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Children Have Only One Mom

I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.

“I worry that if she’s already doing this at 11, what she will be like at 15?”

Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. I hope this is helpful and insightful for other parents who may have wanted to ask the same question — and who will appreciate some guidance.

Dear Dr. Meg,

My husband and I think we are doing a pretty good job with our 11-year-old daughter. We are raising her in our Catholic faith, we send her to a good private Catholic school, and she’s already an accomplished vocalist and dancer. But more importantly, we are raising her to be a kind, loving, Christian child of God. I will add we are older parents — I couldn’t have children and was pleasantly surprised with pregnancy at 41!

That being said, we did everything we could from keeping the television that my father sent her out of her bedroom (when she was seven!) to monitoring things that she watches in TV or music she listens to, but the wave of social media has overcome her!

I let her get an Instagram account earlier this year while I was trying to home-school her to save some money. I thought it would be a neat way for her to still stay in touch with her former classmates. And, informed as I am, I guess I didn’t realize it still operated as social media. I first understood it to be something that only her classmates and dance team members were on, kind of a giant text with shared pictures, and I do monitor who she follows and who follows her as that’s the rule in this home. What I want to ask you is if it is ever too late to somehow turn it back?

She is back in her private school now, so I really don’t have a reason for her to stay in touch with her friends on Instagram anymore, but now I feel like it’s too late to try to take it away … She knows she’s not allowed Facebook or Twitter. I still find she’s on there a lot and she’s also on YouTube watching DIY videos which are cute and give her great ideas for Mother’s Day gifts etc., but I worry if she’s already doing this at 11 what she will be like at 15.

Related: Social Media is Not Your Friend [1]

She’s a very sweet, respectful, and outgoing child and she does love to play outside, but I worry that this generation has already gotten addicted to it all. Is there a way to still keep it monitored or undo some of the addiction I see all of the kids succumbing to now?

Is there a way that kids can be a part of all of this but not be “addicted”? In your opinion, is there such thing as a healthy amount of using social media/YouTube so long as it is monitored and kept in check by parents?

I wish I had never started it. I swore I wouldn’t, but now here I am.

Concerned Mom

Dear Mom,

I hear you telling me that you want to dial back your daughter’s involvement with social media. Your instincts are telling you to limit her, cut Instagram, and monitor her social media interactions closely, but you are hesitant to do so. My question for you is: why are you second-guessing yourself? You are absolutely right.

I want to make note of the television incident with your father. Why didn’t you say “thank you” to your father politely and tell him that you didn’t want your daughter having a television. You could have very nicely asked him to give her something else.  You — not your father, your mother, social media, or anyone else — are parenting your daughter. Get tougher with yourself.

Yes, the Internet and social media are here to stay, so you must determine what and how much is enough for your daughter. Many parents have no television in their homes and others allow one hour of screen time at night, period. Don’t go by what your daughter’s friends are doing — ever. When you do, you begin parenting your daughter’s friends, not your daughter.

“I have seen so many girls get their feelings hurt via Twitter, Instagram, and other social media that I hate it.”

You haven’t said, but I HOPE that your daughter doesn’t have a cell phone with Internet access. You can monitor it all day long, but giving your daughter Internet access gives creepy people access to her and she is not ready at all to handle this. You can let her use a family iPad a couple of hours during the day. Make sure that when she uses it, she is in a public place — maybe the kitchen — where she is less likely to get hurt, or connect with places she’s not supposed to be, etc. Whatever you do, make sure that you have excellent parental controls on there.

Honestly, I have seen so many girls get their feelings hurt via Twitter, Instagram, and other social media that I hate it. It doesn’t lead girls anywhere good but it can make them vulnerable to getting very hurt. It is much healthier for girls and boys to develop relationships with friends face to face because they are more authentic.

Can you go backwards? I know that you can but the question is: Are you willing to trust your excellent instincts enough to do what you already know is right for your daughter? I hope so. You are her only mom.

Dr. Meg Meeker [2] has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.”