We lived for several years in Spanish Fork, Utah. And, like all respectable citizens of that great town, we were socially obligated to own a minivan, a truck, a dog, and a trampoline. This took us a while to build up to, but we finally purchased a trampoline in the summer of 2008, when the kids were just 5 and 3 years old.
It was a pain to put together and took us well into the evening. As the hours passed and I got ever more frustrated and tired, I became careless. Until finally, as I was jamming two metal poles together, I failed to notice that Olivia’s hand was reaching through from beside me. It got caught between the two hollow poles, and the force of the connection sheared off the tip of her finger.
During one of several outbursts in the Emergency Department that night, she asked me, “Why did you let me help build the trampoline?” I apologized for letting her. But then I condescendingly reminded her that it was—after all—what she had wanted to do. I’ll never forget her response.
She made the angriest glare I’d ever seen on her cherubic face and yelled, “I’m just a little kid. You’re the parent. You should have said no.”
In my defense, I had no idea what Instagram is. I basically thought it was something people use to take a picture, age it, and then post it on Facebook. So basically you take a picture of your cat and then you apply a 1970’s look to it. Then you post the picture on Facebook and say something witty like, “Hey look at this old picture of my current cat that looks like it was photographed in the 1970s.” And then all your friends like it. And, BOOM, that’s Instagram.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know then that it’s also a site where kids can post messages and can “follow” each other. It’s a site where a bunch of kids joke about drugs and post about being in love with each other. It’s also a forum for young girls say self-loathing things about their looks or popularity. And—this was the kicker—it’s also a platform for an 8th grade boy from my daughter’s school to run a match making program that makes suggestions on which students should hook up with each other.
Don’t get me wrong. That kid will be a millionaire before he’s 30, and I wish I were that smart when I was in 8th grade. But I also don’t need him giving my daughter advice on whom to hook up with.
Wendy and I were shocked by the broad range of activities on Instagram. We were embarrassed by our own naiveté. And we were completely flummoxed about what to do next. Our instinct was to close the account. But we had to question this: Don’t we trust her? Don’t we believe in free agency? Aren’t we better off knowing what’s going on in her social circles?
We decided to suspend the account for the rest of the week and give ourselves some time to think, pray, and discuss. Wendy talked to other parents. And we both stayed up late several nights discussing and worrying. My answer finally came tonight. And, as is so often the case, it came from reading a recent address from LDS General Conference.
The answer was two-part. First, when I undercut Wendy in front of the kids, I’m disrespecting her and I’m also almost certainly in the wrong. Second, when something seems wrong to us, we should say no to it.
From Larry Lawrence’s October 2010 address: “It’s so important for husbands and wives to be united when making parenting decisions. If either parent doesn’t feel good about something, then permission should not be granted. If either feels uncomfortable about a movie, a television show, a video game, a party, a dress, a swimsuit, or an internet activity, have the courage to support each other and say no.”
A part of me struggles with saying no to Instagram. I’m overindulgent as a parent. And I don’t want to seem controlling or mean. I also don’t want people to think I’m an extremist or that I live my life with my head in the sand.
But I also don’t think that my 6th grader is ready to be online in a social network where her peers joke about drugs, talk about being in love, say nasty things about themselves, or make suggestions on whom to make out with. I also worry that a forum like that is a perfect place for kids to act out as bullies or to over sexualize each other.
I shudder to imagine my sweet girl being subject that kind of ugliness or abuse and then coming to me brokenhearted with that same reminder she gave me years ago: “You’re the parent. You should have said no.”