October 23, 2012

Just Say No.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:36 pm by openendedcomment

Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent to teens is harder.  Being a parent to teens in this digital mass communication instant knowledge and self publishing world we live is insane.  I am sure that when I was a teenager my parents felt the same thing, but no matter how difficult 1989 was for my Mother and Father (the year I was 13) it is nothing compared to 2012.

I speak to my children constantly about the dangers of over-sharing online, that even though I have a face book account and a blog, I am also 36 years old and understand why and how privacy settings work.  I get that the internet is forever and delete doesn’t always mean “gone.”  I am able to take criticism and occasional snide comments and deal with them.  I don’t face bullying and memes and forwards of pictures that should never have been taken.  If I did, I would be able to handle it.  They can’t.  They may think they are old enough and they may tell me they can take it and that they understand, but really, they don’t and no amount of privacy settings or firewalls of Mom-Security is going to protect them from the cruelty of other kids online.  Going even further, I will not allow them the opportunity to be sucked into the cruelty that takes place intentionally or passively towards others in these forums. My unwillingness to allow for this has earned me the title of “the meanest Mom of all their friends.”  There are times it bothers me; times I question my rigid stance on these issues and there are times like now I’m reminded that (the mean Mom) is exactly who I ought to be.

My sixteen year old son suffers my vigilant self far better than my thirteen year old daughter.  He too requires some monitoring, but he doesn’t really care.  He doesn’t want to be so visible and “involved”…for her, it’s an entirely different story.

Last week there was an incident at my daughter’s middle school.  Hundreds of kids in sixth through eighth grade were on sites of “Memes” created about and at other students at their school.  They got the idea from the high school page.  Middle schoolers want to be like high schoolers.  That much, at least,  remains the same through the decades.  What also remains the same is the ability of high school students to recognize and self-police (to a point) abject cruelty.  They were still (in my opinion) rather idiotic in their postings, but not to the point of bullying and intentional pain the younger set brought it to.   The school got involved.  A girl was pushed to a breakdown, another came close.  Dozens were called out publicly as “nerds” “sluts”  “bastards” and “geeks.”  Secrets were exposed and lives were irretrievably altered. The kids got spooked, but they did not stop.  They took down one site to put up another.  Again and again they did this.  People I know have children who were on these…children “liking” and “following”  and some even commenting on this sad display of unchecked freedom not fit or designed for such emotionally immature beings.  I did not call these parents, the ones I knew, though I was tempted.  The school did send a letter (not at my urging but I was glad to see it) and I hope that it was read.  I hope those parents actually did what they were asked to do by the administrators and looked at what their children were and are doing.  I hope that now that they know, they set those accounts to feed back to their own to keep tabs if not  take them down entirely, as I wish more would do.

It’s tempting and it is so easy.  So simple to think that “everyone” is doing it and “all” the other kids their age have smart phones and face book and twitter and instagram and e-mail…so easy to tell yourself as a parent that you’re “invading their privacy” by reading the text messages and IMs and scanning the accounts…so damn time-consuming to even attempt to keep up with the constant barrage of communication from and to your kids on top of your own.  I know.  I get it, I’ve been there and I’ve failed, too.

But we have to stop.  We have to start.  We have got to pay attention.  My children don’t have Facebook.  My daughter has tried a few times and I’ve always caught it.  I have friends who think I should let her and just monitor it.  Well, I don’t agree.  Each child is different and my child isn’t ready for this step.  It was proven again less than a week ago.  It is a big deal and a big risk and I’m not willing to risk her.  Not yet.  I do know that I can’t avoid it forever and that it is a part of our new reality so I do make some concessions.  She does have email, and it copies to me as does instagram.  One violation and it’s gone.  My kids can’t use a computer unless they sign in and I do have tracking software.  Computers are not used behind closed doors in our home.  My kids know I read their text messages.  On my account, so deleting is pointless.  If they write or send things that aren’t within our family value set, they lose the phone.   I’m not perfect in this and I do occasionally let my guard down.  Tonight I was reminded again why I can not do that.

After the news there was a story on Dateline, a show I don’t normally watch.  It was a story of a girl bullied so badly online that she took her own life.  It was a story we’ve heard too many times.  These are fragile years we are entering, my daughter and me.  I know too well the intensity of emotion that comes with the journey from child to woman.  The tears and the agony; the love and the heartache.  The way your emotions at such a fleeting and ever-ending onslaught of new experiences and discoveries of and in yourself can lead to utter ignorance of consequences and danger…and I know that for so many I love and loved it was a time that tested their souls.  Some did not make it through.  I know that it was hard enough when there was a moment to get away, a safe place where alone existed…and I know that for her and for all of them now, in this time, that alone is a theory…a nice idea, but not something they truly understand.  Everyone is a swipe and a face time away.  A ping of a new message and a flash of a comment made.  That in this so very egocentric time that is the teen years the pictures and the moments shared are not always to be thought through and considered…and it is that which makes me, this mean, mean Mother denying her what “everyone” else has who will continue to be vigilant in protecting her from herself.  As all parents do to one degree or another.  We all keep our children from adult situations and dangerous things as much as we are able for as long as we are capable.  This is no different.

I have so little time.  Four and a half short years and she will be on her way.  For that time and for these months I will make her crazy, but I will keep her safe.  I will, as the years move forward, release my grip and allow her more space, more privleges…but I will never turn a blind eye.   I can’t.  No matter the title at the bottom of any e-mail I send, this is my job.  The pain in that Mother’s eyes tonight on my television screen, describing what her daughter read each and every day…I can’t help but wonder how many more Mothers and Fathers and Daughters and Sons are feeling that now…at this moment…how much could be helped if not stopped by more parents demanding a password and reading what is there for the rest of the world to see?  It may not save a life to read your child’s phone tonight and it may not make the world better to know who they are following or what they commented on today, but if it could, would you?  I promise you I will.

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2 Comments »

  1. morasmum said,

    I only have a toddler, but those same thoughts keep me up at night already. I am also 36, so I guess I have seen enough of the world to worry not only about what my little one can pick up from the floor and eat but to worry about his journey into adulthood.

    I agree with what you say, it is a hassle, but it is something we have to do. Monitoring is as crucial as keeping the dialogue going.
    We wouldn’t let our 13 y.o. go out at 10 at night to a bar, so why give them all the freedom online? there are so many dangers they are not prepared to face.

    Until now my biggest worry were “online predators”, but you are making me see another side, that i guess i have not seen yet since his interaction with peers is so small.

    Thank you for this post, I think that being aware of the issue and doing something about is half the battle won already…

    Good luck

  2. It *is* difficult…but I also have to say that despite the challenges these ages bring I am loving the extreme honor I have in watching the development into young adults. They are wonderful people! Everyone says that it “flys by”…the time…and they are right. I am sad to realize my time with them each and every day is growing short. Enjoy it!


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