Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids

Jan 05, 2017 · 54 comments
Brad (Greeley, CO.)
I am proud of the rules set by the affluent girls. Now if we could get their spoiled, low self esteem, bragging, snot nosed parents to follow the same rules that would be a miracle.
Cedarglen (USA)
This is almost entirely about girls. Rules for boys must be different, but whar are they?
Scarps (Canada)
so if a kid lives in a nicer house than someone they are not allowed to take a picture of it cause someone may get hurt feelings? That's a tad excessive, maybe instead those parents should teach their kids that not everyone has the same stuff and that's okay, it doesn't make you any less than that person. The sexualization of photos I agree with but if my 14 yr old daughter started posting bathing suit pics I would not condone that, if you wouldn't walk around a mall in it why would you post it on social media. Even boys you don't need to post you and your friends in bathing suits at such a young age, of course it shouldnt sexualize them but it can and it also can be accessed around the world, I don't think anyone under the age of 18 should be able to post photos like that. I'm not saying I wouldn't teach my child about sex and hope they make the smart informed decision, but if it's found on a webpage that isn't yours it can be altered to look completely different. Kids need to realize they're kids and they do not need to look "sexy" at that age.
CA (Delhi)
Parents should make sincere attempts to sensitize kids to cultural differences. For example, to me 1 inch deep eyeliner, pouting lips and face schooled to look like a kicked puppy is a definitive sexual gesture but a nude toddler or toddler in bikini is rather funny.
Jeffrey (Portland, OR)
As a teenage boy I totally agree with this. I have found that in their posting that most boys feel like they have to appear masculine. Girls however have a finer line to walk between cute and sexy. They feel like they have to appear attractive while not appearing too sexy and being frondapon by their peers. However this is a new reality and parents are struggling to keep up with their kids. Most parents have trouble understanding social media and it's affects on their children socially. Personally I feel like the most unfavorable thing mentioned here is the sex divide in these social rules.
S.L. (Briarcliff Manor, NY)
I'm really surprised how the rules promote kindness and inclusion even to the point that an extra few pictures can be construed as being boastful. Maybe there is hope after all that social media is not a terrible monster.
Hey, do a study comparing the Rules elborated in EMMA to those in existence now, and how as income inequlaity as happens, also the rules , their importance, the consequence of viiolation.
EaglesPDX (Portland)
"In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers in teenagers’ brains respond to the reward of getting “likes” on Instagram exactly as they do to thoughts of sex or money."

As though the getting sex and money (what a juxtaposition) as a motivator were perfectly normal response. Not sure I'd trust this "researcher's" baseline values, methods or conclusions.
Gary Pearlz (Portland OR)
These norms and habits deserve attention from parents, for sure. On a broader level, what is the cost to spending so much time ("almost constantly") looking at pictures and memes and brief snippets of text? What isn't being done instead during those many hours per week? Reading a book, sleeping, taking a walk, petting a dog, volunteering, chores...And yes, I know what you're thinking. I'm 43 years old, thank you very much.
Ruby (CA)
As a teenage girl, many of these rules are familiar, but it is frustrating to hear a Times journalist write about young women 'acting sexy' on social media without acknowledging the inherent slut shaming in that particular social rule--boys are never accused of sharing too revealing picture, even when they post shirtless shots. I hear parents gossip about their teenage daughters' friends far more often than is appropriate, and they're usually talking about which girls are wearing crop tops, dating boys, and having sex. When they talk about their sons' friend groups, it's a question of who made the team.
I'm tired of my outfits counting for more than my academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, or personality, and I suspect that many other young women agree.
LS (Spain)
Great comment! As a middle aged woman, I also found all the bits about young women acting too sexy to be inappropriate and irritating. We women have to stand together and fight for a future where teenage girls, and women of all ages, will not be constantly criticised for wearing the wrong clothes or for being too sexy.
