Dear David Coleman: My daughter wants to be on Snapchat and it's causing rows

Q My daughter is in sixth class and claims she is the only one without Snapchat.

My husband and myself are both very slow to allow any social media for her. We bought her an iPad for her birthday in September, which we are regretting, as she spends a lot of time on TikTok!

She is not allowed to post, but we are having arguments with her all the time. She is a very sociable, musical and active girl but it’s amazing how we are noticing such a change in her recently. Your opinion and advice would be greatly appreciated.

David replies: Always be wary of the impassioned cries of “…I’m the only one”. Usually the isolation, although keenly felt perhaps, is not absolute. That said, it is quite likely that a lot of your daughter’s friends do have Snapchat accounts and have started to socialise regularly on that platform.

Even if your daughter is actually the only one without Snapchat, among her peers, that isn’t a reason to let her download the app. You already have the experience of TikTok taking up a lot her time and focus. You have already seen the tensions that can arise when kids’ expectations of using social media increase beyond our readiness to let them loose on a given platform.

Social media isn’t all bad. It does provide a valid and useful medium for all of us to interact. But, it does, as you no doubt recognise, have its downsides too. There are issues with increases in pressure to conform, or expectations of what is “normal”. There is the potential for bullying to increase, or the potential to become a slave to the little red notification icons and the distraction and withdrawal from family life that often comes with that.

However, sooner or later, you will have to let her be on social media. In advance, you need to talk to her about things like the time, the duration and the location that she will be able to use the iPad for social media. Discuss with her whether you will have access to her social media accounts, in the short term, to be able to monitor her behaviour and support her in being a responsible digital citizen. Your talks, will, therefore, extend to your beliefs and values about what is OK and not OK to do and how you expect her to act.

You need to discuss other aspects of potential online harm, like dealing with hurtful comments, dealing with exposure to pornography, or the possibility of unwelcome “d**k pics” that boys are likely to send her. You need to remind her about her personal information and privacy online and the dangers of not knowing, in person, anybody that she “friends” on social media.

There is no prescriptive age or stage at which social media becomes OK or remains not OK, so it will have to be your family decision, based on your values and your understanding of social media and the Internet. But if you feel that social media becomes bad for her, you can always row back, or as they have in some primary schools, got community wide support to limit children’s access to social media. It worked great for Gaelscoil Uí Fhiaich in Blennerville, so it might work for your daughter’s school too.

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