While jumping down the rabbit hole of Instagram the other day, I came across the handle of a woman I used to work with in women’s magazines whom I’ve always greatly admired — slick, beautiful, smart, stylish, witty, incredibly talented with impeccable taste; she was the full package. Without peer. Super creative and insanely cool. I’ve often wondered what’s become of her over the years so I had to follow her.
I scrolled through a few of her pictures and discovered she has a teenage daughter who is on Instagram as well. How could I resist? I hit Follow. Sure enough, a glance through the daughter’s pics reveals the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, only this apple wears high tops with crop tops, goes to Jay-Z concerts, and comes up with the most hilarious, snarky captions. She’s basically the 2014 version of her mom.
But a few days later it hit me — um, what am I doing following this woman’s teenage daughter online? I quickly hit Unfollow because I didn’t want her mom to think I’m some kind of weirdo Insta-creeper.
Since then, I’ve taken a closer look through the list of who I follow and it dawned on me that I follow more than a few minors. Seven, to be exact. Eight, if you count the daughter of a casual friend who recently started college. I wonder if this sort of thing might be misconstrued. What will their parents think?
The reason I follow kids on Instagram is because it offers a glimpse into lives I don’t get (or wouldn’t want) to live. Look! Here’s a pic of Rocco Ritchie snowboarding in the Swiss Alps! And here he is jumping off the roof of a villa into a pool along the French Riviera! Now he’s riding a four-wheeler at an estate in the Hamptons. I look at his pictures and think, Wow, Rocco Ritchie is the 1 percent. Does he go to school? Does he have time to? Is his spelling intentionally that bad? He looks so cool.
It’s a way for me to keep up with what’s happening in popular youth culture (and you know anyone who uses the phrase, “popular youth culture” might as well check into Shady Oaks Retirement Village now) without having to watch TV, flip through magazines, go on Facebook (yes, I totally realize Facebook owns Instagram!) and other early to mid-aught activities.
I’m genuinely interested in the things kids say, the hackneyed spelling, the acronyms, the hashtags, the clothes, the hair. Kids are so much more diverse, weird, crazy and quite frankly, interesting than me and my boring life full of boring responsibilities, spent in sensible fashion choices.
I want Tavi Gevinson to tell me what’s cool. I need to know that Creepers (the shoes, not the people) are safely in style. Can a 40-something mom of two wear “shortalls?” And what the hell are shortalls?
Following kids on Instagram offers a fascinating and oftentimes perverse look at modern teen-dom that would be closed to me otherwise. One of the kids I follow is the daughter of a fairly close friend who actually gets angry at her Followers, which she expresses through a series of petulant Haiku like comments and emojis, for not sufficiently Liking and Commenting on her latest selfie. It’s riveting to witness social status distilled down to the number of largely anonymous comments you receive with no awareness of how strange and inherently anti-social it is to demand followers <<<!!!LOVE!!!>>> your latest silly self-image.
It’s fascinating stuff. I’m sure sociologists are watching. But is it weird? I don’t know what the etiquette is — which kids do you follow versus unfollow? Or should you not follow anyone under the age of 18 since it might be interpreted the wrong way by their parents?
Since this is somewhat of a gray area, I got in touch with Lizzie Post, Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter and co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, for her take, and I came away feeling like my trepidation has more to do with my own advancing age and residual hang ups about grown ups mixing with children than anything else.
“It’s not weird at all to follow a kid on Instagram,” she says. “People are on Instagram to be followed. It’s a public forum. People are there to share. If they or their parents don’t want to be followed, the account will be set to private.”
Okay. I guess my hang-ups stem from growing up in a scary news culture where I’ve been bombarded with messages, pretty much since birth, that any grown person who takes an interest in a child is an automatic creeper.
Thankfully, Lizzie was on the line to gently remind me that just because I follow Rocco Ritchie doesn’t mean I plaster his image in my bedroom. “It’s not like you’re spying on a child through their bedroom window,” she points out. It just means I want to see Rocco shred the half pipe. And I laugh at all the videos he posts of himself wiping out trying to perform stupid stunts. I am, to use Lizzie’s word, “supporting” Rocco Ritchie, not creeping him. Whew. Glad I got that clarified.
Still, there are a few parameters worth considering. Especially since there are a lot of parents out there who, like me, apparently still don’t get it.
1. If it’s the child of a close friend, or even a fairly close friend, it can’t hurt to give the friend a casual courtesy head’s up just so she’s not surprised to discover your handle among her child’s followers (“Hey, I’m following Miley — her images are so amazing!”)
2. If it’s the child of a very casual friend, like the daughter of the resident DILF in your office, just know that sooner or later, the DILF is going to scroll through his kid’s followers and see your handle and he might think you’re kinda weird or a little pathetic … or trying to get close to him, the DILF. (Like how I felt following my old colleague’s daughter.) Or he might not. He might be totally flattered. You just don’t know. But you have to think how you’d feel if some random acquaintance started following your child.
This is why, when the time comes, my kids’ Instagram accounts will be set to private (June is only 4, so we have a ways to go). “It’s an opportunity to talk with children about privacy as you go through and monitor their follower requests together,” says Lizzie. “It teaches kids good boundaries for later on.”
And let’s face it, boundaries in the age of selfies aren’t such a bad thing.
What do you think? Do you follow any kids on Instagram?