What we’re probably not telling our kids about social media

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?


If You Give Your Child A Camera…

…she’ll probably want some new lenses to go with it.

Okay. I’m not actually going to carry that whole thing out. Mainly because I can’t. And mainly because I’m stuck at the thought of (gah) having to buy lenses that are (gah) not for me.

Ah, but I’ve gotten side tracked before I’ve even started.

As I wrapped up year five of my 365 Project and began year six, The Princess expressed interest in giving it a try as well. I hemmed and hawed for logistics reasons and then? I handed over my entry level DSLR, the one that had been gathering dust for over a year, and let her have at it.

I set her up with a computer and gave her a crash course in Lightroom. We set up a Flickr account and set that up with some pretty persnickety privacy settings. I taught her how to upload her pictures, how to do some basic edits, and then watched the Flickr stream to see when she posted.

And though the computer has since died already (on day three, because OF COURSE IT HAS), she has, without fail, spent a great deal of time each day with the camera and the result has been really cool to see.

I’ve always felt that one of the best ways to get to know me is to look at the photographs I take. In them, you can see the world through my eyes. See things how I see things. See the things that catch my eye, make me hold my breath. The things that inspire wonder, the things that make me laugh. Angles, colors, places, moments.

And that’s what the experience has been like for me to go through The Princess’s photographs. Often times I’m surprised to find that she’s drawn to the same things I am. Sometimes, I giggle at what catches her eye. Occasionally, she writes a caption that makes me giggle at her wit. That picture up there? That’s one of hers. I love it.

So many people have warned that I’m getting closer to those years when she may grow silent, push me away, where we might butt heads, argue. “Just you wait,” people have said, warning that girls and moms tend to get off-kilter during these years.

I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case, but it’s another reason why I treasure that photography is something we share, that her images are something she is showing me. I am still a part of her world and I can see what she is seeing and it means a great deal to me to have that insight into the way she is seeing her world, to see the things that matter to her.

And I think it’d be the case regardless of which avenue she used to express her creativity – her words if she were a writer, brushstrokes if she were a painter…

I am grateful for the avenues she has to be creative, to be expressive, and to allow me a glimpse of the way she sees the world.

It’s All About Tradeoffs

Yesterday, we had another snow day and so in addition to my two peeps, one of my daughter’s friend’s was hanging with us all day. That in itself wasn’t so bad. I dragged all three girls to the post office to send out Christmas presents, gingerbread cookies, and random stuff, and that was an adventure I hope to not repeat. The wind was gusty and the roads were sort of icy and the girls were bored and loud. From the post office back home we went.

I’m a pretty crappy cruise director and I know that for a mom who is at home, I should be better at this stuff. But – that’s not the kind of mom I am. I have strengths and there are things about me that make me a fantabulous mom but a love for making macaroni art or finger painting? Uh, not so much.

To make matters worse, Pumpkin seems to be coming down with something. Between the cold yucky weather, the abundance of kids and her mopey-ness, I decided we’d kick back and take it easy. There were MULTIPLE showings of “Horton Hears a Who” (because to be perfectly honest, I really love that movie), and basically a day of downtime.

And for those who know me, you wouldn’t be surprised that I was relieved to see that there were no school closures today, especially knowing that it was Pumpkin’s day for daycare/preschool. Yeah – this mom needs her downtime.

I got The Princess on her bus, got Pumpkin in the car and not two seconds after I buckled her in she had a meltdown because she was missing one of her gloves. Yes, a full on meltdown about a pair of gloves that I picked up at Target for $.99 (FOR TWO PAIR!). Unfortunately, The Princess had snagged the second pair for some unknown reason (they are toddler sized gloves – but The Princess wears them anyway despite having three pair of her own sized gloves). I drove to her school, went to get her out of her seat.


She cried all the way into school. She cried all the way up to the big room where her friends were already in Circle Time. She cried when her teacher tried to talk to her. She cried when I said I was leaving. “No! I want to be with you!” she wailed and wrapped her arms around my neck.

And I felt like the meanest mom ever.

