Thursday, August 25, 2016

In between.

My oldest child is a teenager. This happened nearly a month ago. It is excellent and frightening all at once. I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenges he (and the others) face in terms of traversing the brave new world of social media whilst going through all the physical and emotional upheaval that lies ahead. We have had some pretty open conversations about all sorts of uncomfortable things, but they are conversations we have to have because I'm not so naive as to think he is somehow the exception to the rule when it comes to what teenagers are exposed to online, nor can I assume there aren't things being sought out by his peers and shared around.

Specifically I feel like the most important conversation for us to have is around consent. Like I said, it is uncomfortable. It would be so much easier to assume it is other peoples kids... other peoples problems. But I have two sons and two daughters, and all of them need to understand both the short and long term ramifications of their decisions. It kind of sucks for them really. When I was a teenager I made stupid, damaging decisions but the worst I had to deal with was other people knowing about it and living it down, whilst trying to reconcile my vision of who I actually wanted to be with how I was behaving.

I didn't have to worry about a friend or teacher or parent coming across a picture of me online that I may not have even known was taken. I didn't have to think about how a split second decision to publish something online at 14 might lead to an employer deciding not to hire me twenty years later.

I'm so conscious of the digital footprint my kids will develop. I've always been pretty careful with my own along with what I share of them and I am sure I haven't always gotten it right.

The thing I find most offensive in the circular conversations I see though is the parent judgement... the immediate assumption that a teenage boy (or girl) making a stupid decision must have done so because of lacklustre parenting. It is so easy to assume it must be someone else's kid.

They aren't all someone else's kid though. They are not in a vaccuum; the seeking of online gratification and the sharing of photos between peers. It starts somewhere, and there's a good chance it might even start with your kid.

Hence the consent conversation, and the constant discussion of internet longevity that we have at our place. Consent for obvious reasons - things are going to happen that I won't necessarily like but at least I can reiterate often the need for them to happen consensually. Longevity because the sexist/racist/bigoted/stupid facebook update you post thoughtlessly today may be the thing your prospective employer stumbles across while doing some research on you in years to come, or the thing that a friend sees and is hurt by and judges your character by for the rest of your relationship.

I think being scared is kind of warranted but not terribly useful. I'd rather have discussions that make my kid cringe than live in some kind of bubble where I assume this shit just doesn't happen.

Parenting. Can't say I saw this bit coming way back in 2003 when he was born, and it makes me wonder what discussions we will be having in 2029 when our new baby is the same age.

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