Liz (Austin)
Agreed! I am a 50 year old mom of two teen girls and I am tired of the implicit and explicit slut-shaming and pearl clutching. My girls are smart, funny, fascinating, athletic and also love taking cute pictures of themselves and their friends and sharing them. I think it's also important to realize that by early teen years, humans are wired to be sexual beings. I am more interested in helping them live healthy and kind lives than policing their sexuality.
RD (<br/>)
A young teen or tween should also be taught that sexuality is something to be careful about. A 12 or 13 year old girl looking and acting like a 20 year old can have serious consequences, especially when posted on social media. There are people out there who would not hesitate to take advantage of such innocence. As parents it is our responsibility to not only teach our kids the boundaries of what is acceptable but also to be cautious in knowing there may be unknown people creeping online.
Mark (South Philly)
There is just one overarching rule to follow: Post interesting stuff, but don't make anyone jealous! If you can do that, you'll be fine with Snapchat, etc.
Phillipa (Sydney)
Maybe it's cause I'm 30 but the best inoculation against posting anything untoward on social media is that my mum follows me on instagram. And my older sisters have snapchat. no escape!
totyson (Sheboygan, WI)
I am looking forward to the follow-up article on the rules for boys. Do they have any?
Hannah T (Oregon)
The rules for social media could be viewed as technological determination or as social constructivism, and it Is important to look at both aspects of these theories in order to correctly analyze this current phenomenon. A technological determinist might argue that because children are forced into the social use of digital media, it is impossible to escape these rules without scrutiny and social consequence. On the other hand, a social constructivist may argue that it is humans that make and enforce these rules, and have the power to ignore or rid of them all together. Personally, I believe that the creation of these rules is a social construct, and can be easily and perfectly ignored.
Stan Sutton (Westchester County, NY)
One of the things that I find most interesting (and reassuring) about the article is the awareness that it shows about the possible consequences of ignoring those rules.
Trinka (<br/>)
The average age for seventh graders is 12. You have to be 13 to have an Instagram account. While it is quaint that these girls (and boys) have "rules" for posting, isn't the fact that they are lying to access the account a problem (unless, of course, the reporter determined that her sources were all of age)?
Nasty Man aka Gregory (Boulder Creek, Calif.)
Isn't this something for the public editor? It is definitely a valid question, and a teaching point (The age requirement )for me, at least.
ck (San Jose)
I don't think it's the journalist's job to make sure they were all "of age", but the age minimum (which is unenforceable beyond parents, really) would have been worth pointing out in the article.
My 4 year old daughter has an instagram account (which her parents post to on a once-in-a-while basis for friends of the family). I doubt the 13 year old rule means much.
Cassandra (Boston)
As a teenage girl who could very well be the subject of this article, I am somewhat annoyed, but not surprised, at the author's tone towards social media in the hands of girls my age or younger. My parents always had discussions with me about what was appropriate, or not, to post, and made sure that I made accounts at the right age. In short, they actually communicated with me, and didn't infantilize me at a time when I was beginning to interact with people in a different way than I had up until then. The author says that "parents need to know that their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media" - sure, that might be true, but perhaps teaching kids how to make good choices is better, rather than trying to ask them questions laced with the implication that everything they do online is inherently dangerous or damaging to their psyche.

I say this because social media is yet another way for us to communicate - it has its pitfalls, and it can be exclusive, but that's how the world is at large anyway. When the author writes "Imagine watching a party unfold on Snapchat or Instagram, when you aren’t there. The experience can be absolutely devastating to tween and teenage children," she assumes that teens are fragile beings who couldn't possibly cope with rejection. That may be true for some, but this kind of thing isn't new; the medium is. Instead of acting like teenagers need to be shielded, perhaps parents should equip their kids with the tools to grow.
