Girls and Boys and Technology
I like Facebook. I know it’s not the hippest social media thing anymore, but it’s established and popular. I am friends with my former teachers, former students, former classmates, kids I used to babysit, parents of my daughter’s friends, my daughter’s teachers, old family friends, and on and on. I don’t use it as a substitute for real human interaction, but I do use it to pass the time at Ruby’s soccer practice.
One of the things I like best about Facebook is the community of mothers. Although I have witnessed (and I must admit, participated in) some Facebook mommy feuds over cry-it-out or vaccinations, I have also seen true community, moms offering other moms words of support, cookies, meals, teething tips – even frozen breast milk.
I see a lot of articles people post about motherhood, too, and I read some of them and usually learn something. Just yesterday I learned that my older daughter qualifies (based on a hastily taken Internet quiz) as a “highly sensitive child” and that I should buy a book about it to learn more. Also, her mood swings might be caused by gluten or food dyes or ADHD or being 6. I learned that letting her play video games will make her a sociopath and that letting her play outside unsupervised will make her an easy target for a sociopath.
In general, I just trust my gut. I do my best, and I follow a lot of different philosophies, and I mess up a whole hell of a lot. I cloth-diaper during the day and use disposables at night. I do a mix of baby-led weaning and purees while still nursing past a year. I let Georgia fuss herself to sleep for naps but generally take her into our bed for the rest of the night at 3 a.m. I try to let Ruby fight her own battles but still end up writing her teachers crazy-long overprotective mom emails. I work full-time and feel very little guilt about it, but I also have been room mother for Ruby's class every single year and like to make elaborate treats for bake sales. I buy organic fruit sometimes, but I also feed Ruby Toaster Strudels for breakfast. I encourage Ruby to follow through on commitments like ballet class, but I also let her drop out of tae kwon do with no consequences because I don’t want her to be afraid to try new things. I am not a spanker, but I am also not a very consistent disciplinarian. I yell and then apologize. I absolutely vaccinate. I allow candy and sleepovers and occasional impulse buys. I am no-nonsense about teeth-brushing but pretty laissez-faire about wardrobe choices. I have given in to tantrums. I have monogrammed stationery for Ruby but am lazy about forcing her to write thank you notes on it. I never let her ride in the front seat and still require a booster seat in the back, but I let her walk around the block by herself. And I am a terribly inconsistent censor: She can’t watch “Jessie” because the kids are rude and I don’t like the racial stereotypes, but just last week, in the middle of her favorite Ke$ha song, she asked me, “Mom, does Ke$ha ever drink anything besides whiskey? Isn’t she dehydrated?” and I realized that maybe the lyrics are really not age-appropriate. Oops. (But good on me that she knows to space out alcoholic beverages with water at age 6, right? Right?)
Overall, I really am not too hung up on my parenting. I take it seriously; I want to do a good job at it – but I am not insecure enough about it to think that if other people are doing it differently, they are doing it wrong. (I mean, the lady in Ponchatoula who put her screaming 4-month-old in an ice chest with a gas can inside and then sat on the lid – she was doing it wrong. But just general run-of-the-mill stuff, we can agree to disagree.)
Just yesterday, though, several moms with whom I almost always see entirely eye-to-eye posted this article titled “FYI If You’re a Teenage Girl” in which the author, a self-described Christian mom to three boys and a girl, lectured her sons’ female friends about posting suggestive pictures of themselves on the Internet. She writes:
Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it? You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?
Neither do we. We’re all more than that.
And so, in our house, there are no second chances with pics like that, ladies. We have a zero tolerance policy. I know, so lame. But, if you want to stay friendly with our sons online, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If any of you try to post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind), or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – it’s curtains.
I know that sounds so old-school, but we are hoping to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.
Many people immediately pointed out that the author chose to accompany this post – completely inexplicably – with pictures of her sons shirtless at the beach. Whatever. The choice of photos was hypocritical, no doubt, but I don’t really care. That was the least of my problems with this post.
