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Teens and Social Media: How Our Daughter Used One Simple App To Bring Us Together

Over the last two years, our 14-year-old has shut herself away in her can’t-see-the-floor room, eschewing the family movies and games she used to love, often surfacing only for dinner. 

I can hear her FaceTiming with friends, or see from the dark strip below her door that she’s turned off her light to nap. Honestly, there are lots of times when I have no idea what’s going on in there.

And, yes, I know her voluntary separation from us is normal teenage behavior. Still, I struggle with it.

“I miss her,” I tell Joe, my husband. “I miss the family we used to be when we did things together.”

He sympathizes, but he also tells me that my grief causes me to be nit-picky and curt with our teen when she finally does appear.

That’s probably true. Her absence feels like a rejection; and, having grown up in a family that wasn’t close, I feel all the more frustrated that she chooses to check out of this warm, familial ecosystem my husband and I built for her, one that’s filled with joy, laughter, and spirited conversation.

Again and again, I ask myself, Why doesn’t she want what I so desperately wanted?

So color me shocked when our teen comes to the dinner table one night and says to me and Joe, “You guys have to get BeReal!” She shows us the app and urges us to download it onto our phones. 

How to Use BeReal to Connect with Your Teen

The BeReal app is a social platform app that alerts users at certain times each day to take and post a photo; and not just any photo, but a two-way pic, so that your “friends” get a snapshot of what’s happening both behind and in front of you at that one moment of your day.

My husband and I download the app without hesitation. Asking us to join her on this platform feels encouraging to me, demonstrating her desire to stay connected to us.

Maybe, I think, my skin tingling with hope, she misses us a little bit, too.

On the app, our teen is our only “friend” (besides each other). She’s the only one who will see our photos. She’s the whole reason we’re there.

In recent weeks, Joe and I have, when prompted, snapped and posted pics from our work and home lives. My husband’s pics often show him in his office in front of multiple computer screens, or they capture some bit of a building’s architecture or decor, or they might reveal me sitting across a restaurant table, reading the paper, during one of our Sunday breakfast dates. 

I, meanwhile, use the app to show my daughter things in my life that she doesn’t often see or notice. Me working in the stacks at the local library. Me at the end of a run. The sink full of dishes, or a basket of clean laundry, or any of the million small things that I do daily to keep my family running. Or maybe, like today, I highlight an accomplishment I’m particularly proud of — I hold up my latest magazine story byline, take a two-way picture, then post.

But perhaps most importantly, BeReal has thrown open a small window into the life of my reclusive teen. Now, almost daily, I see what some of her classrooms look like and where she sits; what she and her closest friends do when they’re out together downtown; who she eats lunch with; and what she’s working on behind her room’s closed door.

“Did you see my BeReal?” she regularly asks me.

Oh, sweetie. 

My answer is always “yes.” I look for her BeReal photo the instant my phone vibrates with an alert, ravenous for these rare peeks into her world.

Indeed, for all the anxiety I had about handing my daughter a phone when she was in middle school, and how it would inevitably make it easier for her to be less present around us, it’s also opened doors, in new and unexpected ways, to virtual spaces where we’re now sharing ourselves with each other again, connecting through technology.

It just has to be, for now, her idea. She has to lead the way.

We merely have to say, “Yes.”

Jenn McKee

Jenn McKee is a Michigan-based journalist/essayist/arts critic whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Scary Mommy, and American Theatre magazine. To see pictures of her cat, or hear about all the weird things her kids say, follow her on Twitter (@jennmckee) and Instagram (@criticaljenn), or visit jennmckee.com.

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