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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
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
There are a few more positives to be gained from tween and teen girls
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.
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.
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
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
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