My son got Instagram at 12 - I banned it at 13

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

There is nothing quite like the onset of adolescence to bring crashing down all the things you told yourself were true during your child's earlier years.

Notions about your own parenting, your child's character and those you know in their broader peer group can quite simply turn to dust in the face of hormones, growing bodies and the very natural rejection of the family unit in favour of friends.

By the time my son was 12, I had worked out my smug little plan of allowing him to have Instagram. After all, I had been using it successfully and happily for many years and was confident I could guide him through any pitfalls, with the right safeguards in place.

I was wrong.

I'll preface this by saying there was no big catastrophic event, no tears, no dramas (that I'm aware of), no ongoing abuse or bullying of my son. He is a reasonably mature 13-year-old now, but still, I banned him from using Instagram, at least for the next few years.

I allowed him to have it in the first place because I thought it was a neat opportunity to document a trip I was taking him on. Naively I thought he could develop a love for photography - natural elements, his loved ones, and great buildings.

We set up the account with some strict usage protocols - private account, I have the password, and he could only friend people he knows in real life.

Hunky dory and off we go, right?

Well sure, at first.

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To begin with, he posted some nice photos of our trip, that soon became about photographing his new sneakers at various attractions. Funny and age-appropriate, and all fine by me. Friends' comments were innocuous, no problem.

He got a little older and it all became about following sports stars and sneaker companies. I intermittently checked his friends list and questioned anyone I didn't know.

That worked. For a while. Except when I forgot to check it for three weeks (because I also have two other children and work and shock horror, was trying to have my own life) and then discovered all these companies were following my son, and teenagers much older than him who happened to be posting reasonably inappropriate content on a regular basis. 

Three weeks of not checking was all it took for all my rules to fall in a heap. I deleted as many unknown followers as I could, to his cries of disbelief. Then I discovered he had changed the password somehow. 

I had lost control of the situation. I got the password out of him and deleted Instagram for a month.

When he got it back, the rules were clear and strict... and still it all went wrong again.

After a short period of sticking by the rules, I then found direct messages from an older girl at a different school in our area who talked of suicide ideation, and the fact that she was being dared to have sex by peers. And I could tell my 12-year-old was way out of his depth by his responses. He simply didn't know what to say.

A boy he met on a tour on our trip direct messaged my son about rating the girls he was interested in out of 10, and sending him screenshots of their Instagram photos. He refused to engage in rating their looks, which I'm proud of, but at age 12 he did not need to be navigating such things.

And aside from the inappropriate things, he was becoming increasingly disengaged at home, glued to his screen even when we established screen-free times. He'd post Instagram Stories solely based on "shoutouts" and getting other people to follow other people. I'd find some barbed, awful comments about some of my son's pictures that came from nowhere and were unwarranted and hurtful. He didn't seem fazed, but I sure was.

We'd find his phone under his pillow, him having chatted to friends via direct message until far too late.

It was time. Time to ban Instagram.

​I deleted it, then discussed my issues with it and that he and his peers needed to do some growing in the real world before he could go on social media again. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, including him, this is my job. It's my job to take steps to protect my child.

Rookie error I guess - he's my first child and I won't be making the same mistake with my other children. There is simply no way that anyone's child is equipped to deal with such a huge, unpredictable beast so early in their lives.

The biggest irony is that now the kids delete all their photos and leave about six showing at any one time. So all those holiday memories are gone forever. He also deleted them from his phone to make more room.

They have the rest of their lives to engage in social media. I'd encourage anyone to rethink giving their kids Instagram or any other social app at the age of 13.

My son is more engaged and less distracted now and he hasn't even battled me too much on the banning. He seems to recognise the complications and inappropriate themes it brought to his life too early.

I won't be reconsidering until he's at least 15 and I'd encourage others to do the same.

No matter how much you think you have it hand, you just don't.