Facing Facebook

August 23, 2011 — Leave a comment

Social media, what did we do before its advent? Certainly for expatriates and travellers it is a boon, and for many in countries staggering under dictatorships it has literally been a lifesaver. It is almost unbelievable to remember what it was like waiting for, longing for flimsy blue aerogrammes from home, from a lover, from a friend. Though the arrival of telegrams rarely spelt good news. But strange as it seems now, long distance romances did prosper, families did stay together, and the world did revolve on its axis.

I am not by any means anti social media; on the contrary I embrace it. To a certain extent. My concern stems from the abuse of it, and not just from unpleasant people, young and old, who find ways to abuse anything, any way. No, my concern is parental.

There have been a number of articles recently in the press both in the US and the UK about ‘friending’ one’s children on Facebook, and the outcry from said children not wanting their parents as ‘friends’. It is the only way I can find out who my daughter is hanging out with, wrote one mother. I like to keep tabs on my son wrote another from Middlesex, England. My kids just don’t understand the consequences of irresponsible postings, complained a father from New Jersey.

The concerns are all legitimate. We didn’t grow up with today’s technology and so are having to forge our own path as parents through the morass of social media. It’s not easy. Parents can see the rashness of posting photos from drunken orgies, or writing a post at the perceived unjustness of a teacher’s action, of venting in general: all of which can be seen by prospective universities and employers.

Perhaps the basic terminology is what we should focus on. Our children are not our friends; they are our children. And while as they age our relationship with them changes and friendship takes on a more prominent role, the bottom line stays the same: child and parent, until the sad day when there is a complete role reversal.

I am unashamedly old fashioned in one way at least in that I truly believe allowing one’s children the space to make mistakes, to fall down, is part of the growing up process. Of course we don’t want our children to hurt themselves, or others, but some of those day-to-day knocks are the fastest lessons learnt. And in some ways that is even more important for expatriate children, whose world whilst wide in many aspects is not always wide in daily freedoms.

It is easy to say we should know our children’s friends, but anyone who has suffered through the agonies of the teen years, both as a teen and a parent, understands those friendships are sometimes jealously guarded. That is part of teens trying to forge their own path before they leave the safety net of ‘home’ and head out in the world of college or work. And unless things go horribly wrong and intervention really is needed, we have to let them make some bloopers, and just be there to mop up if necessary.

Did I know all this as I my teens were going through the ‘cat’ phase? You know the one – leave-the-food-on-the-table-and-the-door-open-and-with a-flick-of-the-hair they are gone phase. No of course I didn’t.

But with a little distance always comes a little perspective and I think we have to trust our children to have, somewhere deep down, taken in those lessons we have tried to instil. The ones about think before you leap, or in this case post a diatribe or inappropriate photo on Facebook.

It is the unwritten expectation that parents are on a hiding to nothing – whatever is said, or not said, is wrong in our teen’s eyes. For once though I’m on the side of the kids. We need to give them space, even if it is cyberspace, to have their friendships, their parties, their misadventures without us hovering over their internet shoulders.

How do we know mischief is not pinging along the airwaves? I guess we have to use our parental radars, those eyes in the back of our heads and trust that the open door policy operated works, and that if and when an issue arises, we are there to help sort it out, if that is what is wanted.

The one thing we should not do though is reprimand our children on their social media pages. Their public humiliation serves no purpose and closes that nebulous window of trust you have painstakingly built.

Remember social media for the TCK, that Third Culture Kid you are raising in Mongolia or Malaysia, is a lifeline when next you uproot them. It keeps them in touch with their old buddies whilst making quiet inroads into a new social scene through the relative anonymity of ‘friending’ on Facebook.

And through all the angst of watching your children grow up, the gratification of knowing they too, as they become parents themselves, will go through exactly the same agonies is in some small way retribution; and we the grandparents can sit back and quietly smile and advise our children to be a parent and not a friend, and not just on Facebook.

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