As I said, the moms that posted this are moms I like – but they are moms of sons. Do I think it is sound advice to teenage girls to not post racy pictures of themselves online? Oh, God, absolutely. And I do plan, when Ruby is old enough, to explain to her that the Internet is forever, to use common sense, to have self-respect. I plan to keep reasonable tabs on her social media accounts, whatever they are by then, but there is absolutely no way I am going to stalk her online because I would just be so ineffective at it. I like Facebook. I can’t stand Twitter. I am confused by Instagram, and I'm only dimly aware that something called Snapchat exists. By the time Ruby is 16, I will be even more out of it. I am, right this very second, twice the age of a 16-year-old, and I have never been cool, ever, not even when I was 16. I think it’s great that this mom and her family all look at Facebook and Instagram together – well, no, I actually think it’s kind of weird, but again, if it works for them, fabulous. But I also think that there are probably other apps out there that her sons and her sons’ friends are using that she has no idea even exist. I personally would rather spend my time teaching my daughters basic guidelines and then taking the leap of faith in trusting them to follow those guidelines than trying – and most assuredly failing – to stay one step ahead of whatever technology teens are using to broadcast sexy pictures to other teens.
And if I find out they didn’t follow my guidelines – ugh, to hell with “no second chances.” Of course there will be second chances. That is the whole point of raising kids – treating mistakes as learning opportunities and giving as many second and third and fourth chances as it takes.
I also don’t like the “once a boy sees you naked, he can’t unsee it” thing. Again, I get the author’s point. My own mother, who was not particularly strict at all, once made me change out of my pajamas when I was in high school and a boy was coming over: I was in flannel PJ pants and a tank top – nothing sexy, not at all – when my friend Peter called around 9:30 one night my junior year in high school to see if he could come over and get my chemistry notes.
“He can come by, but you’re changing into real clothes,” my mom said.
“What? I’m comfortable. Why do I have to change? It’s just Peter!” I argued.
“Pajamas make people think of bed,” my mom said. “And bed makes high school boys think of sex. Change your clothes.”
I did, with much grumbling about how unfair my life was, and in hindsight, I see her point. But I don’t know … I kind of think teenagers – boys and girls – think of sex no matter what.
I would rather my daughters not have sex in high school, yeah. But more than that, I would hope that they don’t ever have sex – at any time – with someone who then cannot “unsee” them as anything but a purely sexual object. My girls are way, way too young for me to think about them having sexual relationships, but I fervently hope that when they do, they choose guys who respect them before, during and after.
And finally, the worst part, I think, of the whole essay, that notion that “men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.” OK, it is true that men, grown men, shouldn’t be sleazing on pictures of scantily clad 16-year-olds. I would absolutely be a bit concerned about my husband’s integrity if he were looking at pictures of underage girls. But 16-year-old boys can have integrity and like looking at pictures of 16-year-old girls. And if they have true integrity, they can like looking at a picture of a pretty 16-year-old girl in a bikini and yet still respect her! They can find her attractive and intelligent. If your son can’t do that, it is not my daughter’s fault for being too provocative.
I don’t like feeling like motherhood is a battle; I really don’t. I want to believe that, by and large, we are all on the same side. But sometimes being the mother of two daughters is exhausting – and not just from the lack of sleep.
I want to raise my girls to have morals and values and self-respect and self-confidence. I want them to pursue their passions, follow their dreams, go to college, go to Europe, fall in love. I want them to be safe and smart and brave. I want them to be beautiful but not try to skate by on beauty alone. I want them to pay at least as much attention to algebra as the boy in their algebra class. I want them to own their sexuality but not flaunt it. I want them to somehow successfully walk that line that society draws between prude and slut. But my God, sometimes I feel like it all falls to me, to my daughters, to navigate these murky waters while moms of boys write stuff like this that just reads as, “Make sure your daughters don’t tempt my sons so I don’t have to teach them how to deal with temptation!” I know I’m generalizing. I know there are many, many parents of sons out there who do teach them this stuff, and I don’t want to be throwing up my hands and screaming “rape culture” over the least little thing.
But come on: We are in this together, we have to be, and it is just getting more complicated every day as new technology comes out and the Internet gets more accessible. It was hard enough for my mom and hard enough for me – and I fear it will be even harder for my girls. I love Facebook, but I am so glad I didn’t have it in high school.