I’m not going to lie- I love social media! Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other sites, I find camaraderie, infotainment, and inspiration. I have a ton of friends on Facebook and, for the most part, I’m happy to catch up on what’s going on in their lives each day. It’s great to be able to keep up with old friends and learn more about new friends. My daily calendar is informed by event invitations I receive through social media sites. I get my first dose of news each day by checking the local and national news outlets on Twitter and Facebook, replacing my long tradition of opening a newspaper or turning on the morning news. In my news feeds, I find links to videos, magazine articles, movie trailers, and more. Thanks to Pinterest, I have a file folder of projects and recipes to try. And, a “board” of all the exercise inspiration I need once I’ve tasted all the food I’ve made. Because of social media, my flesh-and-blood life is enhanced by more diverse fellowship, timelier news and information, and a seemingly unending stream of creativity and imagination.
One of the many benefits of social media: proving your kids wrong.
So, why would I keep all of these gifts from my children?
I’ve thought a lot about that in the past few weeks, as one of my children prepared for his first year of middle school by asking for new clothes, some school supplies, and an Instagram account. (Please, Mom!!!) And, this is what I’ve come up with: I’m afraid. I’m afraid of bullying and stalking and abduction and camera phones and red plastic cups and beer pong and sexting and suicide and … well, you get it- I’m afraid, man.
Now, I know that there are very real dangers lurking in cyberspace and I know that it’s my job as a parent to minimize my children’s exposure to danger of any kind. But, I’ve had to reevaluate my beliefs about how best to do that when it comes to the computer. (Or, the smart phone, or the iPod, or the Kindle.) So far, when the kids have asked for access to these sites, I’ve simply pointed out that the Terms of Service require users to be at least 13. By doing that, I don’t have to face my fears and I don’t have to explore them with my kids. I can just say, “them’s the facts, Jack!”
But, here’s how I know that my “just following the rules” routine is a bit disingenuous: when they asked to join sites like ToonTown or Club Penguin that don’t have the same age limitations, I balked. I was afraid that maybe user PrincessFairyDaisyMae was really SuperPervyPedophile. Even after the kids showed me that there is no real chat feature on these sites, I was anxious about letting them join. (Note: I’m certain my son would want me to indicate that he is not a member of either of these sites, nor has he been for quite some time and only then to help his younger sister navigate the online world of Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie.)
When I really knew that fear was driving me is when news leaked that Facebook is considering amending its TOS to allow tweens to join the site, with parental supervision. I had to stop and ask myself: What would I do then? What happens when I can’t pawn my parenting edicts off on Zuckerberg anymore?
That’s when it hit me. The truth is that I’ve been avoiding the job of really teaching these kids about the internet- about what it means to have a digital footprint, the dangers of cyberstalking and bullying, how much information is too much information (as if I know), and how to navigate the web safely and effectively. I’ve been promoting an abstinence-only policy in my own home and I don’t believe in abstinence-only policies!!
So, I guess I need to take stock of that and revamp my plan a little bit. I need to face my fears head on and figure out what lessons are the most important to learn about the internet and, particularly, social media. I need to get a real handle on what the dangers are and how to minimize risk. I need to be able to point to rules and guidelines that the schools have in place. I mean, there’s kind of a lot of work involved when you stop and think about it. What was I thinking: That I just wait until they hit the right age and say, “here ya go, kids”?
I don’t want to be a mother who is ruled by fear and anxiety. (I don’t want to be a person who’s ruled by fear and anxiety, for that matter.) I don’t want to bemoan the way technology has changed my life for the worse; I want to appreciate the many benefits of technology and learn to use it better and more effectively. And, that’s the overall lesson I want to pass on to my kids: look at these amazing tools, be thankful for them, and use them wisely! After all, most of the things they learn as they mature have inherent risk, but the gifts of growing and learning far outweigh the dangers.