Piper Rockelle, 14, criticized for her social media presence. Experts warn parents about digital freedom.

·5 min read

A 14-year-old social media influencer is in the middle of a controversy after Pink accused her family of exploiting her for Instagram likes.

Piper Rockelle, who has 4.8 million Instagram followers and 8.3 million subscribers on YouTube, posts pictures on social media of herself in crop tops and bikinis.

“How many kids like Piper Rockelle are being exploited by their parents?" Pink tweeted last week. "And at what point do the rest of us say … 'this isn't okay for a [14] yr old to be posing in a bikini whilst her MOTHER takes the photo?!?!'"

Rockelle’s Instagram account says that it is an “account managed by family.”

Rockelle’s mother, Tiffany Rockelle, told Today Parents that she’s just trying to support her daughter’s dreams. “Since Piper was a child, she has had a strong love of performing and she has always had a dream,” she said. “So long as Piper wants to do this and it’s her passion, I’m here for her to follow that dream and protect her.”

Many people agreed with Pink in the comments. “The problem is the tone of the pictures. Piper is just 14. The poses in the photos are suggestive and are sending a very wrong message,” one person wrote. “Gross. 13 or 14 doesn’t matter, it’s too young,” another said.

The Rockelle family didn’t respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

The controversy surrounding Piper raises a larger question about what is and isn’t considered OK when it comes to social media for teens and tweens. Experts say it’s hard to put an exact age on when it’s acceptable for each individual child to use social media, but they say parents should use extreme caution.

“It depends on the child and their level of maturity,” Mayra Mendez, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. “However, most of the talk in research is that children under 13 shouldn't be on. Once they get to 16, 17 or 18, though, it’s a whole other story.” Worth noting: A 2018 Pew Research study found that 72 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds use Instagram, and 45 percent say they’re online on a “near-constant basis.”

The issue with letting younger teens use and post to social media is that they may not understand the ramifications of what they put out there, Dr. Lisa Lowery, section chief for adolescent medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. “When I speak with patients and parents about this, I stress to them to be very careful,” she says. However, she admits, “the hard part is discussing with parents the right age. It really comes down to the maturity of the teen.”

Lowery says she repeatedly talks to patients about the importance of thinking before you post. “I really try to counsel all my parents and teenagers that what you post out there is permanent,” she says. “There are also predators out there. They need to be really careful.”

Clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Life that “there are certain cognitive abilities that should be developed before a child takes the helm at social media.” Younger teenagers “typically don’t have the social cognitive development to cope with the powerful social interaction on social media such as criticism, negativism, manipulation and enmeshment,” he says. That’s why Mayer recommends that 13- to 15-year-olds be “more heavily guided and monitored” by parents than their older peers.

That can look different for every family, but some parents may want to use an app like Websafety that alerts them to when their child posts on social media or share owner privileges so they can remove a post if they deem it inappropriate, Mayer says.

At a minimum, Lowery says that parents should be on top of what’s going up on their child’s account: “Know what they’re posting on social media.”

Mendez recommends that parents set expectations and limits before their child is allowed on social media. “There needs to be very hard and fast communication that sets up a plan and expectations, along with what surveillance would look like,” she says. “Plans should be spoken about openly and together the parents and teens should develop a way to do this.” Mendez stresses that parents shouldn’t be secretive about their surveillance of their children. “Do not conceal what you are doing or spy on them,” she says. “That’s a setup for disaster in the relationship between teen and parent.”

Lowery suggests sharing this advice with your child, too: “If you would be too embarrassed for your grandmother to see it, it shouldn’t be on social media.”

As children get older, Mayer says it’s OK to give them more freedom — provided they’ve shown they can handle it. “You add a little bit of freedom to a teen’s life, you wait and see if they can handle it and then you can add more little increments,” he says. “ If they show they cannot handle this freedom, it is pulled back until they have the maturity to handle it again.”

And, if your child says they want to be a social media influencer, Mayer recommends being supportive. “I always support a teen’s dream of being whatever they aspire to, but not at the cost of these other aspects of a balanced life,” he says. “My comment to teens when they bring up such things as being a social media influencer, a rock star or a pro athlete is, ‘heck somebody has to do it,’ and, I add, “most of these people you admire were just like you at your age.’ Parents don’t smash dreams.”

But, if you determine that your child isn’t ready for social media, Lowery says that’s more than OK. “I’ve seen bullying, kids get kicked out of school and fights over social media,” she says. “They don’t need to be on social media.”

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