When I finally left, Pumpkin was sitting on the floor with eyes filled with tears and a sad look on her face and I was trying to not lose it as I walked back out to the car. I probably should have kept her home, I know she’s not feeling 100% (she wasn’t puking, no fever – just the stupid cough – and all her friends seem to have that stupid cough because three year olds are germ weasels). And I’m sure that’s all her deal was – just not feeling good and wanting to be with mom. I hope that she perked up once I was out of sight. I hope that when I go pick her up, she’s in the classroom painting or playing with dinosaurs or something equally fantastic (for her).

I need the time to myself. I need it or I can’t be a good enough mom. I need it because as much as I love my kids and am so grateful for them in my life and their sloppy kissed and tight hugs and silliness and love, I also crave solitude sometimes to recharge myself, to remember who I am, and to get things accomplished so that when they’re with me again, we’re all at our best.

There are direct benefits to them for being away from me as well.

But sometimes it still doesn’t feel very good.

Selling Your Kids on eBay Is Probably Frowned Upon

There are some days that my kids can be screaming terrors and I, with my limitless patience, can roll with the punches, unphased by the obnoxiousness. And then there are days like today where the whining, whinging and nit picking gets to me and my “endless” stashes of patience are more like patience? What patience?

Tonight after dinner, both girls took good scrubby baths and got all scrubbed up and ventured downstairs to watch some television. A friend of The Princess’s came over to see if she wanted to play, so she dashed upstairs to get some play clothes on (Note to my neighbors: Why are y’all sending your kid over to get my kid at 7 p.m.? Note to myself: Why did you let her go?). She played with her friend until I yelled for her from the back deck at 7:40, and when she came home, she wanted to make a peanut butter sandwich for her bedtime snack.

Problem? No bread except the loaf in the freezer. Whine, whine, whine about frozen bread. I told her that she needed to pick something else, and that for whining, she’d be going to bed five minutes early. Pumpkin started hounding her older sister, “Make me some too!” (The alternate snack being peanut butter on graham crackers).

And that’s when The Princess, my beloved six-year-old said to her little sister: “You are soooo annoying!” To which Pumpkin (in her glorious copy-cat phase) repeated, “YOU are so annoying!” Then The Princess hit her little sister. Then Pumpkin hit her big sister.

And then I proceeded to lose any miniscule shred of patience that was hovering in the far recesses of my brain. I bumped up bedtime thirty minutes and The Princess essentially got so extremely pissed off that she was stomping and whining (you know, in that voice that only dogs and parents can hear). Pumpkin started crying about her freakin’ graham crackers. And me? I sat on the couch, cracked open my book and said, “I’m done with you both. Eat your graham crackers and then GO. TO. BED.” (I honestly can’t send my kids to bed hungry – they are like I am, and hunger escalates irrational behavior).

I sat on the couch, tuned them out and Hubby came downstairs. He tried to talk to The Princess and she tried one of those “talk to the hand” gestures at him. He yelled that if she ever did that again, he’d ground her for a month (Ugh! You know who suffers when kids are grounded for long extended times like that? ME! ME! ME!). The Princess stomped upstairs, crying and hiccuping and doing that horrible breathing like she was hyperventilating.

A few minutes later, I went up to knock on her door. She was holding it closed. I knocked again, “It’s mommy and you need to let me in. I want to talk to you.”

“You already talked to me!” she sobbed.

I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her down to sit on the floor with me. She squirmed and wriggled and tried to resist me. “You know that even when I don’t like the way you are acting, I love you very much?” I told her.

“Uh (deep gasping breath) huh…” she said.

“You need to remember that in our house, it’s not okay to hit people.”

“She hit me first!” (I was watching and know this is not the case, but let it go.)

“Even if someone hits us first, it’s still not okay to hit. And Pumpkin is going to bed early too – because just like we don’t want you hitting her, it’s not okay for her to hit you.”

“Well, if hitting is wrong and we’re not supposed to do it, then WHY DID THEY INVENT IT?”

And that’s where I just squeezed her a little harder and gave her a big smooch on the noggin. She then started rambling about mosquitos suck our blood so they can have baby mosquitos that will also suck our blood and just this neverending lifetime of mosquito suckage. I am not really sure where she was going with it, to be honest.

I’ve just read her a story and tucked her in. Some days, being a mom is the most gratifying job on the planet, and some days it’s so hard I wonder who the jackass is who forgot to give me the parenting manual when my kids were born.