My Love Hate Relationship with Social Media as a Mom of Teens

I started blogging in 2005 as a way to share our growing family with our out-of-state family and friends. I didn't think twice about pictures that I shared {as long as I didn't look bad in them they were fair game} and over time social media started to evolve. I could more easily share images on more platforms. The older my kids get though, the more eye rolls I receive when I whip out my camera, which now so conveniently fits in my back pocket and is always with me because it does double duty as my brain. They have started to care what I share about them on social media which means less and less of my kids showing up in my feed. My love/hate relationship with social media started long before the grumbles though. Those eyes that roll now were watching and taking mental notes about how I used my time on social media.  I kind of felt like as parents we were stepping into the Wild West. There were no rules. There was no research on how social media affected kids and so we winged it as best as we could as parents. 

We wrote up a cell phone contract before we gave our 14 year old son his first cell phone. There was nothing like it out there in 2012 and now more than five years later, the internet has site after site with information on teens and technology. Experts are popping up every where on the topic {thank you baby Jesus} and as parents we need this. This did not exist years ago when we were trying to figure out how to navigate as parents

However, I feel like a pioneer on the topic. I have used my children as guinea pigs in an experiment observing how they have found their way into social media. All three of my kids have internet enabled devices and I feel like we are more prepared as parents to navigate the murky waters of social media. It doesn't mean I love the idea of it and here's why.

Teens and Social Media

My job is a little different than most. I have to have a social media presence to be relevant to brands that I work with.  Most of you dear readers, are on social media for the very reason that I was way back in the day; we want to share life and what better way to stay connected than by social media. 

But how is our relationship with social media as parents affecting how our kids use social media? I'm exploring some of my hang ups with social media as a mom of teens. I'm hoping that as we start to really think about how we use social media as parents and we think about how are kids are using social media that we will be more intentional in our behavior as parents and we can teach our kids to do the same.

You are Worth More than a Like

This has been my number one concern with social media, especially with apps like Instagram. There are few comments that are made, but in an effort to express your "like" for something, you double tap the image or click the heart. 

My job is about numbers. Brands look at how many followers I have or how many likes {engagement} a post gets. Sadly a teen's life isn't much different. They place value on how many people see the image and how quickly they can rack up those likes. I've seen my teen's friends delete images because they weren't getting the likes they wanted as quickly as they wanted them. 

We need to make sure that our children who are using social media understand that they cannot put value in the amount of likes that they receive on social media. Being a tween or teen is hard and healthy self-esteem is not something that is easily learned on social media.

Social Media is Not Real Life

Maybe I'm more aware of this than most people because of my aforementioned job on the interwebs, but it goes without saying that social media is not real life. Those picture perfect Instagram photos are staged. A teen's perspective on real life can easily get distorted by seeing perfectly curated images as they scroll and they might think that's what real life is like. It's not. 

Heck, most of you probably know this because that Christmas photo you tried to take of your whole family has you all smiling but four seconds earlier you were screaming and one kid was crying and another just hit someone and not a single one of you knows how to "use your words." Or that picture you posted where your living room is all clean and your kids are snuggling on the couch with the dog conveniently crops out the level four disaster area that is your kitchen.

We love Instagram because of the filters and the cropping and the ability to blur life a little, and that's the same reason why it's hard for our kids to understand that what they are seeing, what seems like  "normal" life is all just staged and photoshopped


Fear Of Missing Out. What was meant to connect us does just the opposite sometimes. 
I remember a few years back one of my kid's friend's parent's {stay with me it out slowly}, posted pictures of her child's birthday party on social media. All of my child's friends were there but somehow the invitation must have gotten lost in the mail for my kiddo and they were excluded from the fun. Ten years ago, I would have been none the wiser that my kid wasn't invited to what I thought was a good friend's party, but now I saw that my kid was excluded and to be honest, I was a little hurt.

