I'm not a bandwagon hopper, and so when the internet exploded this week over a post a blogger wrote about teenagers and the internet, I tried to keep my head down and carry on.
I have other things going on in my life right now and really can't handle additional drama to be honest.
I have been thinking about it a lot though, the original post and all the other ones that were written in response to it over the last several days. Not so much in a I need to get my panties in a wad and be pissed off about this and write some scathing response kind of way. More in a at some point I will get around to writing about my approach to parenting in this digital world kind of way.
So, here we are.
I grew up in a world of double standards. The behaviors encouraged, tolerated and even praised in boys were slutty, shameful and inappropriate for girls. No one around me ever seemed to see the blatant hypocrisy of an approach like this, that in order for those boys to be lauded for the sexual beings they were rapidly becoming, the involvement of girls was, by definition, almost always required.
I railed against double standards when I was a rebellious teenager, and I rail against them now. Ask anyone who's been reading here for any length of time.
I don't encourage my children to be gender appropriate, whatever that means. I don't think of sports as a boy-interest and fashion as a girl-interest. The jock in this house is female and the one with the most extensive collection of couture drawings is male. We don't do tiny little boxes around here, and as I type this, little boy is sitting beside me with bright pink toenails and fingernails.
My kids are rapidly approaching the era of dating and physical attraction and all that. My oldest has a Twitter account, though we've told him from the get go that he's not allowed to have a Facebook account until he's 13. Their rules, not mine, and I happen to believe they exist for a reason.
When we were this age, we didn't have all these electronic connections. If we did or said something irresponsible and impulsive, the worst that could happen was that the people who saw it told other people and the gossip mills ran their course. Today, literally everything we do is vine'd, tweeted, instagrammed and added to a status update for the world to see.
As parents, this means that we have our hands full. Really full.
As parents, this means that we have to teach our children not just how to navigate interpersonal relationships and bullying and dating...we have to teach them how to do it in a world where anything posted online lives on forever. It makes our jobs harder, yes, but even more important.
These are the things I want my children, the boys and the girls, to understand, from the eyes of someone who has built an internet presence for years.
- It is your job to decide how you want the world to see you, and you alone are responsible for that. Only put things out there that you won't be ashamed of five minutes from now, five days from now, five years from now. Pause and decide if this is what you want the world to know about you.
- Regardless of your intentions with what you share with the world, people will do with it whatever they see fit. They will misinterpret you, they will distort you, they will use your words and your pictures for things you never imagined, and once you've shared whatever it is, you can't take it back. Everything placed on the internet lives forever, no matter how many times you try to delete it. You also can't dictate what others do with that information or with those pictures. Think about that before you post anything, every single time.
- Respect other people. No matter what they wear. No matter what they post. No matter what they say. None of that makes them less of a person. None of that makes them worthy of judgment. None of that makes them an object of ridicule. Disrepect anyone, and you'll be dealing with me. That's a promise.
- Your body is not shameful. Your body is beautiful. Your body is important, and worthy of your utmost protection. Keep it safe. Keep it private. Don't share it with people who don't respect you, in real life or online.
- The people on the internet don't respect you. They will never respect you. Some of them may say flattering things, but none of it is real. You value comes from within. You are important because you are. You are beautiful because you are. You are strong because you are. You do not need someone else to validate you. Please don't seek it out, because you will only get hurt.
- Sex is an important part of growing up. I will never tell you that it is dirty or wrong. I will not make you embarrassed about it. I will ask you to respect yourself. I will ask you not just to respect yourself, but every single person that you ever are attracted to, involved with, intimate with. You are going to be sharing the most personal pieces of you with them, and they with you. Make sure it means what it should. Make sure you are safe and protected. Make sure you understand consequences. Make sure you never do something you aren't comfortable with. Make sure no one with you ever feels uncomfortable.
- If you are ever uncomfortable, stop. Immediately. If you need help, call me. Immediately. You will never ever be punished for picking up the phone for that, no matter what the circumstances are.
- Someone, someday, will break your heart. I don't know how yet, I don't know why, but I do know that it will happen. I hope that it won't be for a long time. I hope that you will be resilient when it happens. I hope that you know that I will be there for you and that I won't be able to make it better, but I will try.
- Someday, you will break someone else's heart. Please do it kindly. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't use people. Be honorable. Have integrity. Be honest and truthful, but above all be kind.
- I will check up on you. I will keep tabs on what you post. I will have people watch you. I will check your search history. I will remind you of all this. Often. I do all this not because I don't trust you. I do this because I don't trust the rest of the world. I do this because I know that sometimes you are going to make mistakes, that you will sometimes be impulsive. I do this because I remember what it was like to be your age.
- I will also respect your privacy. I hope that you will come to me with questions and concerns. I hope that you will share things with me, but I will understand if there are times you can't or won't. Talk to someone, even if it's not me.
- Trust your instincts. Listen to the little voice inside your head when it tells you that something is wrong. Follow your gut. Even when other people are doing it. Even when other people are saying it. Even when other people are sharing it. I won't lie to you, this part is going to be hard...doing the right thing always is. I know you can do it, though.
- Other people will judge you, no matter what you do. Don't listen to them.
You know you're awesome.
So do I.
I love you.
Do good things.
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