudos for raising such an amazing child, that she could make that decision for herself.

  9. Caryn Strean at 11:24 am

    So I have a client who teaches this. She wrote a book that I made my daughter read (it’s really for parents) but it worked in scaring my daughter off social. It’s called Are Your Kids Naked Online by Chris Good & Lisa Good.

    • Lauren at 11:44 am

      You might want to post the link to their book on Amazon in the comments. I just ordered it based on your comment. Only $9.99!

  10. Amy at 11:37 am

    There is a Netflix documentary on this very thing. Ex- execs from Pinterest, FB, etc.

  11. Jen Maley at 11:47 am

    I agree with this whole-heartedly and hope this message goes viral. My children are all under 9, and I’m hoping to have the bravery and strength to keep them off of social media when the time comes.

    My previous school had Colin Kartchner ( speak at our school a few years ago prior to his passing. His message was the same as you share here, and I love seeing people like you continue to spread the word about the dangers of social media. Thank you!

  12. Lezlie Lehmann at 12:46 am

    Babysidesurns/Karen, you are a godsend and a beacon of light and hope to young parents and all the rest of us parents in today’s crazy, mixed up world. I love all your posts! Keep on Rockin, Mama! ((( : )

  13. K at 7:26 am

    I thought your post about Tik Tok from before said that you had Zoey stop using it because some videos scared her? One where a girl’s parents died after she said she hated them. I remember someone commented that when you took it away “at least she probably didn’t say she hated you.” Am I thinking of another blogger?

  14. Amy at 1:13 pm

    THIS is what really got me: If you see your kid surfing Instagram day after day and they seem fine, that’s not surprising. If you handed them a cigarette and watched them smoke it day after day, they’d seem fine too. But there are things that are happening inside them that you can’t see. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer. Not every girl who surfs Instagram gets depressed. But the numbers are high. Very high. And it’s not worth the risk.