A teen with no cell phone?!? No social media? WHAT?
Alexa is 13 years, 3 months old. She does not have a cell phone or any social media accounts. If you are having a hard time fathoming this, what’s even more mind blowing is that it was her choice, not ours.
In our home, the rule has always been no cell phone before you are 13. It was the rule for Austin, as well as Chris, who we were guardians for. Jeff and I have always just believed that it was an added payment and added pressure that kids didn’t need before then.
When Austin and Chris were young, cell phones came with talk and text plans, when I got my first cell phone at 16 it was just for talking because the idea of texting on it was ludicrous! But now, even a basic phone, or even an iPod is a tiny computer in your hand. Talking on the phone to your friends is now the ludicrous option, and even texting is less common, it is through social media that most kids are connecting.
This presents a new set of variables.
The impact of time spent on social media is still relatively unknown, but studies that are surfacing about it show high correlations to anxiety and depression, especially for adolescents; the more time teens spend on social media, the higher the likelihood of mental health impacts.
No parent wants their child to suffer from anxiety and depression from social media, but you also don’t want your child to experience anxiety and depression that can result from being ‘other’. True belonging occurs when you have shared experiences with your peers. The affects of not having a sense of belonging are also devastating. Belonging lowers mental health issues, decreases the likelihood of engaging in unhealthy behaviours, and increases overall health.
Talk about a parenting line mine.
Just to make this even more challenging, along came COVID-19 and school closures, and parenting working from home. As parents work to balance everything and cope with reality – kids increasingly turn to Instagram, Tik Tok, SnapChat and other social media platforms to entertain themselves.
Jeff and I don’t believe good decisions come from fear based choices. We have adopted an approach to social media and our children that we have dubbed Co-So. Think a learners licence before a drivers licence, but for social media. When the kids were little there was co-sleeping, and now they they are older its co-social media training. Co-So.
Jeff and I decided we would let Alexa practice having social media on MY social account because it came without any of the pressure or consequences of having her own. She didn’t have to manage the ‘likes’ or comments. She didn’t have to worry about who she accepted as a friend, or follower etc. She was free to experiment, to learn, to find her own voice and style. Free to pick up my phone and look at stories, snoop through my feed, check in on her friends, ask questions, Co-So has become a helpful strategy for all of us.
My platform of choice is Instagram. I have become a bit of an Instagram ‘stories’ junkie. I shoot on average 12-15 mini videos every day, and have done so for 2 years straight. If you aren’t following along you are missing out 😉 . I love it. I have gathered a loyal following of viewers who I love entertaining with bits and pieces of our life. As such, my family all make regular appearances in my stories.
That was why it was such a natural decision to give Alexa access to my social media to use on my device. She has even got quite the Alexa fan club out there; people who love to watch her and support her, and encourage her.
I re-watch her stories over and over. I adore seeing her unique expression. I enjoy viewing the world through her lens. I love “seeing” her. It is different than how I see her every day in the day to day moments. I don’t know if it just the medium but I feel more awake to who she is.
Giving Alexa the space to learn about social media and to find her own voice through my platforms, with little to no direct consequences has been fun for all of us, and safe for her.
For her, for right now, this is enough. She was given the choice to have a phone and social media on her 13th birthday just the rest of our children. But she surprised us when she emphatically declined. And we respect that choice. Alexa is becoming more autonomous all the time and being there to support the choices she feels are right for her is not just our job as her parents, but it is also our privilege.
I would love to share that story with you, but it is hers. So I will ask her how she feels about sharing it with you. Perhaps she will let me write her story, maybe she will write it herself. Or maybe she will keep that one tucked inside her own heart.