Why I Won’t Let You Use Social Media: An Open Letter to My Daughter

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Dear daughter,

You asked me again why I won’t let you use social media. And, once again, I didn’t do an excellent job of explaining my reasoning.

Let me start by saying that, honey, I know it stinks to feel like you’re the only one who can’t do something. It doesn’t seem fair. And, you are a kind, responsible, awesome kid. If anyone deserves to have an extra privilege, it’s you. But, I’m not saying no to deny you a privilege. I’m saying no because I really think it’s best for you.

As you know, I was on social media for years, and I eventually realized it wasn’t good for me. I know we’re different people, so maybe you’ll have a different experience. But I’m also 30 years older than you, and even with all that extra knowledge and strength I’ve accumulated in those 30 years, social media was still hard on me. 

And, since I’m your mom and my job is to guide you, I’ve decided that for now, the potential negatives of social media use outweigh the positives. There’s so much new in your life right now: texting is still relatively recent, new social situations, more freedom. I want you to have a little more practice with that before you attempt to navigate social media and its effects on you.

I know that may seem vague and abstract, so let me break it down. I don’t want you to be on social media right now because:

You’re worth so much more than the number of likes you get!

When I regularly used social media, I remember posting things and checking back every 15 minutes to see how many “likes” it got. I did this as if getting more likes would somehow validate me…and I was a grown adult. An adult should know better than to be validated by someone else’s opinion, much less by people I rarely see clicking on a thumbs up. But, social media sometimes makes it hard to see how this doesn’t matter, and it’s even harder to realize this as a teenager.

I want you to have a break from socializing.

When I was growing up, if I had a bad day at school, I knew I could come home and get a break from my peers. I could veg in front of the TV a while, read a book, do things with my family, or just spend the night alone. I might have gotten a call from a friend or two, but I wouldn’t have been in contact with them the entire night. With social media, people often feel accessible all the time. I want you to have some downtime without having to be “on” like we often think we have to be with peers.

I also want you to have quality relationships with friends.

The name “social media” implies that it’s a way to be social, but studies show that interacting online doesn’t actually fulfill the need humans have for connection. Also, studies show that social media use leads to less of the face-to-face communication that does satisfy that need. We humans are wired to crave human connection and real friendship. You’re more likely to have those connections if you don’t use a lot of social media.

I want to save you from having mistakes going down in history forever and ever.

When things go online, they can last forever. Honey, I know you’re smarter and more responsible than I was, but I did so many dumb things and wrote so many stupid things in journals and notes to friends. I am so thankful that all those things I wrote didn’t go online for everyone to see. I’m so grateful that the pictures that I took are in a box in the basement, instead of having been shared online where they could still be floating around somewhere. And, though I’m sure you’ll make better choices, it’s always nice to have a smaller platform from which to broadcast our mistakes.  

I don’t want you to compare your life to curated versions of other people’s lives.

We can all be happier if we avoid comparing ourselves to others, but we all find ourselves comparing ourselves to others at times. The thing is, people on social media are going to share an unrealistic version of themselves. They’re going to share the best pictures of them looking their best and doing the best things that they do. So, if we compare ourselves to those versions of others, it’s going to be a distorted, impossibly high bar to live up to. It is going to look like everyone is happier than you, looking better than you, and having more fun than you. And this is going to lead us to feel bad about ourselves.

I don’t want you to exacerbate your “Fear of Missing Out.”

Along with people sharing an unrealistic version of themselves, everything people do also looks better when it’s filtered through social media. Grandma used to say this about her own high school life. She would joke, “All the parties I didn’t go to were way more fun than the ones I actually went to.” She meant that when people talked about the parties she missed, they sounded super fun, but when she was at them, they were just okay. Studies show that social media takes the feelings Grandma had and amplifies them.  

I want to give you the best chance you can have to be happy.

Studies show that adolescents and young adults who are on social media are less happy than those who aren’t. One study measured teens’ happiness after using social media and their happiness after doing several other things. The teens were more unhappy and depressed after using social media than after doing any other thing studied. Two studies showed that people who limit or cease social media improve their happiness. If you were to read these statistics about some mystery activity, there’s no chance you’d want to do something that had this kind of results. 

I want you to have time for things that matter.

Social media can be such a time-suck and such a distraction. I want to keep you from that and allow you to appreciate your life as you live it. I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself scrolling down reading through 200 comments for no reason. Or how many times I got distracted by a link someone posted, and suddenly I was down a rabbit hole that I didn’t find myself out of until I had read about popular Irish baby names and scrolled through pictures of dogs that look like lions. Twenty minutes would pass, and I had forgotten to do the thing I got on my phone to do in the first place. And that’s not to mention all the ads that have convinced me I needed things I had never before given a thought to. (I somehow ordered a gadget to attach to my back to monitor my posture and a special kind of tie-it-yourself hairband designed to be good enough for Olympic athletes.) There’s also evidence that too much use of digital media can lower people’s attention span.

I know I can’t protect you forever. For now, I’m setting this boundary, but soon you’ll have to make your own choices about if social media is right for you. I want you to be aware of these things, and we’ll keep the conversation going when you do make your own choices. And, I know that if you recognize these things happening, you’ll make decisions that are right for you.

Love, 

Mom

Editor’s note: this post shares a mom’s decision about what is right for her daughter, and was written before the start of the COVID-19 Outbreak.  We understand that families have been forced to adapt to meet their children’s social and emotional needs in varying ways as we adjust to the “new normal.” What is right for one parent or one child is not always right for another. 

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