Last Sunday, my pre-teen daughter was lying in bed, sobbing. I felt helpless, almost grief-stricken, my heart crisping like an autumn leaf in a bonfire. Whatever I said next would end up damaging her.
There was no way out, so I took the coward’s path and waited for her to speak again.
– I just want to fit in, Dad. I just want to be like everyone else. Please.
And then her shoulders started heaving as she dissolved into hopeless despair. My heart was just ashes now. I was on the cusp of tears, too.
What had brought us to such a heart-rending moment? How can two people who love each other so much reach such an impasse?
Social media, that’s what. And other parents’ careless attitude towards it.
One of my daughter’s friends had an Instagram account at six. SIX?! Another had TikTok at eight. It’s mindblowing that their parents could be quite so irresponsible. You'd expect that in broken Britain but not in progressive, child-friendly Sweden.
You don’t have to be a Google genius to uncover some research on the detrimental effects of social media on girls.
Several studies, including at least one Swedish one, indicate that the use of social media among girls causes negative outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, insufficient sleep, which can disrupt neurological development and contribute to depression and suicidal behaviors, low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, and online harassment.
If all that searching is too much for you, you could just take your lead from “Big Tech” CEOs.
In 2011, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs acknowledged that his own children had not used his company’s newly launched iPad. Jobs admitted, "We limit how much technology our kids use at home."
Microsoft founder Bill Gates imposed screen time limits, prohibited mobile phones at the table, and delayed allowing his children to have them at all until the age of 14.
I’m not anti-tech. Kids need to learn how to use technology. I’m happy for my daughters to use their iPads for creating, collaborating, or communicating. One of them plays Minecraft and recently built a detailed castle with underground caverns using online video tutorials. My other daughter sometimes messages me in the afternoon while I’m at work, sparking conversations we might not otherwise have had.
But social media is not appropriate for young brains. My girlfriend and I had decided we’d try to hold back on letting our daughters have social media until their mid-teens.
Along with a few other couples, we’d agreed that we’d all resist social media for the girls until the last possible moment. However, that resistance crumbled as all the other girls in the group were soon allowed to use a popular multimedia messaging app that rhymes with CrapCat.
By last Sunday, my girlfriend and I were the last hold-outs, hence the distressing scene in my daughter’s bedroom.
My daughter is sensitive and cares deeply about fitting in, about belonging. By being the only girl in her group of friends without the app, she was now marooned. She’s moved school recently, so if I didn’t allow her to have the app, she’d feel totally excluded from her oldest friends. She’d be inconsolable.
I had no choice - I told her that she could have the app. Her happy reaction briefly warmed me.
However, six days later, I’m still furious. I certainly don't blame most of the parents for accepting defeat. I'm sure most of them had similar moments to mine, with tearful children begging not to be left out of their friends' group.
But the parents of the "early adopters", the kids who first downloaded the apps at totally inappropriate ages, and who kickstarted the whole process, those are the ones I'm angry with.
Because of this small minority of careless parents, diligent, responsible mums and dads have had to throw their kids to the social media sharks.
I feel sorry for children whose parents don't shield them from digital danger – but why should their parents' lack of care also affect my kids?
This is a column and the views are the author's own.
This column was originally published at norran.se/english, the English part of norran.se.