Brave New World
Typically when things change, I grudgingly keep up. Yes, it took me five years to purchase a DVD player. And I only recently began texting. I’m on Facebook, and I contemplate Twitter occasionally. I know how to use the coffee pot that makes one cup at a time, but we did finally figure out how to make the husband’s iPhone ring.
It’s not always easy, but it is usually successful somewhere down the line.
With my kids, however, it’s a little different. I don’t have the luxury of hoping they turn out OK somewhere down the line; my job is to help them now so that they do. But there have been so many technological innovations and societal changes since I was their age that I sometimes feel we’re growing up together, that I’m one of the kids.
It was easier when they were younger, because for the most part, their experiences weren’t that much different from mine. They had to learn to walk and talk and play well with others and go to school and ride a bike and read and write and study for tests. I had to do all of that stuff, too. Exploring and going to the zoo and visiting grandparents and going to sleepovers and losing pets—check. Been there, done that.
When I came across something new, I’d ask, “How did Mom or Dad handle this?” And when I figured it out, I either handled it the same way or asked, “How would I have LIKED Mom or Dad to handle this?”
As the tween and teen years creep up, however, things change. There aren’t as many common experiences. I’m guessing my parents were challenged by the 1970s society (“she said, wistfully”), just as their parents were challenged by the 1950s. And I am challenged by the 2010s—or whatever we’ve decided to call it. We have the Internet and its permanence, which a growing child—notoriously—fails to take into account. We have cell phones with cameras that allow—in fact, demand—instant communication, instant gratification. We have computers that fit in our hands, putting information—valid or otherwise—in our children’s hands at the touch of a button. And we have video recorders that download straight to YouTube, sometimes giving us Justin Biebers but more often than not . . . not.
We’ve given them weapons that even adults have trouble using properly. And we’ve given them with no instructions, because there are none yet. It’s all new. Kids assume that because they were born into this technology, the kinks have already been worked out. But of course they haven’t been. A few tragic cases of cell phones and driving proved that.
The Internet, and to some extent cable television, has also given our children more exposure to sexuality at younger ages. All the parental controls in the world can’t stop the images available to them online, or the ads for the “teen” shows during their Nickelodeon sitcoms. We have middle schoolers not only knowing what fellatio is, but assuming it’s OK because it’s not really “sex.” We have makeup targeted to little girls at Justice and push-up bikini tops for adolescents.
Technology has given kids these days access to the adult world around them, without benefit of actual maturity. My role as a parent is to figure out how to let my kids be kids, how to help them grow and succeed in this world of immediate access and minimal privacy, how to let them learn and experiment the way I was able to, without those experiments being accessible to potential colleges or employers in 10 years.
And I want to be able to help them with the other parts of growing up, too, those rites of passage and development that I do remember from when I was 12. Relationships and body changes and affirming self-esteem—these are things I went through back then. Heck, they’re things I’m still working on today. But regardless of all the information kids have that I didn’t have at their age, I have one tool they simply do not have: the wisdom that comes from 50 years of living.
So I guess I’m still the grown-upafter all. ■
To my readers: Please email me with any topics, questions, advice or parenting-of-tweens/teens tips you may have and I’ll do my best to include them in future columns. I’m entering unknown territory as my kids get older and would love reader interaction!
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at email@example.com.