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Social Media Savvy
Is there a sure way to keep kids safe online?
Ruby has had a Facebook account since she was 9 months old. My best friend Amy – her godmother – was babysitting her during the day when I was at work, and she decided to create a profile for baby Ruby as a joke and also as a way to make sure I saw pictures she took of their adventures together.
For the first couple of years, especially after we moved to New Orleans and Amy moved to Chicago and we were trying to stay in touch, she would sometimes put up a goofy status update from “Ruby” – “Make me cookies, Mama!” or “I WANNA GO TO THE PARK!!!”—or use “Ruby” to wish me a happy Mother’s Day.
Then she had her own kids and stopped managing it and forgot the password, and now Ruby is 11 with a social media presence from 2008 that is in no way representative of who she is now – but enough pictures of her through the years that the face recognition on Facebook automatically tags her, which is creepy.
Ruby doesn’t have any interest in using Facebook (I hear tell it’s mostly for old people like me now), but she lobbied hard for a Musical.ly account (no), a Snapchat account (no), and an Instagram (which I finally gave in to).
I said no to the first two and yes to the third because of my own basic familiarity with those platforms – I know nothing about Musical.ly or Snapchat but enough about Instagram to feel OK with Ruby using it, even if I did only sign up for an Instagram account myself so I could follow Georgia’s kindergarten class.
But admittedly, it’s a huge dark scary world out there on the interwebs, and while this article (which, ironically enough, I saw because about 25 of my friends shared it on Facebook) didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t aware of on some basic level, it was still disturbing enough to make me want to take my kids and go off the grid – living Little House on the Prairie-style, where the big entertainment was batting around an inflated pig bladder, seems pretty appealing once you’ve learned about the pro-ana hashtag. (I felt the same way when I read about Peppa Pig torture videos on YouTube, too. What is wrong with people?)
I wish I thought keeping my kids safe was as easy as saying no to social media, but I don’t think that’s realistic – as I said, Ruby already has a (locked-down and monitored) Instagram – and given that she has a phone, a tablet, and a school-issued computer, I think she’ll likely stumble on to some of this crap even without a Musical.ly account – if she hasn’t already.
I feel like she would have talked to me about it if she’d seen anything too upsetting, but then again, as Anastasia Basil, the writer of the piece linked above points out – referencing one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read, Sue Klebold’s “A Mother’s Reckoning,” which I myself have blogged about before – we can never really know our kids and what they’re doing and thinking because raising them to be successful humans relies heavily on letting them be separate from us.
But if we can’t know if they’re being exposed to – or worse, posting – self-harm or pro-eating disorder or suicidal ideation-type content if they have social media accounts, we also can’t really know that they don’t have social media accounts under fake names or use a friend’s log-in information to view content on these sites.
In the end, it’s all anxiety-producing-to-the-point-of-borderline-paralysis sometimes, but, as I wrote more than a year ago in the above blog: “All I can do, though, is love my kids, trust them and myself, keep communication as open as possible — and, in the end, just hope and pray for the best. It’s comforting and terrifying all at once, but it’s the truth.”
So that’s my social media plan for now, I guess: Only apps I understand well-enough to navigate – and then love my kids, trust them and myself, keep communications as open as possible, and hope and pray for the best.
It’s not enough – not nearly enough – for me to feel safe or calm, but it’s about all I can think of to do.
Unless anyone wants to join me out in the vast unspoiled prairie? I’ll even bring the pig bladder.