‘You’re being so UNFAIR.’
I brace myself for the door slam I know is coming, the squeak of the springs as she throws herself onto the bed in fury. It’s not the first time we’ve had this fight, but it’s the first time I’ve questioned how long I’ll keep fighting it for.
She’s 11 now, I say to myself. Am I being so unfair?
My daughter has been begging me for an Instagram account since she found out what Instagram was. All of her friends have it, I’m repeatedly told, and so do all of the YouTubers that she’s predictably infatuated with.
She’ll keep her account private, she promises, and only follow people she knows. She says I can check the account. It’s fine, it’s totally safe, what’s my problem?
I tell her she’s too young, that there are people out there who won’t use it as responsibly as she will (and of course, this is at the forefront of any parent’s mind). But my real problem with it, just between us, is that it’s all too perfect, and I don’t want her to think that she has to be that way too.
In a recent #StatusofMind study from the Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram was found to be the most harmful social network for mental health, encouraging feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, particularly in young women.
‘Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look “perfect”‘, an anonymous respondent explained, and they’re right. The pictures presented on Instagram are planned, primed, and ultimately Photoshopped, with the option to adjust everything at the click of a button.
The flawless bodies and faces online are doing the same thing that magazine images did to my generation; setting a standard that can never be reached. Even now, scrolling through my own feed, (securing my firm status as a hypocrite, I know) I can’t deny feeling an irrational pang of jealousy when I see a mum in a fabulous outfit, or one who looks like she’s never heard the phrase ‘baby weight’.
My bright, brilliant daughter, on the other hand, currently lives without an ounce of this self-consciousness. She’s the star of her drama group, the leader of her friendship group, the first child to raise her hand in class. When she takes a picture, she spins her face into a wide, sincere smile without giving the outcome a second thought.
Basically, she’s still got the confidence we all wish we’d retained from our own childhoods – which is why I’m so scared of social media stealing that away.
CNN reports that experts say that using this type of site can actually become addictive – even more so than cigarettes and alcohol. When teenagers get lots of likes, one piece of research found, their brain responds in a similar way to how it would if they had won money.
Admittedly, this is a broader issue across all apps, not just Instagram, but I don’t want my daughter’s value to begin to become derived from how many hearts she receives on a picture, or how she looks with a Valencia filter.
This is also, it’s worth noting, before we even get to the negative comments – and I know from her friends that have been granted permission that there are plenty of these doing the rounds. It just takes one person to plant the seed of ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ under a selfie, and those nasty words soon grow out of control.
As it happens, she can’t even have an Instagram account by their own rules yet – the terms and conditions state that it’s unsuitable for anyone under 13.
However, in small ways, she’s already started living her life like its going to be captured through a lens; taking hours to ice a cupcake, arranging her polishes in colour order because they look neater that way.
If she actually had an Instagram to share them on, I’m convinced she’d never really enjoy the act of painting her nails or eating the treat. She’d be too busy finding the right light and the slickest angle to showcase the best snippets of her life, instead of just living it, bravely, and without pausing for framing.
So for the moment, I’ll put up with the slam of the door, the bounce of the bedsprings, the tears and the tantrums and the threats to called Childline (well, I did say she was good at drama), because I want her to enjoy her life off screen for as long as she possibly can.
And actually, I don’t think there’s anything unfair about that at all.