On playing with fire


I think that being a parent has this evolutionary arc that's sort of like becoming a really excellent cook.  For me, that means starting out always looking at directions and buying a whole lot of books and studying what more accomplished folks were doing and how things were turning out for them.  Gradually, I've been able to mellow out (uh, maybe a WHOLE HELL OF A LOT) and stop worrying about what books say.  Mostly.  Along the way the best stuff I've ever learned about mothering has come from watching other parents. 

One of the stories that sticks with me most is from a woman I knew back in the day who had kids not all that much younger than me.  She found her son playing with matches one afternoon and instead of freaking out and beating the crap out of him (which, probably is the #1 typical reaction), she got a big pail of water and they went in the back yard and rolled up their sleeves and carefully lit some paper and sticks on fire.  She explained to him that whenever he wanted to do this, he could ask her and they would set it all up.  But, she said, if he did it without her permission and especially if he did it when she'd said "not right now" then he'd be in trouble because he could really get hurt or burn down the house.  So they played with fire a few times and it was fun and that was that.  I remember she said something to me like, I knew his interest in fire wasn't going to go away if I just told him no, and that most likely he'd try to sneak and do it.  Plus, I think that when kids show an interest in something, it's time to teach them about it!  So we learned about how fire works, and fire safety and I let him experiment in a safe environment.  And that's my approach to everything with my kids, really: If they want to do something, I'll help them find a way.  Within reason, of course.

So Sophie called me at work yesterday, asking if she could set up a Facebook account.  She's 9.  I told her we should talk about it when I got home, and she blurted out OkaymombutSheilahasoneandijustwanttochatwithherandplaythatfarmgamePleasePleasePlease!  Okay, I said.  Put L (the kids' babysitter) on the phone.  L agreed to help Sophie set things up so that no one could see her information unless they were her friend.  Then she texted me a few minutes later saying, You have to be 13 to open an account.  She's going to have to lie about her age.  Is that ok?  I said it was and went back to work. 

Couple of hours later I get an email from Sophie's dad.  It said, roughly, Sophie just added me as her friend on facebook.  Apparently she's in high school and engaged.  Have I been in a coma or something?  I thought that was funny, but her step mom was (rightfully) concerned and added to the email thread that she didn't think it was a good idea for Soph to be lying about her age on the internets.  I agree.  When I got home, I had her change her relationship status and take out the high school stuff.  She's already had multiple talks with me about only talking to people you already know in real life on the internet.  I've convinced her that everyone she doesn't already know is evil, no exceptions. 

After she set her status to single and removed the icon of the high school she'll likely go to someday (Lord help me) Soph went throiugh and added her likes: SpongeBob SquarePants; Steak; Starbucks (she loves going there with her stepmom); London, United Kingdom (she has a funny fake British accent and likes to tell substitute teachers that she's from England.  She also says Charlie-ho, young ones -instead of Tally-ho - and she sometimes says Tally Butt Hawks instead.  Dude. I live with the kid and I'm fascinated, too.  I have no idea.  Really.); and, finally, Photography.

Last night she took the above profile pic after spending almost two blissfully quiet hours playing Farmville.  Yes, I know that will rot her brain, but her homework was done and frankly I wanted to drink my beer in peace.  Is that so wrong?  Anyway, I guess my point here is that I think if she's really wanting to experiment with social media there's no reason not to let her.  I'd much rather she learn the ropes with some guidance from me than sneak off and do it behind my back where she could maybe run into problems.  Because she's friends with her parents and cousins and even one of her grandmothers, she's not going to post crap she shouldn't.  She's terrified of spam email already (like the computer will explode if she opens it, and who am I to say it wouldn't?) and really just wants to use Facebook to IM with her buddies and play games.  I'm not always going to let her play for two hour stretches, which she knows.  People may call me a bad mom for letting my 9 year old baby have a Facebook account, but if she's anything like me (and she is) she'll always find a way to get what she wants.  I'm just making a safe space for her to learn in.


Thank you. You have made me really step back and think about this more. My DD just turned 10 and desperately wants a Facebook account. I have been saying "no", but this is making me re-think my decision because it makes me think why I was saying "no". Hmmmm, interesting. My largest concern is she is very computer savvy and I do not want her to click on a "virus" or do anything I would not approve of. Thank you for giving me something to mull over in my brain today.

I love this approach. While I am not yet a parent, I have been working with children as an educator for years, and I generally try to let children explore as much as possible while being safe. I was always a bit concerned about how to translate that to parenting, however - I think you've done an admirable job. Because like it or not, social media is with us, and children need to learn how to be safe in that respect as well. An ivory tower only protects them so long.

Thanks for posting this.

You are an excellent mom. I've thought so for years :-)

I've only been a (step)mom for three years, but I've already caught on that freaking out is not going to help any situation (even though I still do sometimes...).

When the four of us actually sit at the dinner table and eat dinner, the conversation inevitably turns to drugs, sex, prostitues, poop, manscaping, tampons or bullying. And I love it. My husband and I keep it lighhearted and cool, and the kids ask all kinds of off the wall (and embarassing) questions. They feel comfortable talking about anything with us. I know that's going to come in really handy as they get older.

I think you're totally spot on with the FB thing. And the fire thing makes me want to take my 6 year old out on the patio and start a fire in a bucket, that sounds like good clean fun. Maybe I'll waith for the cue form him though....

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