I think that’s our job…

download (2)I’m just a Mama, not some 30ish year-old tech-savvy executive, so my assessment of crafting strategy for how people use a social media platform is not my expertise and is really narrow minded. It’s ironic that a few days ago, my psychiatrist tasked me with subbing “I’m more than a…” for “I’m just a …” but I’m neither ready or convinced, so Imposter Syndrome is winning on this subject and we’ll pay Dr. V to call me out in a couple of weeks. However, that’s a different subject for a different day.

Instagram recently launched a test in for some users in Canada that hides “like” counts from the view of followers of an Instagram user’s posts. It has also made less obvious the number of followers a user has. So if I post a photo, I would be able to see the number of likes and the names of followers that like it, but no one following me could see that data, and if you visited my profile, it would be more less prominently displayed as to how many followers I have personally. Instagram has said that it does not just want to help with the effects of social media on the mental, social, emotional health of its users – it has said it wants to be a leader in this arena. I applaud the efforts, I truly do; it’s not often that the very creator of something that has been tied to being destructive to some of its users says, “We want to be a part of solving the issue we may have had a hand in creating.” It’s impressive and admirable.

The “just a Mama” in me simply isn’t sure this is really going to reduce the stress of a teenage user’s experience. Their hope is that users will post more authentic, self-expression photos and videos and use their Finsta (aka Fake Instagram) account for the random “look at this slice of pizza, I’m eating” content. This, “just a Mama” sees the merits of their theory but also knows there are innumerable kiddos out there posting photos and videos hoping to get noticed; might it be possible that if these kiddos see a post isn’t get the reaction they’d hoped it would, they’ll start pushing the envelope to see what it takes to get noticed? Google “Death by selfie” and you’ll get a plethora of proof that people are willing to do a whole lot to grow followers, share themselves with the world and “build their brand”. (Word of caution, if simply seeing someone taking a risky picture from towering heights makes your stomach turn as it does mine, just take my word that there’s plenty of proof people will do life-threatening acts to add to their lie counts).

I’m on an Insta hiatus (and rather enjoying it) but anymore it seems that one doesn’t really need to be on the platform to know what is happening. I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big watcher of television (currently on a campaign to get my Miller Men to give Netflix the axe, but again that’s a post for another day), so I try to spread my attempts to keep up on current events and news through a variety of online sources; from Fox News to USA Today to Politico, I really try to give myself a full “right to left” landscape of information. Lately, not a day goes by that when, while in search of actual news, you know “the what’s happening in the world so that I can be an adult who can make decisions about voting & financial moves & kid’s college” kind of stuff, trivial stuff really (insert sarcasm font), I have to wade through the endless mud-slinging that is our current “leadership style” to also get newsworthy reports of Kelly Ripa’s husband wanting us to know how awesome she still looks in a bikini (aka dental floss), with A-Rod and J-Lo trying to compete against them for how the title of “Who’s 50+ partner is hotter?”, the Kardashians managing to continue finding “clothing” that says “underwear is overrated” and Halle Berry’s “Self Care Sunday” encouragement being best explained by a “steamy” bubble bath pic that I am guessing, had I clicked the headline, would make me want to go under water and consider staying there.

I’m almost 47 & struggle to navigate the importance of what you all think of me. Seriously. Some of you I haven’t met in person. Some of you I haven’t seen since high school. Why would I care what you think if we’ve never met face to face or if I haven’t seen you since a period in my life when I didn’t need “likes or followers” to “conclude” I’d been selfishly using oxygen someone much cuter, skinnier, smarter, richer, happier, positive, upbeat, popular, etc deserved? I am a medicated, grown woman with a strong marriage to a man I’m crazy proud to call my husband, two great kids (despite their being teenage boys); who’s part of a non-profit making an impact in kiddo’s lives, a dedicated volunteer, an advocate, so I’m told, for the “voiceless”, a member of a business practice and never gets up on a Monday wishing it was already Friday and blessed with an amazing small tribe of women who love me and my brokeness relentlessly. So why would I care what the followers of this blog and those on Facebook or Twitter think of me?

I’m human. We think about these things. And we’re raising kiddos that, some since the age of 9 or 10 (news flash: Insta, Snap, et al your “age verification” is ineffective), have built their self worth based partially on how many likes/followers/views they have. They aren’t “creating content” to connect – they are looking for validation. Period.

My “unquiet mind” was working toward being a little more quiet with the dawn of social media. (Ironic, right?) At a time when I was trying to learn the lessons my brain missed 30-40 years ago – that I could love me even if everyone else didn’t, I didn’t have to “do anything” to earn love, I could in fact say “no” and the world would not suck me into a black hole of shame – social media gave me a platform to measure my worth, and do it with some of the very people that were around for my first attempt at quitting life: my high school peers. I used to look at my Facebook Memories but, after my last sabbatical, ended that practice; the early stuff was a regular reminder that the 13 year old in me was still doing whatever she could to scream “Hey, hey look at me!”. I am not ashamed to admit that, as recently as yesterday, I find myself doing the same thing our kiddos are doing social media: feeling left out when I see my friends out & I wasn’t invited or jealous because we didn’t go on a vacation like every other family or annoyed because someone else’s husband likes to go downtown to try new restaurant while My Fave is content with knowing what he likes despite what the “popular kids” are doing (which is also why I love him so very much). Yep 47 (almost) and the 13 year old girl in me is still trying to get some validation and fit in.

While I sincerely appreciate the intention and effort, I’m not just not feeling strongly that Instagram hiding post likes and making follower counts harder to see is going to make an impact on a kiddo’s mental health. I’ll also say this: I’m not sure that’s their job.lets-be-honest...-1They didn’t buy our kids the device or pay for an unlimited data plan that allows them access to the platform (and more). They don’t refuse to set screen limits and check their phones regularly for fear our kids might see us as parents rather than friends. They haven’t forced us to avoid establishing tech-free days/nights/meals because it would be just as hard on us as it is on our kids. They aren’t the ones that keep us from actually unplugging when we go on a vacation.

We did, and are doing, all of that.

They created a platform that exposes our kids to content that might not be the best for their developing brains and feeds the “feel good” brain chemical we all possess. They provide us with notifications that administer the surge of “feel good” when we get a like or new follower and then want, and in some cases, crave more. (Yes, device addiction is as real as any other addiction – dopamine doesn’t really care about the source, it will take anything it can get to keep you feeling good and will make you need more and more and more to keep that “high” going).

We gave them, as us, the mechanism to access it all. While I am not sure Instagram’s efforts are going to make an impact on our kids, and we adults, connecting with peers or improve their mental health, maybe even reverse the growing epidemic of suicide we are witnessing steal the lives our 10-24 year-olds year after year, they’re at least doing something.

Maybe we parents should follow their lead.

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