Nicole Feliciano has been an online “influencer” for 13 years. In fact, as the founder of MomTrends, you could say she’s one of the original influencers in the mom space. You know, from before we started calling them “influencers.”
Feliciano’s older daughter recently turned 14; she started blogging when that daughter was born. Suffice it to say, she knows some things about the internet.
That’s why we found it a little surprising to learn about her strict internet boundaries when it comes to her family.
“From the beginning,” she says, “I drew a firm line about my kids not being featured. Though I’m talking about parenting on social media, I keep their identities very shielded. If and when they did appear when they were younger, they’d be sleeping in stroller or something—it’s not all about them.”
Her husband makes about two appearances a year on the website. “I still never mention his name,” Feliciano says. “These days, influencer marketing tends to be about the person’s family. It’s one way to go, but I didn’t want my kids to feel like they were on call for my work. I also wanted it to be something that was scalable.”
Here are the top tips she uses in her own life:
As her company was growing, Feliciano made a big point to share its mission, business model, successes and failures with everyone in the family. “I didn’t do it to the point where it was exhausting or monopolized the conversation, but I wanted my daughters to know what was going on and why I was taking occasional trips.”
The girls would help her with payroll. “They loved depositing checks; they’d wage epic battles over who got to deposit checks into the ATM machine. I loved showing them the account balances and they’d say, ‘Oooh, Mommy, you’re rich!’ I’d say, ‘Well, till payroll goes out in two weeks!’”
Lots of parents want to teach their kids about entrepreneurship. Because they hear about their mom’s entrepreneurship all the time, Feliciano’s daughters think about how they could be entrepreneurs when they grow up, too.
At one point a number of years back, Feliciano’s home life was busy and her husband’s career took off. He questioned why she was working at all if she didn’t need to. “Not only was it about my sense of self, I was modeling for our two daughters that they may never be in a situation where a partner can afford for them not to work,” she says. “That reality is so few and far between for most people, so I don’t want them to think that’s an option for them to just choose not to work. I do think there will be fewer and fewer stay-at-home parents unless our economy drastically changes.”
Even the daughters of a social influencer can make mistakes. There were some instances in the past few years when Feliciano thought, “I talk about this with you all the time. I can’t believe you’d put this on social media!”
She explains the dynamics of social media to her daughters in stark terms. “I talk to them about how I carefully edit what I put out. We may take 100 photos and use only two of them. I show them how I edit my content and think about my public image,” she says. In other words, she wants them to understand that they shouldn’t absorb everything online as though it were actual truth—there’s more to most pictures than meets the eye.
When Feliciano does get negative comments online, she’s turned those into conversations. “I’ve explained how it’s usually best not to engage with trolls on the internet; their whole job is to bring other people down. I’m not looking at it as a reflection on me if I get negative comments.” But, she says, it’s really tough for teens and tweens to comprehend that comments are not a judgment of one’s worth.
“I understand why depression rates are up and kids have a hard time with social media and anxiety. I had a life before social media existed, and they didn’t,” Feliciano says. “In my house, we talk a lot about the you offline. That’s the version of yourself that you should feel best about and spend the most time developing, before you even think about developing an online persona.”
Feliciano has family dinners and is strict about no phones at the table. “Our weekends are spent predominantly offline. I still read every night with the girls—good old fashioned books. They see me on the subway reading The New Yorker. I have a women’s running group I participate in. I go to business meetings. They see me doing a lot of things, not just attached to tech.”
It’s important to pass down a legacy that remembers what’s important in life. Feliciano recommends modeling this behavior so kids can see the upside to living in the real world. “As a family, we enjoy hiking and skiing together. In a lot of ways I’m trying to show them I have an offline life that’s really engaging and makes me happy.”
Instagram’s rule is that you have to be 13 years old. Feliciano let her daughter get an account before that age but didn’t let her post. “I wanted her observing what her friends were doing before jumping in herself, so we could talk about it, so we shared an account. I logged in on my phone to her account because I wanted control.
Both of her daughters used Musical.ly (bought by TikTok), a music video social media tool, and they watch a lot of YouTube, but they don’t create much social media content.
After watching her older daughter on social media, Feliciano may wait even longer before she lets her younger daughter have her own social accounts. “There’s just so little upside. If she wants to see her friends, she can look at my account or I can follow her friends. This stuff detracts from interpersonal relationships, so the longer you can wait, the better.” In the meantime, her younger daughter is starting to slowly become more comfortable talking to her friends on the phone. Feliciano says, “My girls FaceTime with their closest friends and I think that’s great.”
Feliciano doesn’t feel bad about this level of control. “They know I’m paying for the phone and that I have access to the apps. I do audits periodically. I see their texts coming in and I know what apps they have downloaded.” When they exhibited some lapses in judgment, she and her husband got tighter about how many checks they were doing. “I have no problem being the grownup in the room because I have to be,” Feliciano says. “I’m fine being a little more strict than some of their peers’ parents. If kids know that someone’s parents check their phone, their friends are a lot more careful when messaging with those kids. Sounds great to me!”
Feliciano has seen some parents bury their heads in the sand or throw their hands up because they figure their kids will be online no matter what they do. Others parents are on the other side of the spectrum. Some friends of her daughters are 13 or 14 and have flip phones or no phone at all. “I think that’s fantastic, too.”
Feliciano says, “We didn’t go that route because there’s a lot of smartphone features I appreciate, like location technology so if our older daughter is taking her little sister somewhere, I like to track that.”
When it comes to setting boundaries for kids and social media, their situation is different because Feliciano lives and breathes social. When Instagram releases a new service or product, she’ll know before other parents do. “I’ve used these products so I’m comfortable with them. That gives me an advantage. For example, I know about the YouTube beauty wars. It’s interesting to talk to my daughter about it as someone actually aware of what’s going on.” Feliciano says, “That leads my daughter to believe I can be a trusted resource about social media and building her profile online.”
This also leads to more honest conversations. There are so many teachable moments in the news, Feliciano says. “My husband and I often come loaded for long car trips with things to talk about. Rather than the kids going straight to their screens, we’ve had some great family conversations.”
“OK,” she admits. “Maybe we can’t sustain that for three whole hours. But that’s the good thing about having a captive audience!”
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