GS (Honolulu, HI)
Impressive and insightful perspective. You seem very mature, and probably many of us parents wish our kids would be so mature. I only have boys, who are now in college & high school, so their experiences may not be similar to what young girls face today. As a parent, I see too many parents coddle their kids and are afraid their kids can't handle rejection which I think is a disservice. You are lucky that your upbringing has allowed you to be more prepared for the real world -- you don't always get invited to the party. Thanks for your thoughts. You are right -- parents need to guide & "equip their kids with tools to grow" and be there for them.
JJ (Vienna)
Cassandra, it seems that your parents were quite prescient when it came to your name-giving!
Benjamin B (Oregon)
One technological determinist view would be that th ecreation of the internt and kids being able to use it has lead to their lives being constantly on display. THis leads kids to have to lie more to their friends and parents. One Social constrctivist view would be kids set out their own rules of how they should act. And that the internet is just a tool for communicaation. I would say I fall more on the technological determinist spectrum. These rules (not so specifically) govern all social media users.
98_6 (California)
There are some elements of this that are unique to social media, but the social dynamics and pressures are exactly what I remember from the '80s. The technology was the telephone, fashion magazines, the mall, and the makeup, accessories, and outfits we wore each day. The unwritten rules were just as conflicting. The reach and permanence are a real difference, though.
Yogini (California)
If later on the kids post pictures of an ivy league university they attend and their friends are going to a local community college that sets up a dynamic that is exclusionary too. It is sad that our lives are now being judged by a very exclusionary metric as in where you don't belong instead of where you do. Of course, there have always been social climbers but before social media it was not as apparent or in your face all the time. How narrow do you want the sphere of acceptability to be for your kids? So, a girl can't be sexy and nice at the same time and if they are too nice they aren't sexy. Why does this sound like a recipe for depression? Is the answer to post abstract shots of nature?
Broc Bourne (Alabama)
Just don't give them a phone. If your kids want one then they will have to buy one on their own...(like buying that tennis racket I wanted as a kid..I worked and mowed lawns and saved.)
By getting job to buy credit history...and present their own electric bill... fill out all the paper work...
This is what I do as a parent...then the parents like myself can chill and not worry about what their kids are doing on the phone.
Casey (Chicago)
So, if they buy their own phone, this absolves you of parental guidance on this isue?
Tom (NYC)
I guess in Alabama you didn't walk miles through snowdrifts to get to school in the morning.
Kirsten B (Durham Nc)
Interesting. But these sound like rich white girl rules. It would be interesting to know about the other 99% of teenage social media users.
Filmfan (Y'allywood)
This article could easily be titled "The Unspoken Rules Moms have for Instagram." Moms have perfected the art of humble bragging on social media following the same rules and strategies as their middle school daughters.
Jane (Wisconsin)
I agree completely! I no longer use social media much because I get so irritated by the constant narcissism and bragging--selfies galore and posting about how "blessed" you are to have such "amazing" children/spouses/partners that did this that or the other thing.
Peace100 (North Carolina)
So why not encourage posts about ideas or interests as an alternTive to Icy per occupation?
Michelle Cove (Brookline, MA)
Good article, and explains some of the mind-boggling and stressful pressures girls feel to "keep up." We do a lot of workshops around social media in our MEDIAGIRLS programming with middle-school girls, and here's the thing: We, parents and educators, have to give them guidance on how it should be used rather than just "handing over the keys." For instance, we give girls practice in using social media to lift up others, take a meaningful stand on something that matters to them, and express their true selves. We tell them they are media makers, and they are responsible for what they're adding to the world. What do they want to SAY? Do they want to be role models, or just contribute more selfies? Totally agree that we need to be having these conversations and BEFORE kids start using social media. Parents can not just say "use it responsibly," and hope kids understand the cryptic meaning!
b. lynch black (the bronx, ny)
what about boys? what about the types of things i see them posting about women and girls and their bodies? stupid comments and jokes that insult people and each other? true, they rarely post any pictures of themselves in speedos -- they tend to react to other postings. they will post memes and jokes that call girls "bitches" and "ho-s"... i have seen this with my nephews and other young men. boys need to be taught social skills and manners as well. it's as important -- if not more so -- than studying young girls' social rules.
