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Read This Before You Let Your Kid on Social Media

A writer spent weeks using an app as a kid would

Published on: March 12, 2018

Girl on computer

So your kid asks for a new social media app and it sounds innocuous, and her peers have it (as she tells you over and over), and other parents think it’s fine (as she tells you over and over).

After a little poking around and asking around, you let her download it, even though you think that you should do more due diligence. But that takes time and effort and it's easier not to.

Or, if you’re writer Anastasia Basil, and the social media app is a lip-synching app called Musical-y (tag line: "Watch magical videos made by creative people") you actually take the time (weeks) to do a very deep dive — so disturbingly deep that you have to take lots of breaks — and then you publish a piece on what you found.

“Porn Is Not the Worst Thing on Musical-y” went live last week on Medium and it’s now at 893,000 shares.

Take the time to read the whole thing. She took an emotional hit by digging into this app so thoroughly, so the least the rest of us can do is spend 15 minutes to read about what she found on Musical-y, rated for 13 and older. 

A couple of excerpts:

“There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. ... It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan. Who then will save the children? Apparently, other children.”

Yes, she found examples of little kids trying to stop other kids from killing themselves:

“I saw this comment beneath a #suicide video: 'u r beautiful plz dont kill urself im only 10 but i will b ur friend.' Kids should be watching witty cartoons, riding bikes, making slime, doing art, playing Minecraft, learning chess, and boring us with bad magic tricks. They shouldn’t be stopping other kids from killing themselves. “

Puberty is harrowing enough in physical form, asking a child to also manage an online ego is like asking them to thread a needle while the plane is going down.

Musical-y might be a particularly disturbing example — Instagram, apparently, has pop-up warnings for users who search on self-harm tags. But the problem is much broader, as we all know. It’s that, as Basil says more eloquently than I could:

“Online, there is no school bell, there is no escape; she exists globally, and so do her mistakes. The ridicule is permanent. Puberty is harrowing enough in physical form, asking a child to also manage an online ego is like asking them to thread a needle while the plane is going down.”

And:

Studies show that girls as young as 10 struggle with body image and suffer from anxiety while using Instagram. In an article for 'Time,' Frances Jensen, chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, says that social media and smartphones may not be the root cause of anxiety and depression but, 'They may turn out to be an accelerant — the gasoline that turns a flicker of adolescent angst into a blaze.'"

So now what?

How to help your kid stay true to their kid self and avoid the worst of social media during their critical brain-development years? Here are a few thoughts from Basil and other sources: 

  • Disable Safari on your kid’s iPad. Keep them on the apps you buy for them and nothing more.
  • Just say to no to social media. As Basil writes (and as parents well know), once you’ve allowed Insta and everything else, it’s really hard to go back.
  • Basil floats an intriguing idea for parents (or Bill Gates, ahem) to award kids $1,600 at age 16 if they’ve managed to stay off social medial. (Save $23 a month starting when your kid is 10 and you’ll get there.) We award kids for plenty of other things, so why not — as Basil states — for “winning at peer pressure”?
  • I think this is critical: Develop a community around you with similar beliefs and habits. (After all, if their friends weren't on Instagram, they wouldn't want to be either.) Waituntil8th is a movement that’s building steam. There are groups of kids who are promoting the idea that offline is where it’s at and that a flip phone is all you need.
  • There are also some cool new devices that can help your cause. Basil mentions this Polaroid-type camera that will let non-smart-phone kid take plenty of pics.
  • New call-and-text-only phones are being developed, beyond flip phones, such as this one.
  • What are your thoughts? Are your kids on social media? How do you help them navigate it?

And how do we form a community around keeping our kids safe while letting them learn, grow and explore the world? 

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