Dear Children of Mine:
(Also, indirectly, Nieces, Nephews, God Children, Children of My Friends, Friends of My Children, etc.)
We’ve reached a critical period in our lives together. We’re all about to be on the internet, participating in social media, TOGETHER.
For years, children, you’ve been asked to leave the room when adult conversation began. For years I’ve toned myself down at our family functions and get-togethers, lest your sensitive little ears hear something that would shock you, expose you, or strip you of your innocence. But if we’re sharing space on the internet, that’s a thing of the past for us. (On the internet anyway, you’re still not accompanying me to the bar.)
My mother always told me, “if you think you’re old enough to have sex, then you better be old enough to discuss it with me and participate responsibly.” And she was absolutely right. Likewise, if you think you’re old enough to participate in social media, then you better be old enough to hold a mature conversation and participate responsibly. (Incidentally, that quote of my mother’s was an example of me not holding back for you.)
If you’re participating in social media, I’m going to assume you’ve had an open and honest conversation with a borderline responsible adult about the real world. About sex, drugs, alcohol, and all manner of “adult” issues. Because we can put parental controls on your access to the Web, but not really…I mean, who are we kidding? It’s impossible to fully do so, especially with social media.
The internet is what you make of it. You’re going to be exposed to a lot. A lot of good. But, also… You’re going to see nudity. You’re going to see women objectified. You’re going to see alcohol consumption glorified. You’re going to see racism. You’re going to see hate. You’re going to witness hostility. You’re going to hear bullying. You’re going to hear cussing. (But who are we kidding? Tia Angie/Mrs. Angie/Mommy never held back in the cussing department anyway.)
So frankly, I’m okay with you witnessing me, being myself, being an adult… just being ME, on the internet and in social media. Because I’ll be the least of your problems.
I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But for the most part what you’re going to see with me is an empowered woman living her life relatively responsibly without unnecessary restraint and without shame.
No, I’m not toning it down for you. You’re going to SEE me. And I can’t even imagine what that’s going to be like for you. I never got to see my parents. My mother died young, and with her, her story. I can only guess who she was. My father’s still alive, but like most people of his generation, his business is his business. I kind of know his story, but it’s more my perception of him based on a piece of information here and a piece of information there. You’ll have the opposite experience. You’ll know…well…everything. You’ll know the adult, uncensored version, of exactly who I am.
And I’m okay with that. But while I’m happy to be your accidental/on purpose role model for authenticity out here, I AM AN ADULT. I have enough years of experience and maturity behind me to know what’s safe and what risks I’m willing to take. What to share, and what to contain. It’s taken me a long time to know who I am. To be able discern putting on a show from portraying who I am and being comfortable with that. I make conscientious and educated decisions about the impact and consequences of broadcasting who I am unfiltered on the internet.
Before you run, you have to learn to walk. Before you race, you have to learn to drive.
Tweens and teens participating in social media is basically the equivalent of entering the Indianapolis 500 as a student driver. But I recognize that there’s no safe training ground to prepare. The options are, do not enter at all, or enter with us parents sitting in the passenger seat offering guidance as you drive (knowing we’re just figuring out how to “race safely” ourselves.)
What I’m trying to say is, some of what you see here is absolutely “do as I say, not as I do.” Until you’re at least 18 (probably more like 22…when your frontal lobe is fully developed), you’ll have to play social media by a slightly different set of rules.
Here’s another brilliant quote from my mom, “I probably can’t keep you from doing all drugs, but there are a few that will completely screw up your life if you try them even once, so they are an absolute hard NO, unless you want to become drug-addicted, living on the street, dying a sad lonely death. These drugs are meth, heroine, LSD, and crack.” (My mom had lots of borderline weird, though oddly practical advice I can’t wait to pass on to you.) We’re going to adjust mom’s brilliant quote and apply it here. We’re probably not going to keep you from making every mistake you can make on the internet/social media, but there are a few mistakes that hold the potential to completely screw up your life if you try them even once, so they are an absolute NO.
And one last thing before we get down to an internet/social media contract. ….And this is particularly for my children…. MY LIFE IS NOT YOUR LIFE. You’re my responsibility until you’re 18. So, to a degree, your life is mine until then. But the opposite is not true. I try everyday to be the best mom I can be, but I’ve never bought into the idea that my children are my life. That’s too much responsibility for you. And frankly, you’re welcome. Because one day, you will be free to fly without the burden of my expectations for reciprocity or the path of your journey. My loves, I’m not amending or muting who I am for your comfort. You’re about to have all kinds of access to all sorts of details about your parents that fall into the category of “oh my God!” For instance, sometimes moms who love their kids, gripe about parenty things and kids. Doesn’t make them bad moms…doesn’t make their kids not awesome. Also. your mom is an adult and a sexual being, and Chris Evans is hot. I may feel inspired to declare my love for him from time to time. It’s not gross, and it doesn’t mean mommy and daddy don’t like each other. We do. A lot. I mean, a lot a lot. Again, if this makes you uncomf0rtable…turn the virtual page.
And so now, our social contract (Fellow parents, edit as desired. This is mine. If you like it, make it yours.):
…When in doubt on any action or communication: refrain, err on the side of caution, and ask a parent. Also, many things that require telling a parent, may also involve collecting evidence (screen shots of posts, saving a communication or picture). Please be mindful of this.
AND SOME ADVICE:
This is a learning experience, a huge responsibility, and an exercise in trust. THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES IF YOU BREAK OUR CONTRACT, WHICH MAY INCLUDE:
– suspension or loss of social media, internet and/or device privileges
– community service
– some other consequence…I love opportunities to get creative.
I need you to take this seriously. The internet is not a toy or game. I don’t want to scare you, but children have ended their life after being cyber-bullied (Learn more here: http://cyberbullying.us) . And, in Texas, it is against the law to share or view pictures of people under the age of 18 that are sexual in nature (Learn more here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB407). This includes pictures of you. On the flip side, kids like you have saved lives by reporting cyber-bullying and threats to harm.
Like I said, the internet is what you make of it. We would not even be approaching this contract if I didn’t think you could make it great. If I didn’t trust you. If I didn’t think you were responsible. If I didn’t think you were ready for it.
I’m excited for you.
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