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.
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