Thursday, May 28, 2015

Some Kids, But Not My Kid

My oldest kid is really scaring me.  What is he doing that is so scary, you ask?  He is growing up, a little, but growing up nevertheless.  We have reached the glorious pre-teen years, but he is every bit of moody as a full blown teenager.  With every passing day, a small piece of his little boy innocence falls away.  His smart mouth and sarcasm are growing issues to be dealt with, but I know that is as much my fault as it is his.  He is one full inch taller than me and doesn't want to hang around me as much as he used to.  Nowadays, his cell phone holds all his attention and he remains engrossed in it far more than I would like.  But he is a good kid.  If his round-the-clock texting and selfie photography are the worst things I have to deal with, then I should be grateful.

It is because he is an overall good kid that I was forced to keep a promise to him.  We made a deal that if his grades stayed up and the conduct stayed pretty good, then he could create a profile on the social media platform of his choice.  Are you rolling your eyes yet and wondering what is the big deal?  The big deal is that although I am a fan of social media, I never allowed my kid to use it up to this point.  I simply didn't think he was mature enough to handle it responsibly.  I check his text messages and his downloaded apps most days.   I also check the search and browsing history on his computer.  I also check how often he clears his browsing history.  Too much?  I think not.  Call me old fashioned, but my son had to "suffer" not having an online profile while his friends had a little more freedom to roam around online.  I had my reasons for taking this stance, though it might surprise you how I got to this point.

A few years ago I actually used to do some consulting work, guiding school districts on ways to deal with the growing problems of cyberbullying and internet safety.  I enjoyed the work immensely, but the demand died down over time and I walked away with some great life lessons.   One of those lessons being that is okay to be the uncool parent that doesn't let their kid follow every trend.  Sometimes, they really are too young to do some things, even if some friends still get to do those some things anyway.  See what I did there?  Some kids might be ready for that type of exposure, but my kids were not.  So I exercised my parental power of "no" until I felt he was ready.  That doesn't mean he didn't try to slip a few things by me.  There were a few covert attempts to create secret accounts without my knowledge.  However, those efforts were shut down pretty well, thanks to a strong network of friends, teachers and other parents doing as much snooping as I was.

However, over the last few months, we have tested his level of responsibility and maturity.  He has indeed kept up his grades, with an upcoming all "A" report card as proof.  His reward of his choosing was to finally have an Instagram account.  I figured he should go ahead and activate the account now so he can share the news with his classmates before they separate for summer vacation.  He was happy, and I would like to believe it was partially because he was able to successfully work towards a goal and see it realized.  Maybe not, but he is my kid and a mom can hope.  Right?

We set up his profile together and made sure the privacy settings were in place.  When he questioned the need for being so strict with the privacy settings, I gave him a thorough lesson on the ugliness involved with having any online existence.  We talked about everything from cyberbullying to cyberstalking and child predators that cruise online sites looking for impressionable young kids to connect with.  Slowly I saw the excitement of having his first account dwindle to confusion, and then fear.  While sharing all my reasons for parental paranoia, this conversation further stripped away his remaining childhood innocence that I was trying to protect.  Now I feel like a dope for doing this to him.  Maybe it was me that wasn't ready and I got a little overly zealous in justifying my reasons for holding him back a little.  By unloading my fears onto him, I didn't make him more knowledgeable and competent.  I just forced him to grow up even more than I wanted  him to in the first place.  It's all down hill from here.  We start middle school next year and I am definitely not remotely ready for that.  Heaven only knows what other adventures await us there.  If you find me hyperventilating while curled up in a corner any time soon, you will know why.  Just pass me a paper bag to breathe into and wish us luck.