MEET "THE TYPICALS"
No One Said Parenting The Internet Generation Would Be Easy
Read "The Typicals" Interview Transcript - here
You’re about to meet a typical Canadian family -- mom, dad & two sisters. All of them spend time on social media, with mom and dad trying to navigate their way through the pleasures and perils of kids Instagramming and YouTubing their way through childhood and adolescence. Mom and dad describe it as a bit of “two solitudes” with parents on Facebook and Twitter and the kids living mainly on Instagram, dipping their toes into the world of YouTube, Facebook and text messaging. None describe themselves as heavy social media users, though the kids can’t help ribbing their mom for spending too much time on Facebook. The family agreed to speak with us on condition they remain anonymous, so we’re using alternate names for the two sisters.
For the eldest daughter (we’ll call her Morgan), Instagram evolved from a social media tool, to an entrepreneurial one. Like most adolescents she posted pictures and comments on Instagram, but while exploring the platform Morgan discovered an online community that was part of her real world hobby – collecting, selling and trading model horses. Soon, she had a separate model horse account with over 4,000 followers, and has been making money and connections across the continent with other collectors. For Morgan it’s not about fame, but she concedes growing her base of followers is important and a bit of a heady experience.
At one recent convention for model horse collectors she ran into a few people who recognized her from her Instagram posts which she found surprising. But it’s definitely not the norm. Her younger sister (we’ll call her Riley) is much more enamored with the idea of fame and celebrity. Riley watches a lot of YouTube and Instagram and has figured out the tricks and gimmicks others use on line. She knows what she wants, even if she hasn’t got the etiquette of the platform quite nailed down. Here’s part of that family conversation starting with Riley
They’ve had conversations about what that content might be and Morgan has been providing counsel for Riley, telling her to focus her account on a theme. But it’s fair to say Riley has stars in her eyes. She watches famous YouTubers and she thinks about what it would be like to be a bona fide celebrity. Mom and dad are just trying to figure out what being famous really means. So young Riley is up for celebrity, Morgan is definitely not. Here’s their conversation starting with Morgan.
So, for all of Riley’s dreams of celebrity and being on tour, she’s also aware of just how hard, and sometimes ugly, social media can get. She and her older sister have both had experiences with the darker side of social, and mom and dad try to navigate the bullying and hurt feelings. Let’s listen to the conversation starting with the older girl Morgan.
Social media envy? Maybe so, but it’s that AND the usual push and pull of childhood and adolescence where friends one day become enemies the next – it’s just all so much more public, and more challenging to figure out exactly what to do about it. Which is what mom and dad are trying to do. Staying on top of your kid’s social media requires a deep level of commitment, and with so many friends, so many platforms and only so many hours in a day it’s a practical impossibility. So it really comes down to what parenting often comes down to: creating rules to keep them safe and instilling values to guide them. But make no mistake it is a challenge.
Educators can deliver the basics, but they can’t keep up with the lightning quick pace of change in the lives of their students. If you want a real world example of how badly it can go when teachers meet kids on social media click here.
What’s remarkable in all of this is just how engrained social media and personal branding is in the day-to-day lives of these kids. This is an average family, not a bunch of wannabe Instagram superstars growing their brand to make a killing as social influencers or Youtube performers. So the fact that Riley, age 11, has a goal of 1000 followers on Instagram tells you how very normal this has all become. In fact it’s really the “new” normal for kids and especially for parents as they gamely try to navigate their way through it all.