While my landlord was busy being a major loser, and forcing me and my family to make some stressful decisions, everyday life has not taken a vacation unfortunately.  My kids are still on their vacation, and therefore, my whirly swirl of brain hornets have to be fogged out so I can focus on the little brats darlings and their needs.  Apparently, to my 11 year old, one of those needs is, as she puts it, to have “a facebook”.  Aside from my irritation at her syntactical choices, I am agog over this desire of hers.  For the past several months, she has bugged, nagged, begged, pleaded, and invoked the dreaded “but so-and-so’s mom lets her!” in a futile attempt to break me of my NO FACEBOOK FOR YOU rule.  Thus far, I have managed to comfortably hold my ground, without even resorting to “WELL, if so-and-so’s mom told her she could skateboard down the PA Turnpike would you ask to do that too?!” 

I am adamantly against my pre-teen using these social networking sites.  Nevermind the fact that Facebook’s User Agreement specifically states that members must be over age 14.  I would just prefer to see my child socializing in age-appropriate ways that involve real social settings, not virtual ones.  I believe that kids of this generation already have enough screentime distractions that are discouraging proper social development (not to mention creating attention deficit disorders of epidemic proportions).  The hours of tv watching, video game playing, texting and instant messaging are bad enough, in my opinion.  I try to limit screentime for my kids, but my 11 year old tends to co-opt the computer for her instant messaging habits on a frequent basis.  She chooses to communicate with her friends this way, as opposed to that dinosaur-aged convenience known as the “telephone”.  “But maaahhm,” she says, rolling her eyes, “I can’t talk to 5 people at the same time on the telephone.”  I’m not sure how you can do it online either, but hey, my addled, old lady brain can’t even figure out how to program the DVR.  Holding multiple conversations at once would surely cause grey matter to seep from my ears.  But somehow these kids manage it.  Unfortunately, this led to  the day my daughter began speaking to me using “Text” speech (“JK mom!  LOL”).  I knew then, it was time to curb the computer usage. 

Call me a curmudgeon, but I fear this generation is losing its ability to interact on a personal level.  I see it everyday.  My daughter has friends over and they inevitably end up either watching tv or playing on the computer.  I fear that their small talk or friendly conversation (actual speaking that is) is not stunted simply because they are surly preteens, but because they don’t know how to do it!  Give them a keyboard and they can chat for hours with someone across town.  Put those same kids in a room TOGETHER and they are at a loss for words.  Sure they might take 12 seconds to discuss where they got that cute pair of shoes, but within minutes, Emma is asking me if she can use the computer so her and her friend can “look stuff up”.  It’s like they are incapable of human interaction unless they have some sort of electronic apparatus in their hands.  Maybe I should count my blessings.  This could be a safe rehearsal for their adult years, when instead of a computer screen, they will require a beer before they can feel comfortable making conversation (it used to just be a personality trait, not a consequence of too much texting.  still is for some of us. ahem).  But hell’s bells man, those future frat parties are going to have a lot of “shit, where’s my beer?  I had to put it down so I could text Jessica” moments.

Seriously though, I truly feel that our children are slowly losing the ability to socially interact without some sort of plug-in crutch.  Kids today (oh my god did I just use that phrase?!) no longer know how to address adults or answer a phone properly.  They also have trouble waiting for anything.  It’s not an issue of manners—my children were indoctrinated with “please” and “thank you” from the time they could speak.  It’s a lack of experience!   They barely recognize a phone that doesn’t have a keyboard on it.  They are growing up in a world where shortcuts and instant gratification are the normal ways of communicating and living day to day.  Actually, I think it is affecting all of us these days, as far as the “quicker, better, now now now” expectation we have from living in a technologically advanced world.  Our kids though, are growing up without knowing any other way.  This worries me.

This is why, when my daughter asked me if she could “get a facebook”, I told her to get outside and play with her friends.  She whined and stomped, but she went.  Ten minutes later she returned.

“What’s wrong Emma?” 

“No one else is outside.”

“Really?  On such a beautiful day?  Maybe they are busy or out somewhere.”

And Emma’s response?

“They’re probably all inside, ON FACEBOOK!”

I can see that I will have to keep sticking to my guns. 

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I admit to being a Facebook junkie myself.  I do however recognize what an incredible time-suck it is, and that is one reason I forbid Emma from joining.  My brain is already down legions of  brain cells.  Hers is still growing though, and I want it to continually expand, not get stunted.

