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4 Things Time Missed on Tweens and Instagram

Photograph by Getty Images

It seems like we only ever hear about the negative aspects of social media lately, particularly when it comes to tweens and teens. Experts all over the country warn about too much technology, cyberbullying and declining social interaction skills. I would know; I'm one of those experts raising those red flags.

But I also see the positive aspects of social media. Believe it or not, many tweens and teens are using platforms like Instagram and Facebook in a positive way. While the behaviors that most often make the news are scary for parents of tweens and teens, it's important to explore both sides of the issue in an effort to understand what your child gains from using social media.

Rachel Simmons addressed the secret language of tween girls on Instagram in a recent article for Time magazine. Simmons raises important issues that young Instagram users face, like the "public barometer of popularity," retaliation for anger and trading likes. In some circles, the like button is a very powerful tool, and cryptic comments can trigger social anxiety.

Indeed, I've spent many counseling sessions helping tween and teen girls break the "cycle of like." Social media has changed the way young girls relate and interact, and that can have negative repercussions. But it can also lead to positive change.

Once we worked through their need to check for likes and reposts, I helped one tween client channel her love of Instagram and Twitter into something positive. In fact, once she realized that "likes" were often impulsive and meaningless, Instagram became a healthy outlet for her during her downtime.

There are a few more positives to be gained from tween and teen girls using Instagram:

Photography at their fingertips

Many young girls actually use Instagram to work on photography skills. While professional photographers might shake their heads at the thought of using a social media platform for art, for young girls Instagram can provide an artistic outlet.

I've had girls sit in my office and describe trying to figure out lighting to take the perfect picture of a wave, flower or running shoe. Some of them genuinely enjoy exploring the filters to see how they can change the original images.

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Banking memories

I have a few pictures of friends from middle and high school. Back then, pictures were dependent upon my dad's attendance at various events, since he was the resident picture-taker in my family, and we only had the one camera. Cut to today: I take endless shots of my kids and their best buddies on my phone. I don't put them all on Instagram, but I do like to preserve the moments (and my kids love to look through them later).

Tweens and teens now have the ability to preserve their own memories. And they are doing just that. A lot. Perhaps they are still a little too dependent upon the "likes," but when you strip it down to the moment, they are really just creating a virtual photobook. For many tweens, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Strengthens relationships

One study found that teens who connect to their parents on social media actually feel closer to their parents in real life, and are more likely to be kind and helpful. The study, conducted by Brigham Young University, also found that teens connected to parents on social media are less likely to be aggressive and depressed.

We can't deny the fact that tweens and teens are using social media and texting to connect more frequently. Burying our heads in the sand and hoping it goes away won't help our kids, but it seems that joining them and being supportive will.

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Increases empathy

Many tween girls have told me that seeing how some kids are treated by others caused them to reach out and be a better friend. We look at cyberbullying and think of it as some kind of tidal wave that can't be stopped, but we forget to consider empowering tweens as a possible solution.

Helping tweens dissect what happens on social media and think about how the same behavior would affect them can be very powerful. It can also open the door to empathy and compassion.

Do we need to pay close attention to how tweens engage on social media? Absolutely. But we also need to trust our tweens to make good choices, and we need to guide them toward using social media for the greater good.

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