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?

21 comments:

  1. This is so hysterical (and painfully spot-on)!! I'm impressed by your restraint in commenting on your daughter's relationship announcement :).

    Really enjoyed this.

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  2. I'm glad my kids are grown up. I don't go over to their places on the web and I don't invite them to mine. Simple yes, but I need simple.

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  3. 1. Ignore everything. Knowing about stuff changes nothing except it further ruins your ulcer and blood pressure.

    2. Embarrass your children with wild sex stories on Twitter and FB. And tell outrageous lies about them as often as necessary.

    3. Scatter military enlistment pamphlets throughout the house. Be certain to use the ones with cool photos and words about enlistment bonuses.

    4. Scatter various college applications throughout the house. Leave only those for military schools, The Citadel or places like Liberty College.

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  4. I've actually hidden most of the teenagers on my facebook because I find their posts painful sometimes - I don't want to know what's going on between my cousin's daughter and her boyfriend.

    Last year my nephew dropped me on facebook (http://jensrealia.typepad.com/blog/2009/10/my-nephew-dropped-me-on-facebook-1.html). See, his status read one day: "Fuck school." And my sister let him have it, and said if he's going to have his grandmother (yes, his grandmother) and various great aunts and assorted other "old" relatives, dropping the f-bomb in your status is like doing it in the middle of Christmas dinner.

    So then a few days later, my daughter said "did you see Chris is in a relationship?" and I discovered he dropped me. As he did his mother. I guess he assumed I ratted on him to my sis.

    Anyway, I wrote a blog post on it because I thought the whole thing was kind of funny - a curious new social media phenom. One upside: I got more random hits on that post than any other. That one and the one about women not pooping in public bathrooms.

    Lesson learned: If you need to beef up your blog stats, write a post called "Facebook poop."

    ps - I think I crossed the line the other day when I told my 27 year old daughter to wear a helmet on her wall post about picking up her new bike.

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  5. There are two children in America between the ages of 12 and 18 who all but avoid the computer and they're both mine. I'm so lucky.

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  6. Yeah, my kids are on FB and I see all that stuff. So does my mother -- their GRANDmother. Oh well. My daughters are all older now, so not much of a shock to see some things, and I'm pretty hip (unless you ask them). But at first it was a little, shall we say, shocking. Now I just ignore what I don't "approve" of, which really isn't much.

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  7. You stalk your kids on Facebook? And they accepted the friend request? Are any of those posts on the site of you?

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  8. You are definitely a smarty pants. I was recently talking to a friend - my age, a law professor, very accomplished...I said I'd wanted to leave him a happy birthday but he had wall comments turned off. He said it was because his mom kept leaving comments calling him sweetie and telling him how proud she was of this and that.

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  9. Hey watch it there, I know how to operate a graphing calculator.

    This is too funny.

    I had to wait until my daughter was 23 before she friended me and I still don't dare comment. My son finally joined facebook last year -- he's 31. We're friends but never interact on FB.

    Now, can I show you my parabola?

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  10. I had an unresponded friend request from my mother just sitting out there for a few months until I figured out how to post updates she couldn't see. I didn't need her to worry every time I have a bad day, but I didn't want to have to be all perky on Facebook. However, I did feel guilty that I hadn't "friended" my own mother yet.

    I was talking to her two days ago, and I mentioned a photo I'd posted of Kristin in her dorm. "Oh, I don't remember how to get on Facebook anymore." All that worry, and she doesn't get on Facebook anymore anyway!

    I definitely agree, particularly with #4. Kristin and I are both moody so it's best not to linger over it.

    The one thing I absolutely don't do on Facebook is chat. I would chat with Kristin - I'll talk to her any time - but I can't turn the chat on for her and off for everyone else. There were too many times when people who wouldn't normally call me at 11:30 pm would be all happy to chat online then. By that time in the evening, I'm totally done responding to people - or, as I put it to my family: "I love you very much. Now go away."

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  11. Hannah - Thank you. And it took all my restraint not to comment. I'm still restraining myself.

    Liberality - I think simple sounds really good.

    Will - You are pure evil. Another reason I like you.

    Jennifer - I hate it that there was the issue for your family. I totally understand why your sister reacted the way she did to her son's status. It's new territory for all of us.

    Randal - Now I wonder if you've been pulling our leg all along about the "kids."

    Fragrant Liar - It's a challenge. I guess we just have to cover our eyes.

    Joe - I couldn't believe it when they friended me either. But I've had to watch my step. I also know they never stalk me back. I'm not very interesting to them.