For me, Facebook  has been a wonderful tool for networking.  Oh and there’s that little matter of helping me find some long-lost friends that I never would have spoken to otherwise.  Facebook is fun.  I love peeking into my friend’s lives and their psyches (status updates can be an interesting window into some heretofore secretly deranged minds!)  It seems almost miraculous when I can click on an old friend’s profile and see photos of their children, who are currently the same age as I was when I knew their mom.  Getting in touch with people I haven’t seen or spoken to since college, but who have never left my thoughts, is an amazing gift.  Of course, there’s also all of those silly little apps, like Scramble or Useless Quiz DuJour that do nothing more than contribute to my neglectful parenting/homemaking.   Those are other reasons however, that I think Facebook is inappropriate for nonadults.  I don’t really relish the thought of my young daughter stumbling across “Which Sexual Position most reflects who you are?”

That is really my bottom line argument against kids using Facebook.  It is designed for adults.  Its purpose, content, ads, apps and so forth are aimed toward the presumed demographic—ADULTS.   It is clearly an adult forum, and as such, I feel strongly that my child has no place in that world. 

“Oh, but I made sure my child friended me so I can see what they are doing” they tell me.  I’m sorry, but I disagree with that approach for a few reasons.  Aside from the reasons I just stated, I also think it’s a bit creepy to be “friends” with your child.  Yes, I understand the reasoning to a point—seeing what the child is doing is somehow keeping them “safe” and reassuring you that they are as well.  For me however, the creep factor comes in when I think about the child seeing what I’m doing!  Now all of sudden I have to censor myself.  I would have to carefully consider everything I post, for fear my kid will find out that I pole dance on weekends.  (JK! JK!!)  Not that I regularly post dirty status updates (just occasionally), but I know that if my child could see what I wrote,  it would completely change how I use Facebook.  No thanks.

I enjoy my adult “me time”.  When I socialize, whether it be hanging out with my girlfriends poolside, barside or virtually, on Facebook, I prefer to be sans children.  Just as I wouldn’t want my daughter hanging out with me at a cocktail party, I don’t need her joining my social circle online either.  I’m fairly certain she feels the same way.  I also don’t have any desire to know everything she talks about with her friends.  She is entitled to a bit of privacy as well.  I am not naïve.  I know what I need to know, and pry where I need to pry.  I ask questions and encourage her to confide in me.  But I also feel there are natural boundaries in adult/child relationships, and frankly, Facebook falls under the “adults only” side.

“But your child will figure out how to do it anyway, so you may as well let her do it with your supervision” is the other argument.  I am sorry, but I don’t buy that one either.  I know this will piss some people off, but whenever I hear that line with regards to giving in to kids, I can’t help but think of the mom in my old hometown who used it to justify giving her teenagers alcohol for a party in her home.  She was supervising alright.  Through her sleeping eyelids.  While she was dreaming, a boy was downstairs drinking himself into a coma.    The mom woke up, but the boy never did.

Before you get your panties in a wad, I have to say I know alcohol is not on par with online social networking.  I am simply pointing out that we cannot parent by good intentions.  If something is inappropriate for kids, whether by law (as in liquor) or common sense (watching Faces of Death) or just your own parenting values (Facebook, for me), then you must stand strong and protect your children by simply not allowing it!  Sure, they may go behind your back and try it anyway—that’s their job—but if you are doing yours, you will probably find them out.  And then you can kick their asses. 

But like alcohol, I do believe there are personal safety issues inherent in Facebook, that require me, as a parent, to protect my child from being exposed.  Even if I were to allow her on there, with me as a “friend/spy”, how am I to then prevent her other “friends” from posting harmful things about her?  Is she savvy enough to know how to use the privacy settings so pedophiles and perverts can’t see the photos she posts of herself and her buddies?  And even if I taught her about that, have her friends’ parents done the same?  In my mind, it’s just one more potential minefield that my daughter is not mature enough to handle yet.

Parenting is tricky.  It’s hard and oftentimes downright terrifying.  (I’m still waiting for it to be featured on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”.  I mean, come on already!)  But I think one of, if not the, most important skills (art?) we can hone as newbie mommies and daddies, is being consistent.  Not just in our discipline tactics, but in teaching values and modeling these values ourselves.

It wouldn’t hurt to teach our kids the art of telephone manners though either.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go update my status….

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