It was an innocent post of five girls who had gone to dinner, taken a picture, and posted it on Instagram.
Within minutes, however, one girl received a text from her mom asking her to take the picture down. The mom had received a text from another mom whose daughter was crying at home because she wasn’t invited to dinner, and she thought it’d be best if the picture was deleted.
I understand the mother’s intention. I know what it’s like to have a daughter who is scrolling through Instagram and suddenly realizes she was left out. Nobody likes to see their friends having fun without them. And for a mother there is nothing worse than seeing your child upset.
But what I’ve come to realize about scenarios like this is how it doesn’t help the child when we hastily try to fix whatever makes them sad. If anything, we prevent them from developing the coping skills they need both now and in the future.
Because here’s the thing: If you’re on social media, you’re going to have moments where you feel left out, forgotten, or excluded. This fact remains true whether you’re 16 or 66.
And while we can’t control what appears in our child’s news feed, we can help them deal with the feelings that arise when a picture or a post triggers an unexpected pang in their heart.
For girls especially, who are relationship-driven, Instagram can be a mixed blessing. While it lets them connect with friends, it also offers proof of every gathering they aren’t invited to. Parents often tell me they hate Instagram for this reason. While our generation was blissfully unaware of being left out of social gatherings, today’s kids see it aired for everyone to see.
For this reason, among others, I believe in talking through the emotional side of Instagram upfront. When your daughter comes home from school one day asking for an account because all her friends have one, and your mind starts racing with parental questions like:
- Is she mature enough to use Instagram responsibly and safely?
- Does she understand online safety, keeping a private account, and only accepting the followers she knows?
- Does she know the truth about her identity and worth so she doesn’t define herself by her “likes”?
- Is she a good judge of appropriate and inappropriate posts?
…tack another question to the list. Think through the silent risk that can mess with a girl’s psyche by considering this:
Is my daughter emotionally ready for Instagram? Can she handle the emotions that get triggered as she scrolls through her news feed?
Having this conversation early can lessen the sting of hurt feelings and prepare your daughter for what’s to come. It can assure her that hard feelings are normal and equip her to decide for herself whether the upside of social media (connection) outweighs the downside (knowing when you’re left out and wrestling with jealousy, comparison, or insecurity).
A parent ahead of me advised me to think about emotional readiness of my daughters before letting them on social media, and I can honestly say that having that conversation proved to be invaluable. Essentially I told them this:
Social media is supposed to be fun. And when it stops being fun, or when it causes more feelings of stress and anxiety than positive connection, then it’s time to get off.
You will see pictures of things that make you feel left out or jealous. Even at my age I feel that way sometimes, so I’m here to talk if you need to talk. At the same time, part of being on social media is learning how to handle hard or uncomfortable emotions so they don’t hurt you or your relationships.
It’s okay to feel hurt over a post, but if you dwell on every hurt, then that suggests a problem. If seeing a picture of some friends eating pizza without you makes you cry for an hour, you aren’t emotionally ready for Instagram. If seeing your friends on fancy vacations while we’re at the beach makes you so jealous you can’t see straight, you aren’t emotionally ready for Instagram. And if you get upset because you got 100 likes on a picture and your friend got 150 likes, you aren’t emotionally ready for Instagram.
Again, social media is supposed to be fun. And if ever starts to cause you more grief than happiness, that’s a sign that you should get off, delete your account, or take an intentional break.
I know a number of adults who aren’t on social media because they’ve realized it’s not good for them. They’re happy with their lives until they get online and feel the sudden discontent.
I think it shows wisdom, maturity, and self-love that they know to protect themselves. And as a parent in the digital age, I want that same self-awareness for my kids. Maybe social media will be good for them; maybe it won’t be. Maybe it will enrich their lives; maybe it will only make them dissatisfied. Whatever the case is, I hope they’re able to recognize when and if it’s worth their time and attention.
Is your daughter ready for Instagram?
Only you can answer that question. But if I have any advice to share, it is to empower your daughter in advance to handle the emotional ups and downs. Give her examples from your life. Tell her how you cope Make sure she knows it’s normal that feel all the uncomfortable feelings and sometimes see posts in your news feed that catch your heart off-guard.
And when your daughter does see a picture that feels like blatant exclusion, try not to get emotional yourself. Hug her, love her, and help her make a plan. Let her cry if she wants, but remind her that a picture doesn’t have to ruin her night. She can get the tears out, wipe them away, and choose to move on – putting her phone up and engaging in real-life fun with a family member or friend who can offer the perfect distraction.
Her newest book Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For? released November 15 and is available everywhere books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million. Kari is also the author of 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, used widely across the country for teen girl studies.
Kari’s work has been featured on national platforms like The Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, and Ann Voskamp’s blog. Learn more by visiting www.karikampakis.com or connecting with Kari on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.