The Instagram Games Girls Play (And Why My Answer is No)

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For the thousandth time, my daughter breached the topic of social media with me.

This time, however, I saw it coming. I knew she had a big question on her mind to ask me. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be following me around as I cleaned.

As she worked up the courage to ask, I decided I would embrace the anticipation and soak in her desire to be present in my space. I did prep myself emotionally, however, knowing how hard these conversations are. I stood a little straighter hoping I could display my confidence as a parent – even though I didn’t feel it.

Finally, with my back turned, the question spilled out in one breath as if she was exhaling the weight off of her shoulders.

“Can I please have Instagram back?”

She waited for my response, not exhaling again until she saw my face.

Part of me empathized with her because I know this social media app is how girls her age are living their lives. The other, more significant part of me, rose up like a warrior ready to defend and protect her people.

My vice with Instagram is how teenagers (including her) use it – which happens to be dramatically different than how adults, businesses and ministries use the photo sharing app boasting more than 400 million users.

For the teenage girl the allure isn’t only the flawless filters they can use to boost their weekend shopping trip with friends pictures. It isn’t even simply sharing pictures with your friends or staying connected to people you don’t see every day.

For the majority of our young girls it’s a game.

A game of popularity, self-promotion, slander, hatred, sex and lies. And in the rare moments when the “game” has a time out, the app is a vehicle for unhealthy and potentially life altering venting of any or all angst and emotions.

Our culture seems to have no problem recognizing negative affects from our boys playing violent video games, first person shooters/stealing cars/selling drugs/sleeping with prostitutes. The negative affects of Instagram’s games, however, are usually overlooked and chalked up to ‘girl drama.’

I’ve done my research on both games and neither are a sport I’d like my children participating in.

This decision is the most important decision, I believe, I will ever make for my children. I am taking my metaphorical stick and drawing a deep and obvious line in the sand between my children and the social “second” world they wish to join.

I did not draw this line in the sand and expect every grain to stay in its place. I have prepared well and provided solid reasoning, statistical proof, perceived losses, and potential benefits to defend my line.

Then I declared what I believed was best for her. Because this is my job as her parent.

WHY THE ANSWER IS NO

GAME OF LIKES.

The Instagram game is won and lost with “likes.” Did you think this was just a fun way to share pictures? Not so much…

The playing field for this competition requires meticulous grooming, continuous supervision and follow-up, as well as impeccable timing for when play. Meaning: being #beautiful or #sopretty is no longer good enough. Now the goal is to be #flawless and #perfect.

Aside from a flawless selfie, the highly critical detail of this game is the timing. When to post a picture holds equal importance as the picture itself. The post is then closely monitored in order to see how many likes it is receiving. Not enough likes fast enough? The post must be deleted to avoid “Insta-shame”.

The quantity of likes received in this game is “proof” to the world of a girl’s popularity, fame, beauty and brand.

And if a battle for “likes” weren’t enough on its own, the game heightens when likes can be “bought” with comments on someone else’s photos. It doesn’t matter if a girl doesn’t even like the girl or her picture; a “tbh gorgeous!” just may buy her one more like.

The unwritten rules of this ridiculous game are extensive and ever-changing.  What a waste of time and intelligence for these counterfeit compliments.

GAME OF HATERS

Where there are winners, there is the equal but opposite counterpart: the haters.  They can hate on anyone for the fun of it, because they’re “winning,” jealousy, or simply for the sake of bullying. How would we normally expect this type of middle school and high school drama to play out?

With kindness, gentleness or maybe even self-control?

Fat chance in this game where character is the criteria which never seems judged.

Instead, the haters bring the game to Instagram.  Here, anyone can be publicly thrown down, slandered, sworn over, lied about and harassed all in the name of self-promotion.

This is where the boys tend to join the game. These testosterone surging young men are usually the ones who portray “swagger.” In teen terms they even own the name “savage” or “f***-boys.” These boys thrive on “slut-shaming.”

