Friday, August 27, 2010
Adventures in Real Parenting: Who's Stalking Our Kids Online? Why - It's Us!
My friend Carole sent me a link yesterday that made me laugh and cringe simultaneously Oh, Crap, My Parents Joined Facebook is a delightful website highlighting the online faux pas of parents and relatives. Can you believe some poor kids have to deal with not only mom and dad, but Nana and Papa, too? Yikes.
Anyway, the link was quite apropos to a Facebook status I posted this week.
Lisa Golden parents by text these days.
It's true. Just ask anyone with kids, phones and thumbs.
Some days it feels like I communicate more with my kids via texts, facebook statuses and tweets than via the traditional methods of hollering across the house or having serious conversations across the kitchen table while avoiding eye contact. Okay, "some days" is a boldfaced lie. It's every day. But I think we all prefer it that way. We're mostly a bunch of socially awkward eccentrics so limited face to face contact is less painful physically and mentally. Except for MathMan. He's the least socially awkward of us and even he has some trouble in the eye contact department. So when your most socially adept person is the math whiz in the family? Doomed. Is it any wonder my best friends are dead British detectives?
That was like matheism or something wasn't it? Or am I a Mathist? What has America come to when the only people you can safely mock are the smarty pants elitists who know how to operate a graphing calculator?
I'm still traumatized by him showing me his Parabola the other night, but I digress. I'm supposed to be telling you how I found out via a modern day version of the telephone game that one of my kids is "in a relationship."
"So did you see?" Sophie's eyes were glued to the computer screen.
"See what?" I stopped cleaning whatever it was that required scrubbing to look her direction.
"It says here that Chloe Golden is in a relationship with (name redacted)." This pleases her. She likes Chloe's gentleman friend and just happens to be friends with his younger sister now. Very cozy.
Today you learn about your child's love life via relationship status changes marked by that heart emoticon. If you're lucky, this is followed up by a change in the profile picture which now shows the happy couple. You can at least see what the other half of the relationship looks like. (And you can, of course, stalk their page, if they don't have the privacy controls on too tightly.)
Gone are the days when parents knew when you were "going steady" by the clunky guy's class ring wrapped in yarn to make it fit your teenage finger so that you could wave it around for everyone to see without accidentally casting it off and blackening some poor bystander's eye. That class ring business was when our parents knew to step up the flicking of the porchlight as we sat in our boyfriend's car parked in the driveway. The more they flicked that light, the more we wondered if he was, in fact, The One.
Our parents weren't stupid. They knew that the good stuff, if there was good stuff, had already happened down Dam Lane or parked behind the Baptist church on the lower end of town. They just flicked those lights to remind us that they were paying attention.
It's pretty much the same thing now with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and texting. Although this "paying attention" requires a bit more nuance. A text, direct message or email usually requires a response or some follow up action. A Facebook status or tweet is less defined. The safest thing to do is not respond. Don't be too conspicuous. Trust me on this.
And if you can't help yourself, at least have the good sense to respond privately and not where all their friends can see. (See below for more specific tips.)
All this technology extends the ease of meddling a parent can do far into the ages when most of us were already fairly independent. We're able to peer into our children's lives, delving into the details in ways we might later regret.
For example, I'm sure my parents did not want to know how many times I woke up in strange places, wondering where some missing piece of clothing had gotten to and what was that guy's name again? Even now, they don't want to know (so if you're from Rising Sun and reading this and you happen to run into my parents, just know that NEVER happened.) Just like they didn't want to see pictures of me in a bikini wagging my tongue at the camera or putting my mouth right on the beer tap.
"So are you going to do anything?" Sophie was trying to gauge my reaction to this relationship news.
"What do you mean?" I stood behind her and looked at the screen showing the photo of my beautiful Chloe in the arms of a very tall, very nice young man.
"Are you going to 'like' the relationship status or are you going to comment?" Her eager eyes gave her away.
"No, m'am. I believe that's called 'creeping' and I hate to be accused of that." I went back to my cleaning as I considered these new unwritten rules for engaging electronically with one's offspring. What's considered cool, what's completely cringe-worthy, what will cause them to defriend you forever and ever and ever.
I try not to cross the creeper line, but I don't always succeed. Nevertheless, I feel qualified from a time tested combination of trial and error to offer some tips for how to effectively communicate with your children in today's world without making them wish they and you had never been born.
1. Do not write terms of endearment on their Facebook walls. No sweeties, baby girls, honeys, sugars, precious poo poo pants or darlings. Those belong in a private message, a direct message on Twitter or an old-fashioned email. Frankly, most kids don't ever want to see that in writing.
2. Do not comment on photos unless you are 100% goon free. This is not the typical parent's forte. On second thought - just do NOT comment on photos.
2.a. If you cannot resist the urge to comment, be sure to neutralize the creeping accusation by beginning your comment with "Sorry for creeping, but....." and make damn sure your comment is either spot on, crazy positive without being cloying (a tough, tough balance) or super funny. And yeah, kids don't find parents funny, much less super funny, so stick with quick and positive (no cliches!) and get the heck out of there fast!
2. b. Resist the urge to interact with their friends on Facebook. If you've been allowed into the secret club of being friends with your kids' friends, don't abuse the privilege. Control your impulses to comment, like, post songs or send links.
2. c. If you are posting about your kids in your own status, tread softly. Using their names with a link can be done, but you must be careful with this. If you're simply referring to them, just be aware that they might see it or, worse, one of their friends might see it. Teenage boys do not like being called their mother's babies, I assure you. And when you refer to yourself? No third person. No ....and now Mommy has to.... or anything remotely like that. Resist the urge. Martyrdom is a delicate business, you know.
3. Use the "Like" button judiciously. They're happy that it's Friday? Fine. "Like" that. They're pissed at their English professor? Finger off the "like" button. You do not want your thumbs up there.
4. Some kids post their mood swings like I used to change my hair color. Do not overreact. If you're really worried, pick up the phone. Do not, I repeat, do not post frantic messages to their wall unless you intend to escalate things and blow up Facebook for all of us.
5. Twitter is a bit trickier. For Twitter, it's best to look and not touch. Although being able to offer advice, solace, or the occasional bit of tenderness using 140 characters or less is a gift. Use your best judgment, but know that the consequences of being blocked are legion and many.
6. Yes, yes, we all think it's funny to embarrass our kids to a certain degree, but remember what it felt like to have your dad laugh out loud at that school banquet and that food went flying out of his mouth and you wanted to die right there in your chair? Or how about the time your mom asked you out loud in the grocery store aisle if you needed any sanitary napkins? Oh, you remember.
7. Finally, as a gift to yourself, you might consider setting up a separate email account just for your kids. This is especially handy for people with children living away from home. The beauty of this is that on days when you don't want to deal with the drama, trauma or little hiccups of parenting, you can simply create an auto response email that reads "I'm off duty. If this is an emergency, involves money, technology, a ride somewhere or favors, please call your father. In case you still haven't added him to your contacts, his number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and he still answers to Dad, Daddy or (fill in name here)."
I should stop here. I already sound like a complete know it all and even though I've secured her permission to write this post, there's no telling if Chloe would actually approve or agree with my Helpful Tips. I suspect she'd offer this short, helpful directive. "Just don't."
Until she needs her papers proof read, of course.
Please feel free to add to the list. What have you learned about communicating with family, friends, coworkers in this new dynamic?