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Instagram and Youth Sports: Are We Helping or Hurting?

When I was in elementary school, life was very different. Photos were captured on a roll of Kodak film and had to be professionally developed to be viewed. Videos were recorded with a video camera and that footage was confined to a tape, that could only be viewed on VCR. Content used to have a limited scope.

Things have changed. We now live in a world of instant access and infinte sharing.

According to a recent poll, 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging. Thus, a large part of this generation's social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.

Instagram is the main social media platform for youth athletes. If you're not up to date with the wonderful world of youth sports on IG, don't worry, I'llexplain. Founded in 2010, Instagram pages display a gallery of photos and videos. Youth athlete accounts document daily life, practices, games, training, etc. The IG accounts are (typically) overseen or completely run by parents. They post photos and videos. Write captions. Use hashtags. It all seems innocent enough, right?

Well, there's good news and bad news. Here's what's positive about this new frontier of youth sports and social media. Parents are constantly seeking exposure for their kids. In the youth sports world, exposure equates to opportunity. Social media levels the playing field because it's free. If you can't afford to fly your kid around the country showcasing their skills, Instagram is a perfect platform to build a presence. Everyone's on IG, from college coaches to top ranked players to sponsorship brands. Instagram is also a powerful networking tool. When attending tournaments and camps, you'll meet lots of other players and coaches. Instead of exchanging phone numbers (like we did in the 90s), kids follow one another on IG. Next thing you know, they're calling each other "bro". Good stuff.

Instagram adds a dimension to youth sports that has never existed. It's a public forum for people to express their opinions about games, coaches, rankings, players, teams, etc.. It gives us a way to support one another and cheer each other on, too. Of course, there are the inherent negative aspects of social media. Just for fun, I'll shout a few out. Weighing self-worth on the number of likes. Obsessively comparing yourself to others. Hyper Self Awareness.

But here's the part I find odd: Adults are literally impersonating kids.

So....when a parent posts on their child's IG, they don't type "Timmy had a great game." Nope. They pen captions in first person, "I had a great game." Oh, and some parents misspell words and sprinkle in some bad gammar to make it more authentic. What's wrong with that? Well, adults are intrinsically flawed. We have ulterior motives, egos, baggage and shit to prove. We're passive aggressive and we love to brag and show off.

And now, we're imposing this adult perspective onto our child's online presence. We're speaking for them, posting for them and molding their brand as we see fit. Sure, a kid might hit a few 3-pointers in a basketball game. But by the time the footage is professionally edited and the highlight reel is posted to Instagram, they're the next Splash Brother. These hype posts may create unreal expectations for a child to live up to.

Another phenomenon witnessed with the rise of social media, is a child's awareness that a photo or video will be seen by thousands of people. I remember taking a photo and I didn't see it until Walgreens sold us the 5x7 prints. And the only who could see the photo was the person holding the photo. Fast forward to 2018. When a kid takes a picture, they immediately want to view it. Why? To see if it's post-ready. To make sure they are meeting a standard that's been set. Because after all, its not JUST a cute kid photo. This image will reach a limitless number of people. Kids are very aware of and are editing/censoring their personalities accordingly.

So the question remains, is Instagram helping or hurting our young athletes?

While acknowledging that social media is now a “hugely important phenomenon” and a “core part” of youth life, limiting social media use could help improve kids’ overall sense of well-being. Also, parents should be mindful that this account is not truly "theirs." It's a permanant footprint that will follow their child forever.

Here's a short list of rules to follow to keep social media fun and positive:

  • Don't post negative comments or complain. Trust me, I know....the ref was totally not calling fouls on the other team plus they had a 7th grader playing on a 5th grade team. Let it go. Woosah.

  • Be realistic when you post. Growing children should be allowed to make mistakes.

  • Monitor and manage the account, but maybe ask your child to write compose their own captions instead of impersonating.

  • Don't use Instagram as motivational tool to show your kid how hard everyone else is training. Trust your own process.

  • Spark a dialogue with your child about social media and it's place in their life. Yes it's a great platform for exposure and peer support, it must always take a backseat to real life.

#aau #youthsports #travelball #socialmedia #instagram #facebook #internet

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