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“No, you’re too young.”

My 9-year-old groans and stomps away. Again. Same question. Same answer. Day after day lately. I know this is part of parenting, and part of growing up—doing this dance over and over. Them, always wanting to grow up too fast and us, trying to freeze time. Our parents did it, and their parents did it. I remember begging to do things I “wasn’t old enough for” and stomping off to stew in my anger at my mean old mom.

Only things sure are different now, aren’t they? What did you beg to do at 9? I wanted to walk to the corner store for candy with my friends. Or ride my bike to the next neighborhood over. Or stay home while my mom went grocery shopping. But I was always told I was too young.

I sure as heck wasn’t begging to go online like my son is. Because there was no online. And some days, despite my complete reliance on the internet world, I wish I could jump in a time machine and raise my kids in the 80s too.

So far, I can keep saying, “No. You’re too young.” But my window is starting to close. I don’t have much time yet until his friends are online—playing video games, posting to Youtube, getting phones, and downloading apps. I’m standing in that window frame, desperately trying to keep it open longer, but my arms are getting tired. Gravity (and time) are winning.

Because I am scared out of my mind. I hear horror story after horror story of online bullying through apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Musical.ly. And sex trafficking. And porn too, because sure, why not. I feel like when we hand them the internet, we are saying take them, world! Take our precious children who are a mere ten years out of the womb and expose them to these incredibly grownup, terrifying things!

Well mom and writer Anastasia Basil has written a powerful piece on Medium entitled “Porn is not the worst thing on Musical.ly” about her 10-year-old daughter’s request to download the app. And why Basil will be vehemently saying NOPE. 

Musical.ly, like many apps geared toward tweens, is tricky for parents who didn’t grow up with knowledge of apps. It looks like a simple tool to record silly lip-syncing videos (which was one of my favorite childhood activities—Paula Abdul, anyone?) But again, unlike our childhood where we recorded our dances on our parents’ clunky video tapes that got stored in the hall closet, our kids are posting themselves dancing online. For all the world to see. And, as we know, the world is scary and cruel.

As Basil says in her essay, there are scary things on Musical.ly like porn and pedophiles. But the worst thing? 

The worst thing is watching little kids (as young as eight) sexually objectify themselves. The kids who get it right (the tweeny Kardashians) gain followers. The kids who get it wrong — those not “sexy” enough, funny enough, pop-culturey enough — are openly ridiculed in the comment section. Worse, their “cringe-worthy” lip sync may be immortalized in “Musical.ly Cringe Compilation” videos on YouTube. Some of these cringe compilations have upwards of five million views. My heart hurts not only for the exploited children, but for all kids who scroll Musical.ly (or YouTube) and see this kind of ugly play out.

And that’s the number one reason my son isn’t allowed to get a Youtube channel yet. I can set filters and monitor creepers. But I am not ready for him to see how mean and ugly the world is. He thinks his Minecraft videos are amazing, and he’ll amass swaths of followers who can’t get enough of his red stone house. But I know what some people—some kids—will say. And at 9, he doesn’t deserve that ridicule. He deserves to still think he’s awesome (because he is).

So what should we do? Unless you’re Amish, you probably cannot keep your kids from phones and apps and the online world forever. But Basil warns us that it’s important to not be naive. She references Dylan Klebold (the depressed Columbine shooter, not the psychopath Eric Harris). Klebold came from a steady family and had a loving mother who was involved in his life. Basil shares a quote from Sue Klebold’s book A Mother’s Reckoning: “There is nothing I wouldn’t give to have read the pages of Dylan’s journal while he was still alive, while we still had the chance to pull him back from the abyss that swallowed him and so many innocent others.”

Are apps like Musical.ly the abyss for our tweens? This writer says yes. From pro-anorexia videos to how to commit suicide tutorials, it’s all in there. And our 1o-year-olds want it.

Anastasia Basil suggests we wait. Offer incentive. Tell our kids we will give them a good sized chunk of cash at 16 if they’ve stayed off of social media until then. She also says we should disable safari on iPads and practice saying NO when our kids ask to download apps. If you want your tween or young teen to have a phone, Basil says to get them a simple flip-phone—remember those? When all we could do was call someone? Well, what more do our kids really need than to call us? Certainly not Musical.ly, this mom says.

In the end, we all have to decide what’s best for our kids. I know there are kids my son’s age with Youtube channels. He’s not one of them. And that’s not me, tooting my own parenting horn. I’m over here, like a deer in headlights with the rest of you. Waiting in trepidation for the day I can’t fight it anymore and I hand him the online world. 

I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready. Because how can I be?

Feature image captured by Anastasia Basil

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a freelance writer who is known on social media as The 21st Century SAHM. She is an assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds, staff writer and social media manager for Scary Mommy, and is the author of I Brushed My Hair Today, A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/

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