What My Gen Z Kids Taught Me About Social Media

Moms think they always know what's best for their kids—but Gen Z teens and tweens have definite opinions about what belongs on social media and how it should be used.

photo illustration of tweet appearing on classroom projection
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2).

According to my kids, my first major social-media mistake happened when my son was in middle school. I went on Twitter to lament his grades and my frustration with him as a less-than-motivated student. Pretty typical stuff for a #MomLife post, I thought.

The problem? I didn't realize my son's teacher, who followed me on Twitter, had a feed live streaming on her classroom projector screen. It was the only time my son was mocked on social media—and it was by his mom.

When they were babies, toddlers or elementary newbies, my kids never cared what I posted on Facebook or Foursquare. Then they became tweens and teenagers. Once they hit those all-important ages, I got more than eye rolls and sarcasm—I got advice on how to run my social-media life.

I got my first iPhone when my son was about three, and, like a lot of people, I rarely stopped checking it. I had started working from home when my son was born in part to be with my kids. I had a full-time working mom, and I wanted to see what it would be like on "the other side." It was great, but it also could be isolating and sometimes lonely.

I used social media as a way to connect with people. In between interviews, I'd reward myself by checking Facebook. I'd share a new blog post on Twitter. I'd Instagram my business lunch. And I'd obsessively come back and check every platform to see people's reactions.

My excuse for including my kids on social media was out-of-town family. Grandma in Wisconsin would love to see my son riding his bike without training wheels the first time. Their uncle in Chicago might want to see his niece try rice cereal. Everyone could experience the kids growing up via these wonderful sharing sites.

That changed after the middle-school tweet incident. I had a talk with both kids. They expressed what every child likely feels: They didn't like their mom staring at her phone when we were together. More importantly, they wanted me to remove them from my social media posts—unless they pre-approved.

Not including them in my Facebook rants or irate Tweets? It didn't make sense—for a while. Then, at their urging, I started analyzing why I was on social media. I went for acceptance. I went for comradery. I sought out approval or advice when I was frustrated. But I might have more success filling these needs in the real world, talking to family, friends or my kids directly.

These days, my 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son regularly tell me what they think of my online habits. They're doubtful that FOMO is real. They tell me when to unplug. They especially tell me when to shut down my desire to overshare.

They've made me feel good about how I use social media now—to talk about work or issues that mean something to me, such as my volunteer work. Instead of crowdsourcing parenting advice, I ask for suggestions on things that make sense for social media (like my next beach read).

When things matter to them or to our family, it stays in the house. I feel like my new limits have helped me find a healthier place with social media. I took the apps off of my phone, I set time limits and I started talking to my kids about how they use social media. Turns out, they don't think much of it. My son had a Twitter account for school, and he deleted it. My daughter had Instagram for a minute, but she hasn't done anything with it in a year now. Lesson learned.

My kids do give me some leeway: When my son got accepted to his high school of choice, he allowed me a 24-hour pass to brag on Facebook. At the end of that time, I deleted the post. He felt like I listened and that my desire to share was within his boundaries. I don't need my kids' approval—I am an adult, after all—but I do need them to trust me. If that means leaving them out of my online life, then I'm good with that.

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