Having a 16-year-old daughter in 2013 means that she was not old enough to drive us crazy with instant messaging (IMing) when instant messaging was the communication choice among preteens and teens, but she was just the right age for Webkinz (online pets that kids cared for like newborn children).
“Webkinz leads to pornography,” I used to preach to my mom friends, who were kind enough to listen to my rant and compassionate enough to let my daughter sign on to their own kids’ Webkinz accounts when I wasn’t looking.
A 16-year-old in 2013 was 7 the year Facebook was founded: 2004. By the time these elementary-age kids got to middle school and had ditched their Webkinz, Facebook ruled their world. If they didn’t have a Facebook page as an eighth-grader, they borrowed passwords to get online to set up secret accounts or stalk their friends.
I remember my daughter innocently confessing to me that she was using another girl’s password to look at Facebook. I considered calling the mom to tell her that her daughter was handing out her Facebook password like it was birth control.
It was the apex of kids plus Internet equals some pervert was definitely going to find my sweet child online. No, you can’t use her password. No, you can’t have a Facebook page, and no, you can’t hang out with this girl unless it’s at our house. What was this mother thinking?
My daughter opened her own Facebook account between eighth and ninth grade. After returning from overnight camp, she cried herself to sleep missing the girls who had become her new best friends. She begged for Facebook to “see” them again. I was so happy to have her home, I gave in.
Within seconds, she had hundreds of Facebook friends. It was like her account already existed and was just sitting there waiting for her to sign in — or maybe it was just sitting there waiting for me to give in. Does Mark Zuckerberg have kids?
But all that is ancient history now because iPhones rule their world. These 2013 teens, no longer tethered to their home computers, strategically placed in a central location for all to see and use, have moved on to Twitter, Vine and Instagram.
Last week my daughter’s friend asked me to follow him on Instagram. Why would a 16-year-old ask his friend’s mom to follow him on Instagram? Because, I think, he has nothing to hide and he is proud of his site. Instagram is the least mean and most creative of all the social media apps — according to me.
Girls take beautiful Instagram photos of beaches, buildings and their friends, adding hashtags to launch their tiny photo into the universe to join other tiny photos of the same subject: #summer #mountain #friends.
They send petite love messages to each other under the photos: “I miss you so much.” “You look so beautiful — heart heart heart.” They take hundreds of photos of flowers, their pets, parties, prom dresses and clouds and then hashtag the photos with: #flowers #cat #party #prom #cloudporn.
Boys become art photographers and take crisp black-and-white Instagram photos of lightning over water, mountains they’ve climbed on summer vacations, vistas they’ve seen and bridges they’ve jumped from. No messages or hashtags follow these tiny photos explaining where they are or who they are with — stealth expression of art for art’s sake, I suppose.
We count on these teens to set the cultural pace. Trend professionals track teens for what’s new in fashion, music and language. Adults are not meant to keep up, but if you are invited to follow, say “yes.”
Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at: