One of the things I struggle with most as a parent is the loss of control that inevitably comes when your kids grow up and are exposed to things in the world that are beyond your control. Of course we need to let them leave the protective bubble we’ve created and experience life for themselves, but when it comes to cruelty and bullying, it can go from sad to scary really quickly.
The thing is, no matter how hard we try as parents to fill our kids’ cups with confidence, pump them full of self-worth and teach them about kindness towards themselves and others, it takes just one nasty word from their peers to un-do it all. Everyone gets their feelings hurt once in a while, which can absolutely be beneficial in building resilience, but there is stuff that lingers well after the initial sting.
And for young kids and adolescents, appearance is often the cheap shot that penetrates deep down and builds life-long insecurities.
Most of us have heard unkind words about our weight or our skin or countless other things at some point in our lives, but in the social media-ruled world where those words can quickly turn to public humiliation, it adds an extra element of fear. And that fear is penetrating the family of 10-year-old Mia-Lili Bennett at the moment.
According to her parents, Mia-Lili, from Norwich in the UK, is currently on suicide watch after it was discovered that she was the subject on an ‘Ugly or Not’ poll on Instagram. Accompanying a close-up shot of Mia-Lili’s face were the words, ‘Who think she ugly’ with viewers able to respond with ‘Hell Ya’ or ‘Hell Nah’. With a 57% ‘Hell Ya’ vote, Mia-Lili has told her parents that she wants to “end it all.”
According to Mia-Lili’s mum Corrinia, her daughter told her she had set up an Instagram account and Corrinia told to take it down straight away and uninstall the app because she was too young. Mia-Lili did as she was told, but her mum said, “Kids don’t know how to set their accounts to private and someone got hold of her photo.” The culprits then activated a fake account under Mia-Lili’s name and posted the poll, which was seen by friends of the family who informed Mia-Lili’s parents, and they immediately reported it to Instagram.
“Instagram were really good and they have taken it down. But the next day I needed to wake up my daughter and ask her about it. I didn’t want to show her but I needed to know what had been going on.
“She saw the post and just started crying. She cried so much she collapsed and her dad had to scoop her up off the floor. She hasn’t stopped crying since and neither have I to be honest.
“We had to put her on suicide watch at home. Her dad and I have to make sure someone is with her 24 hours a day because she keeps talking about ending it all.”
Corrinia added, “It has completely destroyed her confidence, she’s very self-conscious about the way she looks. We tell her she’s beautiful all the time but she won’t believe it.”
As a mum to a 10-year-old daughter myself, this story fills me with dread. If I had things my way, my kids wouldn’t be able to touch social media until they’re 18 years old, because the door it opens to the public pile-on style of bullying and judgement in those formative years terrifies me. But I’m also aware that this makes me delusional, so if I can hold out until she’s at least 15 then I’ll count myself lucky.
Bearing in mind that this is just my own personal take on it, I think that as parents it’s really important that we’re aware of what our kids are doing on their devices by monitoring the apps they have and the content they post.
While I do think there’s a place in the world for social media (God knows I bloody love Instagram), I think it’s a potentially dangerous space for kids. Because being a kid is HARD. It’s hard enough finding your place in the world without the added confusion of an online world that has the potential to tear you down before you’ve even had time to come into your own.
Do you let your kids have social media? From what age do you think it’s okay?
Constance Hall has had her fair share of trolls over the years. She talked about that and tonnes more in our podcast version of her On the Couch chat below. Have a listen and then come and subscribe for more podcast fun here.