Younger Kids, Social Networks and Multiple Households, Oh My!

Instagram LogoLike may children of divorce, my kids live in a world that’s split in two. Half of their lives they spend with me, and the other half they’re with their Mom. When we started this dual-house world, my ex and I sat down and tried to normalize our households, including bedtimes, expectations of chores, allowances, and similar. It kind of worked, but as the years have passed we have each moved into our own parenting spaces and I really have no idea what time the kids go to bed at her house and it’s clear we have different rules about media usage (TV, computers, etc) as well as mobile devices, etc. Honestly, that’s fine and it’d be awful difficult to keep in sync throughout the years as the children change into different developmental stages and need different things — and structure — from their mother and father.

Nonetheless, it was with some surprise that I learned that my 8yo daughter now has her own Instagram account. Even more surprisingly, she was asking me last week if she could be on Facebook. Facebook? Why would she be need to be on Facebook? I mean, independent of the fact that the Terms of Service prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from using the site, that is. I, of course, nixed the idea and said “when you’re 13, let’s talk.”

When I looked more closely at K-‘s Instagram account, I realized that while she only had a few followers, one of them is her newly minted Stepfather.

What the deuce?

This means that not only does he — and presumably my ex — know about K- being on Instagram, but he’s offering up tacit approval of her being involved with a social network by following her, and tacit endorsement of her having an online presence. At eight. While we collectively spend a ton of money to send the children to a Waldorf-inspired school that has as one of its precepts the reduction or elimination of media in young children’s lives.

Part of me wants to ask what’s going on, but that then steps into the awkward territory of judging her approach to parenting, and being critical of each other’s parenting is something that we have agreed not to do after many difficult conversations and hurt feelings.

This isn’t an Instagram problem, however, this is a general post-divorce parenting dilemma, and I hear it all the time — and I do mean all the time — from other divorced parents: What do you do when you disapprove of something your ex is doing?

I know, the best answer is “shut up and cope, as long as it doesn’t endanger their lives”. But it sure doesn’t feel right in this instance…

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a divorced parent too. What’s your approach to this sort of situation? What would you do?

6 comments on “Younger Kids, Social Networks and Multiple Households, Oh My!

  1. The biggest issue for me with the story is that the “other party” here did not notify or ask you if you knew she was on Instagram. Dealing with approval is another matter, but making sure both parties KNOW she is doing this is far more important.

    I think she is far too young to have an online presence, but if she is, then both parents need to be aware and track what she does. Kids that age have no idea about anything online, how easy it is to find people, etc.

  2. Oh, do I feel it… I feel as parents we just have to continue to stay strong with our boundaries at our homes…. say NO to instagram at your house…. she’ll have a difficult time but you’ll feel better and she learns your perspective on being 8 and on a computer/Instagram. Oh the beauty of having older siblings… many more obstacles on the way……….. good luck!

  3. Sometimes natural consequences get through better than anything. My kids were on instagram, which is facebook lite. Its is owned by facebook, and is just a picture centric version of it anymore. Two of my kids decided to inappropriatly comment on another girls page(whatever) because they were mad she was picking on my niece. It of course blew up, and my ex made phone calls to apologize, and now she has pulled back to my position that technology beyond video games, research and controlled communication is an unnecessary hassle to have to deal with. No more social accounts, and my oldest is 13. He hasn’t even asked for facebook after that. Fundamentally the problem was she didn’t understand what it was, and thought I was overreacting when I brought it up. She had to learn the lesson.

    On non-tech stuff, I stay out of it if it isn’t dangerous.

  4. I’m not a divorced parent, but I am a stepdad. When we have a disagreement w/ my stepson’s biological dad we try to talk it out. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often.

    In your case I think you’ll find this link to Instagram’s terms of use policy very helpful.
    Users must be 13 years old. 🙂

  5. I also agree that an 8 year old is too young to have an Instagram account.

    IMO, it’s the social aspect that’s the problem. I don’t think an 8 year old is too young to show an interest in art or photography. And almost every service has a 13 year old limit.

    Perhaps you can suggest that if she wants to take photos that you help her post them to a website/blog. But first you need to check in with your parenting partners and set some clear ground rules about this stuff.

    Here’s some good tips to start from Forbes:

    We discuss difficult choices and best practices for savvy teens, tweens, and their families at the Digital Family Summit

  6. Clearly the ex and her new friend have no idea of the dangers that underage children (or all of us for that matter) face when they are allowed personal / private social networking accounts. Apparently they do not read / believe media reports of suicides / abductions / etc. all orchestrated through or because of social networking sites. IMHO, even 13 is too early for this level of public exposure but our culture is moving in directions that would make even a Roman gladiator blush so what can I say. Although you may feel handcuffed because of the familial situation, my advice would be to “follow” your daughter on every account so you can at least see what kind of content she is being subjected to. If obscene or bullying comments / sexts / nude photos / etc. start appearing, at least you can be there to intervene with the proper authorities (ie, your lawyer!).

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