“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
– W.B. Yeats
This is not really about rainbows and sunshine, much as I’d like it to be. I do not want to be writing about this. I want to be writing about something funny, like How I Screwed Up Easter This Year, or something heartwarming, like All The Love Notes From My Kids. But I can’t. I need to write about this.
Let me ask, first, how permissive are you with your children’s use of electronics? No matter your answer, I’m sure you’ve talked about internet safety and what’s appropriate, right? I’ve covered the basics with my daughters, I have parental controls and I monitor all of the electronics in my home. When my 10-year old tells me that her friends have Snapchat and Facebook pages, I simply say, “Good for them. Not for you.” She has her own electronic device, but it stays home when she goes to school and it stays downstairs when she goes to bed. Do I worry that I’m holding her back from being on par with her peers, that I’m somehow stifling her, keeping her in a plastic bubble, dooming her to social isolation?
Nope. Not one single bit.
I have (mostly) kept my promise to myself to grow along with my children, not to baby them when they’re no longer babies, to treat them as their actual ages. They are still at the point that I know where they are every minute of the day, so it stands to reason that I should still be paying attention and know what they’re up to when they’re not in school or at organized activities.
I happened to read two articles in the past week that reinforced my rationale about what I do and don’t allow on electronics, but they also shook me to my core.
The first article, originally published on Playdates on Fridays in June 2014, was a cautionary tale, involving a messaging ap called “Kik”. Some things that set Kik apart from other messaging aps are the anonymity users are afforded, the ability to use the ap from any number of devices (i.e., not just smartphones), the and the lack of parental controls (read more about Kik here). The article related a story about a 12 year old girl who was exploited by another underage Kik user; he threatened her into sending him provocative photographs. Fortunately for the girl, her mother found out and intervened. There is no truly happy ending to the story, however. Those photos of the girl in her underwear may always be out there, and there was very little recourse for legal action.
The second article, originally published in Australian Women’s Weekly in November 2015, was even more disturbing. It wasn’t a single anecdote, but a discussion about tween and teen behavior, peer pressure, and how the internet and social media influence behaviors. It discusses how sending nude or suggestive photos is commonplace among teens , how STDs are on the rise in the 13-19 year old set, and how kids don’t consider oral sex “actual” sex. Most troubling to me, the article related the ease with which boys can access pornography, and how that becomes their sex education and forms their expectations. In other words, they expect girls to look and perform like the women in the films they watch. Meaning Brazilian waxes and enjoying being treated roughly. Girls as young as 12. The thought of my daughters having those kinds of experiences makes me want to vomit and then lock them in their rooms until I’m dead, because only then will I cease to care about their well-being.
I sat my older girl down yesterday, and told her the story about the 12-year old girl, not leaving out any details. She looked horrified, and questioned repeatedly why both parties did what they did. I had to remember that she’s only 10, and not really interested in boys. Yet. I lacked the words to explain to her, in the way that she might understand, that adolescence can equal a lot of really dumb decisions, and that boys and girls who are seeking attention will sometimes throw all caution and common sense right out of the window. I know that this wide-eyed child of mine who says that kissing is the grossest thing on the planet has the potential to turn into a hormonal, boy-crazy teenager who will lie to my face about anything and everything. I did not mention the second article to her, because to be honest, I just don’t have the mental fortitude to have in-depth discussions about sex and sexuality with my daughters at the ages they are right now. I know that I will have to have those conversations, likely before I’m really ready to, but the conversations will need to happen, and I hope that we can have a healthy dialogue going throughout their teen years (I know, but let me delude myself that they will continue to talk to me about everything).
So yeah, this is stuff I totally didn’t want to talk or think about, like, ever. But I know I have to, and I’m putting it out there so perhaps it will motivate you to have any discussions you may have been putting off. It’s important, this growing up business, and I’m hoping like hell that I will keep my eyes and ears open and that I will help usher them to adulthood without any of us making any horrendous mistakes.
But for the moment, allow me, and them, to enjoy these fleeting moments of their childhoods. And baby pandas. Because who doesn’t love pandas?