My husband and I are the proud parents of a 12-year-old daughter who identifies as pansexual. She's been out to us since she was 10, and is out to pretty much everyone at her middle school. Thankfully, there's a Gay Straight Alliance, Safe Space stickers, gender neutral bathrooms, lots of openly LGBTQ+ kids, and very little bullying. (Middle school is not what it used to be!) She's also openly dated several girls. We want to be fully supportive and have not discouraged her from being open. Except...
Instagram. How out should my 12-year-old be on Instagram?
On New Year's Eve, my daughter posted a video and photo of the New Year's kiss she shared with her girlfriend. The kiss was truly just a small one and "middle school appropriate," but the public display of it concerned me. My husband and I had a long talk about this, and we decided to ask her to take the photo and video down. Yes, she has a private account, but as you know, nothing is really private on social media. We were concerned that the photo might be shared and result in bullying. My husband was concerned with what could be done with such a photo should the Trump-Pence regime succeed in scaling back gay rights. Also, all LGBTQ+ issues aside, the image felt a little TMI for a 12-year-old on Instagram. If it were a boy, I'm pretty sure we would have asked her to take that down too.
So she took it down. She was a little upset, but she understood. I, however, am not the least bit convinced that we did the right thing. I do not ever want her to feel that we are ashamed of her. I feel that this is very new ground for us, and for parents in general. I want to help my daughter navigate social media and her identity as a queer adolescent, and this is very new to me. So what do you think, Dan? How out should a 12-year-old be on social media? Where's the point at which we set limits?
Maybe Old-fashioned Monitoring
Tell your daughter to take down the kissing pic because she's 12, MOM, not because she's pansexual. The reason for demanding she take the picture off Instagram that you get around to last — "it's a little TMI" — was reason enough. Instead, you presented her with a laundry list of WCSD (worst case scenario disorder) scenarios that were a little TMI themselves. ("The wrong people could see it, you could get bullied, the president could make it illegal to be pansexual if he gets a second term, and — oh hey — it's a little TMI.") If you don't want your daughter to feel like you're ashamed of her, you should probably refrain from actively or passively suggesting to her that she might wanna to take Mike Pence's feelings into account before she posts a same-sex kiss pic on her private Instagram — because, hey, she could wind up in a conversion therapy camp if things really do go south.
The important thing here is that your daughter feels supported. And it sounds like she is — she's got loving and supportive parents, she's found an identity/label that works for her now (she may move through a few more before as she grows), and her school is packed with queers and studded with gender-neutral bathrooms. Even now, circumstances like hers are rare. She's got the support network. If the only voice she hears telling her to take down her girl-on-girl kiss pic is yours, MOM, that's a recipe for resentment. Moms and dads should monitor their kids social media, of course, and make sure their kids understands the risks and potential consequences of over-sharing. (Which can also draw unwelcome attention from creepy old men who aren't the president.) But it'll be hard to convince your daughter you would've told her to take down an opposite-sex kissing pic if three of your four stated reasons for taking down this pic down were same-sexy.
Further complicating things: there are other social networks out there. If you limit her ability to express herself on her private Instagram, MOM, what's stopping her from making a private (even to you) Tumblr? Kids are crafty, and I bet your daughter is sneakier online than the Tech-Savvy/At-Risk Youth. Babies can use iPads — don't underestimate a tween.