Alan Berry (Maine)
There's nothing wrong with our youth. Like every generation, youth today learn and interact with the world differently than past generations. The goal shouldn't be abstinence when it comes to digital technologies, but fostering healthy digital relationships. We should be having purposeful conversations with our children about the impact of their online actions. And we should be teaching our students media literacy skills in the classroom. If we train our students (and adults - dependence on digital technologies and inappropriate behavior online is an adult problem, as well) to see their digital devices and the Internet as tools for learning and community engagement, then they'll be empowered to be responsible and active online citizens. If not, then our youth will continue to be the tools of digital technology and corporations. Just as we eventually came to the conclusion that it's probably not a good idea for us to spend so much time watching TV - for the sedentary, passive lifestyle that promotes, and also for the psychological effects of consuming so many persuasive, reductive, and often harmful media messages - we need to develop the same relationship towards digital technologies. Then we need to develop a deeper, critical understanding of our digital footprints and how tech companies hook us in and use the information we willingly provide them. That starts at home and in the classroom.
Llana (Waterloo)
Excellent points! Change can be very positive, if we let it.
Christine (wa)
I don't think anyone is arguing that there's anything wrong with the kids.

The issue is with the environment we've created for them.
EsmeK (Michigan)
Are there any parents out there who have permitted their teens phones but with the restriction that they do not use social media sites like this? I'd like to know what the social repercussions of this type would be. I'm betting there's little down-side.
aaa (bpc, ny)
Good luck with that! I have allowed Instagram but no SC. Kids don't care about FB. I didn't allow SC because I thought it gave a false sense of safety with what could be posted and 'disappear'. Insta has instituted recently instated a similar feature.
I think it is better to check your kids phone and what they post.
I have 2 girls that are completely fine with that and one that doesn't like it at all.
The younger 2 completely understand the dangers of social media. The older girl can't seem to grasp the dangers. Different kids. Different concerns.
Denise Parker (Metro Detroit)
Today social media is equivalent to what the mall was for us in the eighties--it's where kids hang out. Giving them a phone with no access to social media is not going to serve them well.

We need to teach them to safely and respectfully use social media allowing them to be with their peers. I gave my daughter a phone with no social media on it half way through sixth grade. A few months later we let her add instagram but closely controlled how many followers she could have. Over time and after many conversations we added Snapchat--but she adds friends very slowly with our approval. Our goal is to continue the dialogue and teach her how to be a good digital citizen, not just hand her the device and let her fend for herself.
Paolo De Marino (Arlington MA)
There are huge downsides. I remember when WhatsApp took off: I had privacy concerns and chose not to use it at all.

Guess what: there were dozens of conversations going on all around me that I wasn't party to; inside jokes that I missed; and when group activities were organized I sometimes wasn't included because folks forgot to loop me in.

Now - I was in my late 20s, and this wasn't a problem at all. But if I had been 13, it would have had a significant impact on my ability to interact with my peers, and would have left me profoundly frustrated.
ejh (vancouver)
I am interested in the acceptance of parents of middle schoolers (and high schoolers for that matter) of images of their daughters in bikinis. Why does this have to be the norm? The author states bikini pictures are considered "body positive" in some circles but those circles have got to be made up of the cheerleader types from previous generations. The pressure to be skinny and body typical must be huge for most girls today and I'm certain there is a lot of mockery and bullying of those who don't look particularly good in a swim suit. Did these girls who knew enough not to post pictures of their fancy homes feel it was ok to post pictures of themselves in bikinis? That's a form of bragging also.
Abby (Portland, OR)
The general stance on body positivity pictures is actually to demonstrate to peers that you are fulling acceptong of your body the way it is. So frequently girls are put down because of their weight, so posting pictures like this not only boosts the poster's confidence, but it also helps the viewers by showing that it is okay to love your body. You will find, more often than not, girls are celebrated for being body positive. Sure, they may be boasting that they have body confidence but that typically inspires the viewers rather than demeaning them.
