Psst. Hey parents. Yeah, you over there. C’mon over a second. Can we talk?
This parent gig is hard. It’s hard and it’s probably tougher than it was for our parents back in the day because times are different now and there are a lot of different elements we’ve gotta look out for that didn’t even exist when we were kids. We’ve gotta find that balance between how much we care and not being helicopter parents. Raising good people but not raising special snowflakes who feel entitled to everything without putting in the work.
It’s exhausting. Totally rewarding, but… it’s tough work.
And it just seems like it’s forever getting tougher. Take a look at your kid’s social media accounts.
No really. Go take a look. I’ll wait.
I spend a lot of time on my kid’s channels – I look at what she posts, what she comments, what people comment on her posts. I click over on the profiles of the people who comment and like her posts. I randomly take her phone and scroll around.
It’s one of the conditions for getting to be online because I know that it’s kind of a weird space, online. I’ve been active in social media for very nearly ten years (my Twitter profile says I joined in 2007) so I’ve watched it evolve over nearly a decade now. Back when I first joined Twitter, my oldest kid wasn’t even in kindergarten yet and I had no idea how the very existence of social media would impact my parenting or their childhood experiences. I’m not sure if, at that point, any of us were.
I started blogging over 11 years ago… Generally, I’ve been ALL UP IN THE INTERNET for over a decade of my life and so while it’s a passion of sorts for me – this whole web and social thing – my presence in this environment for so long means that I tend to be wary about things because, you know, that’s what happens over time.
I’ve watched Twitter grow up. I’ve watched Facebook change faces. Instagram bloomed.
And then our kids got old enough to sign up.
My daughter got series of unkind messages from a girl whose requests for a follow she declined. The details of this are not entirely important to the scenario. The decline of the follow request was not with malice or with the intention to hurt, but more of a, “My social space is private. I am choosing to let in the people I interact with on a day to day basis.”
[In retrospect, perhaps my kid could have verbalized this. However she did not.]
But, anyway, the girl got upset and in this string of messages referred to my kid as “being a bitch.”
Well. That’s not how you win friends and influence people. And I’m not sure what her motivation is – annoyance at not being granted entrance into a “private” online space (private being what it is on the internet, I’m no idiot) or truly hurt feelings.
Here’s where it gets tricky, moms and dads and parent-type people:
It’s a FINE LINE. How do we teach our kids to be kind and inclusive and yet that they are allowed to set and establish and preserve healthy boundaries for themselves and their environments (online or in the real world). If we consider ourselves a house with a fence around it… it is up to each of us to decide to whom we open the gate. Admittedly, that’s a lesson I learned far too late in life.
I was always trying to be nice, to not rock the boat, and to not upset people. I let people have access to me when I’d have preferred to keep to myself. I didn’t realize for a long time that I could shut that gate at any time. That no one needed to be in my figurative (or literal, for that matter) yard if I didn’t want them to be there.
So here we are: no one is entitled a follow. No one is entitled access to your child’s space. If your child wouldn’t invite them to your dinner table, why would he or she be obligated to grant them entrée into his or her social media world – where they share pictures and videos and sing songs and show off the family pet chinchilla or whatever? Having boundaries is healthy. It’s not mean.
That’s where, I admit, it gets murky to me. Because I’m still inclined to go along to get along – accept the follow, it hurts nothing… because I want to raise good and loving people who are kind and inclusive. I never want anyone to feel hurt feelings, and it’s tricky that creating boundaries for oneself brings with it animosity from those who don’t want to respect those same boundaries.
So, parents, what do we do?
I think we need to have those conversations with our kids about those boundaries. We need to establish how you can be protective of your space firmly and kindly without being a jerk but you can’t stop other people from being bent out of shape about it. We can talk about how your number of followers doesn’t define you. We can talk about what the social media experience actually means to you, the story you want to tell, the person you want people to know you as, and how again, it’s just one small facet of you as a whole person.
My gosh, I’ve wished so many times today that I was raising kids in the 80s where the biggest issue was jelly bracelets and trying to catch your favorite song on the radio so you could record it with your cassette player with minimal amount of DJ blathering before and after (don’t even ask how long it took me to record Debbie Gibson’s “Lost In Your Eyes” because man, I loved that song, but the DJ always talked through the whole piano beginning of that song and it drove me bonkers).
It’s a different world and we have to understand it so we can teach our kids how to navigate it. We have to be present. And we have to be willing to admit that we have a lot to learn and that we don’t know everything… and be willing to learn, evolve and adapt to help our people be good people.
It’s tough stuff, people. Are you ready?