A few of the girls I went to school with are new moms. I ran into one of them over the weekend and we laughed about the fact that she was just having her first when my first is nearly 20 years old. In a separate conversation, another friend who has older teens herself reminded me about our own teenage foibles, including the ridiculous practice of tapping the hang-up button of locked phones to make illicit phone calls at all hours of the night.
Now her teen daughter is on the Internet all night chatting with friends the way girls of my generation would, except that instead of cradling those heavy Telco handsets in the crook of our necks, this generation types on computer or Blackberry keyboards.
My own younger daughter surprised me the other day by announcing she was on Twitter. I checked out her account and asked her to delete it because the content was inappropriate for someone her age. The Internet is forever and childhood errors in this age of communication could follow her around in ways my five-hour phone calls in the dead of night never could.
My old school friend, the one with the newborn, observed that there are things they don’t tell you when you’re becoming a parent. We were talking about getting support from relatives as a new mom, something she hadn’t considered all that seriously before the baby came but which she quickly grew to appreciate as essential. The things they don’t tell you, she said.
There are things they don’t tell you, in truth. They don’t tell you that as a mom you’re going to get fed up and exhausted sometimes, that you’ll need back-up sometimes just to go to the bathroom. (Well, they might tell you, but some lessons you only really absorb through living them. Parenting is full of those kinds of lessons.) And while there are some things they don’t tell you, there are things they can’t tell you. This is a whole different world from the one in which we grew up, and by the time that newborn is in her teens it would have changed even more.
Who could have anticipated the Internet? Or Star Trek communicators come to life in the form of cell phones that are smarter than their users? Eternal vigilance is not only the price of freedom, it’s also the cost of being a parent. You have to watch your children, especially in these times.
After the US presidential election, there was a small media storm following the publication of a story on the Web site Jezebel, which not only quoted but also named teens who had Tweeted racist statements about the newly re-elected Barack Obama. The discussion centred around the ethics of naming the teens involved, because those obnoxious Tweets would now follow those teens even after their Twitter accounts had been deleted. Again, I have to say thank God I only had the telephone; Lord knows what might have come down through the ages to haunt me every time I Google my name.
Of course, parents should aim to raise the kinds of children who don’t Tweet rude comments, but I also thought I was raising that kind of child until I ran into the reality of her Twitter page in which she was retweeting Jenna Marbles, a decidedly R-rated comedienne and vlogger from the US. It was eye opening, to say the least. But this is the world we live in now. Jenna Marbles is on the Internet, the same Internet where The Lady has to go to do research and submit assignments, the same Internet where she watches YouTube videos for amusement.
I don’t hold with the idea of monitoring children’s every move, but vigilance, as I said, is absolutely necessary in raising children. How many of those parents of the teens named in the Jezebel article even knew their children had Twitter accounts? How many knew what their children were Tweeting? At the end of the month, somebody’s mother’s phone bill revealed our all-night illicit telephone calls. There’s no bell on today’s cat.
But to my old schoolmate with the newborn, I say congrats and best of luck. Breast feed as long as you can—despite the mountain of dirty diapers, it will be the best for the child and for you in the long run—and appreciate this time with your baby. Before you know it, that baby will be grown and telling you all about her Twitter account, or whatever will emerge in 2024.