Peach State Mom (Georgia)
We took swift action when our daughter posted a picture of herself and a friend in bikinis. There was no "sexy pose," but they had just finished 7th grade, and we saw it as as a slippery slope issue. She lost her phone for a week, and gained more frequent monitoring for a while after that.
Stephanie (<br/>)
I can't help but to think that punishing a kid for posting a non-sexual picture of themselves and friends in bathing suits unnecessarily sexualizes something innocent. If a scene is okay for everyone on the beach to see but not okay for their Instagram followers to see, kids might glean the message that their bodies in bathing suits are something wrong or shameful.
Ed (Old Field, NY)
Years ago, I was part of a group that was supposed to “counsel” adolescents, and there’s nothing like fielding questions from middle-schoolers about life to make you question whether this volunteer activity was such a good idea. It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized the problem. You have to think of yourself as a kind of friendly interrogator. A stock interjection: “I sense you’re leaving something out, something critical, something that would change the way I’d understand the story—something that would change the way I see you and your role in it. If this event was as important in your life as it sounds, important enough to preoccupy you, you remember it a lot better than this. There’s nothing wrong with a one-sided account; it can be difficult to do justice to yourself if you’re trying to do more than that. But something is missing. Tell me more.” There always was one more thing. There always is one more thing. Without any particular idea of what the vital information is, you know that there must be something. Kids especially want to get it off their chests. It’s always surprising how much people fear being embarrassed or looking foolish in front of people whose respect they crave. Once they think of you as a “psychologist” rather than a “photographer,” that passes. They want to talk. No façade, no fronting.
Kellyak (Seattle)
Ed, I'm a middle school teacher, and I love the questions that you pose regarding the reliable narrator/one-sided account. Thank you for sharing.
DH (Boston)
I know that adults have always grumbled about "kids these days". However... I don't think any of those grumbles up until now have been as justified as the outcry spurred by this modern day plague. No other childhood villain has had an effect on our kids so profound, far-reaching, all-encompassing and all-consuming as the digital devices and the bottomless internet pit they open up. Nothing else has held youngsters' attention for this long, for this many hours per day, and reached into so many aspects of their lives. Not comic books, not radio, not TV, not anything else that parents of generations past have whined about. No, this is on a whole new level, and unlike previous vices, this one is genuinely disturbing, measurably so.

It makes me sick. The new reality makes me sick, not just out of longing for the "good old days", but because I'm disgusted by what we have become, and by how it's the only reality our children know. They sink even deeper than we do and it affects how they mature, the kind of people they become. And it's everywhere. Unlike any of the previous vices, this one you cannot escape. Your kid will be bullied if they have a smartphone, because the internet is full of bullies, but they will be bullied if they don't have one either, and ostracized as "that low-tech freak who needs to get with the times". You lose either way. I hate that. I can only hope for a revolution to push back and bring our children back to us. Back to reality.
Jan Jasper (NY and NJ)
I know a seasoned middle school teacher who says it's common for close friends to walk down the school halls, side by side, communicating only by text with no conversation and no eye contact at all. These teens are developmentally delayed in that they do not know how to talk to others, even their close friends.
Lauren (NYC)
While I don't love the idea of the "tech zombies," there are plenty of adults who are also guilty. (I am in my 40s, and have a couple"friends" who are obsessed with selfies and looking sexy in pictures. The depiction of females in society and the need to be the "right amount" of sexy isn't a problem that started with social media, although it provided another venue for it.) 70 years ago, they thought rock and roll would bring the moral disintegration of America's youth. It didn't. We need to educate kids--and adults, like my awkward neighbor, who stares into his phone constantly--and it will all be fine in the end.
Nicholas (New York City)
You are watching the structural decline of human empathy. Unfortunately, I see this as the "new reality" and the reality that you wish to "get back to" will probably cease to exist.
See also