The Thing With Small Screens, Social Media and Parenting (Especially When It’s Down)

“Instagram is down, what are you going to do with your new life!” my friend texted. 

“Hahaha!” I responded back, with a photo of my messily plated lunch. And a slew of questions on the back burner of my brain. 

I don’t really use Facebook, but when someone from work texted at 11 that their instagram was being strange, which was followed by a friend at 1, and then another at 2, I began to consider what it all actually meant? Of course, there’s simply everything we already know to be true about Facebook’s ability to almost contort and slightly control so many facets of life. For many (including myself) the semi prolonged suspension almost had me drafting new business models. 

When the rapid stream calmed (honestly, my concern only lasted two minutes), I began to think about an adjacent decision I made before school began that not only altered my relationship with social media, but my children’s: screen free school weeks. While it only meant a reset and pause from Roblox, art, and other games my kids have grown accustomed to having at their hourly disposable, by extension, it felt like a broader approach to our future relationship to social media. A relationship that is more than creeping up as River’s friends exit school with sharp and shiny black devices in their 5th grade hands.  

I understand that as someone who has shared their life (to an extent) and worked on social media and on a website for over a decade, my thoughts on  it as a mother would seem like a head scratcher. I am rather neutral on the matter, overall. “It’s good when you use it well, feel well, and know how to use it.” I often say to my kids. In reality, my relationship to social media and the internet as a medium, has only crystallized my approach for and to my children. Years ago, when trying to find a way to articulate my slow-paced social media introduction (if any) to my one-day tweens, I found it very difficult. Everything I shared felt pretentious. Judgemental, even. If anything, as an adult who has had to navigate the online world for many years, my view of the children who will one day do it too, is rather empathetic. 

See, I understand art, creativity, and more importantly, making an income through social networks. But I cave at the thought of it as a form of connection and discourse for younger kids. Not only as a mother, but as someone who spent a good portion of her tween years being bullied. 

Conversation on that strange middle ground of guarding and pacing is little. For my own part, my lack of sharing my own thoughts in large part is due to the fact that use of screens is often conflated with use of social media. And that use is often wielded in judgement of many parents, especially single parents of color, who often rely on it in a sense to help in ways that are not only limited to entertainment.

The source of why someone lets their kids use screens is vast. Additionally, screens aren’t going anywhere, so figuring out a family’s personal relationship to it is just as important as, let’s say, learning to write a sentence. So when my kids and I decided it was time for a screen reset during the school week, this was personal and quiet. But the larger question on the what ifs of social media (especially when it goes down three weeks after you’ve made a decision) still stands. 

After lunch, I thought about all of the kids who may have in some way felt puzzled by the staleness of life in the hours without such a social society (that they’ve become accustomed to).  I also wondered about the implicit dysfunction of a tear in the entire system, as the black-out came on the heels of a whistleblower’s account of Facebook’s almost predatory behavior, which is recounted by Frances Haugen, 

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook, and Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

The lights of Instagram and Facebook started to flicker on like an apartment after a swift storm. I pushed refresh on the toolbar to make sure it was real. Tightening the screws, checking the outlets and connections. I got on. Read a post, and jumped off. Feeling the almost immediate difference in my mind without and with. I imagine, maybe for children who are twice as sensitive as yours truly, their reintroduction this evening is voluminous and convoluted, too. 

Earlier this afternoon, The Cut ended their piece on the subject quite perfectly, “In any case, we have a blessed intermission from multiple hellscapes, and I recommend you use this time to make contact with outdoor air for the first time today. The apps will (probably) be right back.”

I’m wondering, how do you feel on the topic?

5 thoughts on “The Thing With Small Screens, Social Media and Parenting (Especially When It’s Down)

  • Reply Evie Squadrille October 5, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I actually welcomed and benefited from this respite from social media and felt it was done on purpose…

    • Reply latonya October 5, 2021 at 11:15 am

      Hi Evie, I’m pretty sure it was purposeful as well. And honestly was relieved by it (after my first few minutes) then followed by confusion when it came back on. And there lies the issue tra la!

  • Reply Ceridwen October 6, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    I actually didn’t know it had happened until after it was back. A while ago, my instagram just stopped loading or working on my phone. I decided not to make much of an effort to fix it and had a break from it that ended up lasting a couple of months. I don’t make an income from it so that was doable for me. It was interesting. It changed how I felt and then I forgot about it. I picked up my phone less. I was more deliberate with communicating with close friends. Ie I would send them a photo of something I was doing and we would chat about it. I didn’t feel left out. I did miss the thoughts and ideas of people I admire and follow but aren’t friends with. So I sought them out via blogs if they had them. Like yours! With kids,I agree with you. It is a personal approach. My kids have gotten used to games and connecting with friends whilst (still) in lockdown (again) and it is hard to break and find balance. I loved reading How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Her writing on social media is spot on ,- critiques but non judgemental. A great read.

  • Reply Jaime October 17, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    How did your kids take the reset? We do 30 mins btwn bath and dinner so we can cook and set the table & reset from work day ….

    • Reply latonya October 18, 2021 at 5:02 pm

      Its been really good! On the weekend, I kind of really let go. And dont pay quite as much attention. But during the week, attitudes and overall spirits have been quite wonderful since I love that you do that with your crew

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