A girl who turns down an advance from a boy – whether in modesty, dislike, or even perhaps in obedience to parents –can easily have her reputation and life destroyed with one post from the boy. From posting naked pictures of someone else (neck down) and claiming it’s a sexted selfie or simply shaming her with name calling (slut, whore, prude, thirsty) the goal is the same: release my own shame and pile it on someone else.

This has the natural consequence of crowd pleasing. Anyone can, and will, jump on that post and agree or like just to appear on the winning side.

Cyber-bullying in this way (inappropriate photo sharing, character shaming, and name-calling) isn’t limited to boys. It happens equally with the caddy girls all desperate to get ahead in the game.

THE DIRECT MESSAGING

The side show text messaging capabilities of Instagram DM is often an ugly and burlesque representation of relationships. These are essentially text messages through the Instagram app. The DMs are most often sexually charged, gossip rich, hate spreading, and pornographic because they can all be deleted without record.

This is all happening during school.

Direct Messages can only be turned off if your account is private.

THE SECOND WORLD.

To think this on-line second world where teens are living is providing them a moral compass for building and sustaining relationships is a horrific prank on this generation.

Tucked neatly behind the ever popular mask of social media is the ability to send and say anything.

From asking for “noodz” (nudes) to telling someone to kill themselves, there is no limit or a regard for human life in some of these feeds.

Inside Instagram is a second reality world where human connection and relationships are being birthed, nurtured, killed, and buried. All in front of a screen and shared publicly. This is a sad parody to the very nature of friendship.

This is not friendship at all, this is a game.

MY CHILD’S ROLE

Daughter, I know you are strong and confident. You are capable to abide by a set of guidelines which keeps you from these games. You are like a brick house. You can withstand all sorts of weather and storms while keeping the inside beautiful and un-scarred. I helped build your foundation and can testify to its strength and longevity.

But peer pressure and social acceptance are like an F5 tornado. The fierce wind and pressure almost always ensures a cataclysmic disaster.  Peer pressure tornadoes leave disorientation, destruction, and death in its wake.  Your radar isn’t advanced enough to detect these storms ahead of time.

No one can remain standing under 100 mile/hr wind. At some point, the force will take you. As it is with peer pressure.

If I can keep you from building your house in tornado alley, I will. If I have the privilege of more time to teach you, instill in you, and train your radar how to better detect these storms, I will take it. If I can protect you from wounds and agony of this game by not allowing you to play, I will.

Because I need – no, not just me, the WORLD – needs you to know real human connection and relationship happens without filters and edits. Love grows strongest outside the meticulously groomed and monitored playing field. Friendship develops without words easily typed but never spoken.

God is relying on you to see His kingdom, not a screen. Real human connection is the only reality you were created for. That which you can touch with more than your fingertips is true. All you read in His word is absolute. The words you hear from those you love and trust is truth.

MY ROLE

The question I must ask myself – we must all ask ourselves – when we draw a line in the sand is, “CAN I HANDLE IT?”

Can I handle the fierce pressure of her anger?

Can I handle her hating me (temporarily) for her greater good?

Can I handle the silent treatment? The disrespect? The whining? The moping?

Can I handle her talking bad about me to her friends?  Her friends hating me? Her friends dissing her?

Can I handle the fact she might not be popular? That she will be out of the loop of her friends? Uninvited?

When I’m weak from withstanding her full force, will I let go? Or will I hold on to the truth I know?

The reason my answer to Instagram is NO is because my second answer is Yes: I can handle it. This is my job. I am her parent. It is my responsibility to handle this.

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Kelly Newcom

Kelly Newcom

Kelly is author of the book, Managing Media Creating Character, and the founder and executive editor of Brave Parenting. She is a mother of 7 foster-adopted children ages 10-20. Kelly is passionate to help others bravely parent counter to culture and societal norms. She believes parenting is Kingdom work and must be done with the courage and bravery of a warrior of God.

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