1 The ‘talk’
Every teenager must endure “the talk” before they are allowed access to the internet: a flow of warnings and cautions, making sure you know that “you mustn’t ‘friend’ anyone you don’t know” or “post anything you might regret later in life”. Parents tell you what you already know, but neglect to warn you about really bad stuff, such as the brutal body-shaming, or the pornography they are too embarrassed to mention.
No phones at the table, they say. So while parents answer emails, check the weather, or get a quick football update on their phones, teenagers must eat in awkward silence. Or they say, “Just imagine how good your French would be if you spent as much time on it as you do on Instagram.” It is a good point, yet when they do grant us access to the internet for long enough to retrieve an interesting fact, it is automatically written off as false because it was found on the internet. “Did you know an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain?” we say. “Nonsense! Did you find that on Facebook?” they sneer (while entering some fresh query of their own into Google).
Their bio states: “Mother to two lovely daughters; both keen musicians, sportswomen and academics,” and their most recent post is, “Having a lovely time playing Scrabble with the family.” What they neglect to mention is that daughter No 1 hasn’t played her flute in months, daughter No 2 has just flunked her exams, and that game of Scrabble descended into a dispute over modern slang and now both daughters are sulking in their rooms. Parents use social media to conjure a fake family life, which is weird – and embarrassing. (Parents who post their children’s exam results on social media, with the caption “So proud of my wonderful son/daughter and his/her amazing grades” deserve a special mention. DON’T DO IT.)
4 Getting Facebook wrong
a) Using your child’s Facebook wall as a method of communication is wrong, wrong, wrong. If you put: “Hi, you seemed upset this morning. I hope you’re feeling better. Love you lots, Mummy” on your child’s FB wall, all their friends will see it. It’s probably the single most embarrassing thing that can happen to a teenager and we feel terrible having to explain that to you when the message itself is so nice. So please, just text!
b) Posting family pictures that include your teenagers is another no-no. Yes, we had a great time at the theme park, and yes, the photo of the whole family on the log flume was hilarious, but don’t post it. When teenagers try to explain to their parents why they are embarrassed by the family photo, we are often met with a confused response: “But you post selfies all the time.” What parents don’t understand is that any photo a teenager posts will have been through a ruthless screening process. Don’t be fooled by the self-deprecating caption stating: “OMG I look so awful #IHateMondays.”
c) Liking your child’s friends’ photos. A Facebook “like” doesn’t just mean you like something. It is a way of saying you are interested in reading about what the person is doing. So if you “like” one of our friend’s FB pictures, you will be considered “stalkerish”. The friend will come to school the next day and say, “Hey, your Mum liked one of my Facebook pictures,” as though it’s the craziest thing anyone could think of doing.
5 Getting Twitter wrong
The hashtag allows you to categorise a post by its keyword, thus allowing an individual to find your post. So when a parent tweets “#OnHoliday with my #family and drinking #DietCoke, the #weather is #Great” it is hilarious – unless it’s your parent writing, when it becomes incredibly embarrassing.
6 Getting WhatsApp wrong
WhatsApp allows you to write a brief status that appears when someone looks up your contact. It is not a place for “profound” observations, or witty quotes from films, and most teenagers won’t deviate from the default “Hey there, I’m using WhatsApp”. Anyone who has your number saved on his or her phone is able to view your status. If you write, “I’m not like a regular Mum, I’m a cool Mum”, all my friends who have ever needed to put your number on their phone will see it. This is embarrassing.
7 Getting Instagram wrong
Captioning an Instagram is hard. There is a thin line between pretentious and interesting. Every teenager spends quality time deliberating over what to write under a picture, but not parents. So far I have seen: a picture of a daffodil in a vase with Wordsworth’s entire poem underneath it; a standard tourist shot of the Eiffel Tower with the caption “Just so majestic”; and a picture of the Greek flag with the caption, “What do you think about Grexit?” (PS Instagram is the wrong forum for academic/political discussion).
8 Using bad science
My mother often tells my brother to take his phone out of his pocket in case it makes him infertile. I am told to plug in my phone and iPad downstairs overnight so it doesn’t affect my brain while I’m sleeping. Inventing bad science to convince teenagers not to look at their phones in the evenings just makes you sound silly.
Peering over our shoulders when we’re on social media is a breach of privacy. If you want to know what we are doing, just ask. When you look without asking, it feels as if you don’t trust us.
10 Asking, ‘What have you been doing all day?’
“What have you been doing all day?” parents ask, articulating their frustration at their child’s “addiction” to social media. How can we begin to answer such a question? I am not addicted; I’m terrified. Fear is the oxygen that fuels the fire of all social media. To you it may seem as if I’ve wasted a day staring at a screen, but if I don’t stay in contact with my friends, I feel terrified by what might happen. I don’t feel I can explain that to you. So please, leave me to it.