    Lemon Gloria - Nate and Chloe have a couple of friends who parents write on their walls and I cringe. The rule of thumb as I see it is easy - if you're unlikely to say that in front of your kids' friends, don't post it for public consumption.

    Susan Tiner - I kid the mathy types! Now let's see that parabola please and thanks!

    MLight - I love the irony of the friending business with your mom. I can hear my mother saying the same thing. And I agree about the moodiness. I try not to react to my kids' ups and down. Except I do pick up the phone and expect the to actually - gasp! - talk to me.

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  12. (Is there such a thing as Too Much communication?)
    This comment is not addressing parents - children communication, but the general current Reality of almost constant
    e-mailing
    texting
    cell-phoning.
    It makes me think of the brief CB-radio craze in the 70s: my father said, then, "OK, these people talk to each other on the CB radios, but what are they SAYING? What are they talking ABOUT? Is it constructive? Edifying? Necessary? Does it make a positive contribution to the world, or to their lives? Are they discussing art, literature, current events, politics?"

    As I'm typing this, I'm concluding the new technology simply -- enables Community, and that's good. If some of us only want to participate in a tiny percentage of all these new options (one blog, thank you, and that'll do it)then that's cool; that's our choice. Right?

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  13. Carson - Absolutely and right! I just read it the other day - we've become a nation of oversharers. I'm guilty of it. Is there a stronger word than guilty?

    But getting at your point, yes, if you don't want your mom or Aunt Mary or Grandad to see it, don't communicate it.

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  14. We had a little tech-drama around here the other day, but I promised myself I wouldn't blog about it. It did get me started thinking, though, about when and how to let Slim get involved with social networking online.

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  15. With no kids, this is all strange and scary territory for me. Thank dog I never had to deal with the issue; I'm sure I would have made a royal mess of it.

    I definitely go along with Jennifer on the "hiding teenagers" idea, but extended the age range upwards during my own short time on FB. I was pleased to be considered a friend by several of my 20-something former colleagues, but quickly grew tired of relationship drama and other matters of little import to one well into old-fart territory.

    I do wonder how my brother will be handling all this stuff when his daughter is sixteen and he's sixty-eight.

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  16. This was a great post. Now what is this... Facebook and Twitter you speak of?

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  17. ha! I cannot even imagine what technology pitfalls I discover by the time my kids are old enough for this to apply, but last week I overheard one of my colleagues telling about how she found out that her son was ENGAGED when he changed his fb relationship status! Yikes!

    So...I wonder if she clicked "like" for that?

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  18. Ha ha! :)

    Lisa, I swear, you should write a book about this--a modern day parenting book--maybe complete with cartoons. I really think it would be a best seller--seriously!!

    Hey, I read a parenting book recently (I have no idea why parenting books interest me--I'm not pregnant nor do I have kids, but perhaps that's a topic for a future blog post) that you might enjoy, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk." Excellent book! And now there's an updated version called "How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens Will Talk." You might like it; I've got it waiting for me on hold at the library. (I think I just enjoy any kind of self-help book.)

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  19. You closed w the question what have I learned?

    1- Your workplace does not give a rip about your opinion. Oh they may ask for feedback.
    In fact we got a memo about giving bi weekly comments we hear from customers.
    We then had a directive to not inject our own thoughts or suggestions.

    So I submitted most questions with a N/A . Hey! You want mandatory client feedback w/o our opinions?

    Not applicable. So much easier and less time consuming! They want no real feedback--
    I'm happy to oblige with no real answers.
    Two people can do this corporate tango.

    As for kids. ... they are tricky.
    Texting & e mails are evidence.
    Not sure if you should say something, better to wait a day. Sleep on it. Look at it in the light of day.
    If there is doubt it will not be well received, best to not send it.

    I just started texting recently, and due to a funky keyboard used the shorthand letter "u" instead of typing out the word "you?
    Mom! You don't get charged by the letter so fully type out words!!!

    Ok then...

    I don;t do facebook or twitter... so we are all off the hook there.

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  20. Thankfully mine isn't old enough to do more than whack at the keys imitating mommy and daddy, but the internet is so full of things good and bad, that if I don't have some manner of (yes, I'm going to say it) sheltering that I can employ, we will give it up, and I work in IT by trade. There will be no "can I please be your FB friend." I will have passwords, and will protect her the same as I would defend her in public, or she will not use it. Not hovering -- I just don't yet trust the world with my daughter. (i probably never will, but I have to at least stop by 18 :) )

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And then you say....

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