I just joined a group called “Moms of Kids Who Are Embarrassed They Have a Facebook.” It was founded just a few days ago, and last I checked it had grown to more than 152 members. Hope Greenberg, an attorney and mother of four on Long Island, created the group when she asked her 12-year-old daughter to “friend” her and the girl pushed back. “Make your own group,” the girl said, so the mother did. She recruited three friends and let the Internet do the rest.
The most meaningless words in parenting, I have found, are “when I was your age.” What I did, or thought, or was permitted, when I was their age has become irrelevant. Kids today do most things younger than their parents ever did, and do many things that their parents never did, because those things hadn’t been invented yet.
My first real understanding that my past was no guide to their present came when deciding the ground rules for the computer a few years ago. Is it a typewriter? Or a telephone? Or a television?
“When I was their age” the rules were very different with each device. My parents raced to get me the first, waited until I was a teen to allow me the second and the third was always rationed and monitored and never allowed in my room.
But along came this mutation that was all three at once. And I found myself making up the rules as I went along.
Now, I am faced with Facebook. Is it a diary? (Something that parents shouldn’t read, except for when maybe they should?) Or a conversation with friends in the living room? (Open to anyone standing nearby?)
Kids themselves don’t seem to agree. Many of my friends have children who happily “friend” them — and me. My 16-year-old niece, in turn, pretends she has friended me, and doesn’t think I know that she has barred me from some of the more interesting parts of her Facebook.
And my own sons? The older one has blocked me and I haven’t even bothered to friend the younger one. Let them have their private clubhouse. Because what I have learned from my own time on Facebook is that there is nothing terribly private about the place at all. When everything you do is being broadcast to hundreds of acquaintances, secrets won't stay deep or dark for long. If they do something outrageous, I will probably hear about it, unlike the same something they might do in at a basement party, or behind the football bleachers, like “when I was their age.”
When I joined “Moms Whose Kids Are Embarrassed … ” the news went out to my 223 “friends” and they were quick to share their own tales:
Elly, whose children are grown, said, “Not only is mine not embarrassed, she’s the one who suggested I join Facebook … ”
Glenn, whose son is in high school with mine, wrote: “My son will not accept me as a friend on his Facebook. When I asked him why, he said, ‘Do you hang out with me and my friends when we sit in the living room? Not that I am hiding anything from you, it’s just awkward having you hang out on my Facebook with all of my friends.’ Enough said — I will make my own friends on Facebook.”
Lara wondered: “What about stepmothers? My 15-year-old stepdaughter friended me … but won’t friend her father. Awkward!”
Yes, every thing new is awkward. Which is why I am thinking of starting a group called “Parents Who Can Navigate Facebook Without The Help Of Their Children, Thank You Very Much.”