This happens for our kids on social media. If a kid is already feeling isolated or excluded from their peer groups, social media isn't going to help. 

Learn to Communicate

I see this because I have a social media presence. I get comments on posts that reflect to me that the person behind the screen has forgotten their manners. What is typed {I'm hoping} has far less of a filter than something someone would say to my face. 

As humans, science says that we are wired to be able to read social cues. We listen for tone, observe body language and look for facial expressions, none of which we can do over texting or communicating online. Don't get me wrong, I love the written word, it's just not how we are wired to receive the majority of the communication we take in during the day.

Remember when kids first started texting and they wrote things like "thx" and "b4" and we all thought the English language was going to hell in a hand basket? It kind of still is. People get caught behind a screen looking down so why would we assume they would be comfortable looking in the eyes of the person in front of them as they talk? If they can tap out a few words why bother knowing about sentence structure?

Our home phone rings and it's a struggle to get anyone to answer it because words are hard. And yes, we still have a home phone because we are old-school. But if our kids are staring at a screen and typing words and waiting for a response, is this form of communicating really going to help them interact in the real world? 


Our phones distract us from reality and sometimes that isn't all bad. But we can't live our lives withdrawn. I know that I can easily get sucked into the vortex of distraction. Have you ever picked up your phone and then wondered how a quick peek turned into an hour of your life that you will never get back? This happens to kids all the time.

What about the interruptions from a notification that goes off? More and more students have assignments that involve computers and it's difficult to avoid the distractions in the background. Most teens will think that they can multi-task but there will always be a divide in their attention.

Sometimes this one boils down to self-control. What techniques can we teach our kids {and ourselves} to stay focused on the task at hand or to ignore the constant distraction at our fingertips?

You are Connected but Not Really

Have you ever seen a kid pull down the screen to refresh? Statuses are being updated, kids are checking in to places, and we are constantly connected to what is happening with those we are connected too. But are these the types of relationships we want to foster? Mostly we are just stalking someone's updates without ever commenting and engaging with them. 

The flip side of that is that we are so connected that we expect immediate responses. If we don't get those immediate responses we feel ignored and start to question what we did wrong. We are constantly waiting and then that spirals into anxiety.
It should have us question if the connections we are making are real connections. Are we staying connected virtually or are we connecting with the real people we are sharing life with?

What Should You Do?

I don't have any magic answers as a parent other than to be mindful of how you use social media. Set a good example of how to use your devices and check in often with your kids about how they are using it themselves. Talk about what you observe and continue the dialogue with your kids about their usage. If your kids are on their phone too much check in with yourself and see if they are learning the behavior from you. Do you reach for your device as soon as you get bored { line at Costco or in the car?} or are you giving examples of other ways you can fight boredom?

Are you looking up from your phone when your kids are talking to you? Do you give them full attention? Are you on your phone during family dinner? Check in with your own bad habits and work with your children to find alternatives so that they aren't creating habits that will be hard to break. 

Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Any tips that might help other parents or advice we can learn from? I'd love to hear it.


LindaSchultz said...

Great article! I remember years ago...I bet it's been nearly 20, our pastor talking about how computers were going to cause isolation, depression and anxiety.
I had been part of a group of leaders that started the push to form small groups in churches as a way to help people feel connected. Fast forward to now...Mega churches, mega stores, online everything. We are becoming a people who are so isolated from real daily interaction. No wonder drugs and suicide are so prevalent in our society. Most people feel they can never quite measure up because the "perceived" real life is so much better and happy and wonderful than the life they have. Until we realize that our self worth needs to come from the one who made us...exactly the way we are..perfect in his eyes. When we do, we realize how unique and special we are. We live in a world that is chaotic, he offers peace, we live in a world that has so much hate, yet we can feel loved. When our focus is on God and not on self and how the world views us, we can then experience a life noteworthy on social media. Jesus is all about followers...follow him! You are a great mom know what is important!

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