Monday, December 16, 2013

One Of Us Is Crazy

I remember, as a teen, occasionally thinking my Mom was crazy. I now know, that at the very same moment, she was thinking I was the crazy one. The other day I was looking over my teens shoulder as she checked Instagram. After a few snarky comments from me such as, "seriously, they are taking a picture of their Starbucks drink?! Imagine if they drank a hot chocolate and WE NEVER KNEW ABOUT IT! That would be terrible!" I asked, "how many people are you following?" The answer: 203. Now, before I tell you that I was shocked by that number and found it ridiculous, I should confess something. I have been very slow to jump on the social media bandwagon (I just recently created a Facebook account and have no idea how it works). I have nothing against social media. I think it is neither inherently good or bad, just like a hammer is neither good nor bad. If you use a hammer to fix something, good. If you use a hammer to knock some sense into your child, bad. Same with social media. Most days I felt lucky if I knew where my kids were and what they were doing and since I didn't always even know that much, keeping up on my old roommate from college just wasn't realistic. (Look at that kid in a diaper in the middle of the road down there- squint- OH MY GOSH that is my kid!)
Just because I don't use social media much doesn't mean I don't have an opinion on how it should be used. I have an opinion on almost everything, my friends and enemies will tell you. And since I dislike laying down rules for my teens when I can avoid it (read this to understand why), my daughter was subjected to a sermon on social media. Here is what I think: social media is a way of connecting with people we care about. It can also be a drain on our time, which can be damaging to the relationships we have with people we care about. So, we should use it judiciously. We should not be investing our time in keeping tabs on an acquaintance we met once on a vacation, we simply don't have enough time to do that and maintain meaningful relationships with our dearest friends and family. At least I don't. I asked my daughter to think before she started following someone, "is this someone I know and care about enough to invest my time in?"
My daughter thinks I'm crazy. All her friends follow at least that many people, it is just fun, she tells me. I think she is crazy. How can there really be 203 people that you care enough about to spend your time looking at pictures of what they had for lunch??? She thinks I am out of touch with reality. She is right and so am I. I am out of touch with reality. Most people are not using Instagram how I would like my kids to use it. Still, I want my children to approach their use of social media with some sound guiding principles. Those principles include using social media thoughtfully, in such a way that it  enriches their life and connection with the people who are important to them. And above all, never engaging so much with what is happening in the virtual world that the relationships you hold dear in the real world are weakened. Now, my daughter does not spend too much time on Instagram. Far from it, so I cannot complain that it is taking time away from those she loves. She also listened patiently to my tirade and did no more then roll her eyes. And she grudgingly went through her list and un-followed 50 people to appease me. For my part, I will try to remember that my ideal may not be realistic for a 14 year old's world and let my daughter make some of her own decisions as she learns how to manage social media in her life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Favorite Parenting Books Part 3- Teens

I've read several books on teenagers and parenting teens. This book has had the biggest impact. It has absolutely altered my world view as well as my parenting. The two things I disliked first: the title (silly I know, but Teen 2.0 is not very descriptive, although the subtitle is a help). The second thing is that this book is HUGE. The biggest parenting book I've ever bothered with. It is a hefty 535 pages, but take heart, it is only 376 if you don't count the appendix and index. Such a large appendix and index are evidence of the thorough research the author has done, which isn't surprising as he holds a Ph.D. and is a professor of psychology. Now, why I love this book. Epstein takes some basic assumptions I held (and you do too, I suspect) about adolescence and smashes them. Absolutely destroys them. I love this! It is largely why I love travel, as a side note. We all hold certain things to be self-evident and true based on our experience and culture, but when you travel, some of those beliefs are called into question. Our understanding and vision of human nature and the world expands, deepens and becomes wiser. Epstein takes us through many different cultures and gives a broad historical perspective in regards to adolescence. When this broad view is taken, you suddenly see how ridiculous and self-defeating some of our ideas about teens are. Epstein's ideas are a bit radical to the modern American mind and I certainly didn't agree with all he said, but I agreed with a great deal. It has completely altered how I approach every parenting moment with my teens. I have been thrilled with the results of those changes thus far. Less conflict, more trust and openness, less fear and above all empowerment (for me and my teen). I'll leave you with an excerpt from the book, just one of many things I underlined, "Authority in the absence of responsibility promotes recklessness. . . Responsibility without authority is frustrating and immobilizing. So please, let's not give teens more freedom. They have much too much freedom as it is: too much free time (unstructured, unsupervised hours spent doing meaningless things, often with peers), too much free cash (money obtained from an allowance, gifts or part-time work which can be used in entirely discretionary ways) and too much freedom from consequences (that is, from the negative consequences of behavior that would normally be severely punished in adults). Let's give teens who seek it and who can demonstrate appropriate competence the authority they deserve, along with the responsibility that such authority demands." Read it!