Monday, March 02, 2015

What really terrifies me, as a parent

As a parent in today's world, there are certainly a lot of things to be scared of. Kids getting hurt, contracting an incurable disease, the threat of the ever-ubiquitous Boogeyman, the worry that kids will grow up to be ax-murderers, or worse: garage band drop-outs. All things that will keep anxious parents up at night.

But what really terrifies me is none of those things. Maybe because they are all unknowns: you have no idea if any of those really scary things will touch your family in some way.

No, what really scares me is something that I know without a shadow of a doubt will affect my kids in a profound and unpreventable way.

It's the pain and ugliness of growing up online that really makes my heart hurt for my kids.

I know... I know. I'm a hypocrite, because I'm all over social media. Heck I post pictures of my kids on the daily. It's not even all that, the privacy aspect or protection of kids from creepers a la Dateline and 20/20. That's a whole other level of worry and anxiety... but I feel like I can at least prepare them for that kind of Boogeyman business.

It's the knowledge that once they get online, themselves, and set up their own social networks, I will no longer be able to shelter them from all the bad that comes with it. All the hurtful things that kids do. The Snapchats and Instagram games (likes for winks, nudie pics for likes?) and KIK and... all the things I don't even know about yet. Hell, most of what my kids will be into isn't even invented yet.

See, the thing is, it's not just online bullying, though that's a huge part of my worry. When we were kids (now I'm really starting to sound old... "In MY day...") there was no internet. Which makes us among the first generation of parents to ever have to deal with their kids online. In MY day, when a kid got picked on, things were resolved on the playground. I won't deny that some kids went through some really shitty stuff among their peers when we were kids. There was relentless taunting, pushing and shoving, fighting, nastiness.

But here's the thing: we could leave it on the playground.

Kids would go home, with their friends and family and leave it behind for a while. They could be themselves, forget about the bullying or nasty comments, even for a little while.

Kids these days can't leave ANYTHING behind. The nastiness is always, always there, in their pockets, on their phones, on the mobile devices of everyone they know. In their room at home, in ballet class, in the drawer beside them at night.

The taunting, the ugliness, the pressure to participate, the pressure to be something else, the pressure to "get likes" and just the constant feeling of treading water, of not being good enough, that your entire social world (which is EVERYTHING to kids) can come crashing down at any moment with the click of a phone camera: it's always there. Always.

It was a huge slap in the face for me recently when I was on the receiving end of online bullying. It was a small peek into that world and it left me feeling raw, hurt, and broken. It was an eye-opening experience that made me realize what kids have to deal with these days, and the part that really made my heart hurt for my kids was that was just one isolated incident, not the years' and years' worth that they will have to endure.

How can we expect our kids to be resilient, confident, self-respecting or happy when there is literally no getting away from the ugliness of the online world?

How do we help our kids?

Again, it's not like I'm worried about something that MIGHT happen to my kids. I'm worried about something that WILL undoubtedly happen. It's a given. They will be fighting an uphill battle online, among their peers and even people they don't know or have never met, for their entire school-age career as long as they are online.

And this fact alone terrifies me in a way that's hard to put into words.

For now, I am holding onto and relishing in the fact that my kids are young enough not to know about any of the ugliness that we've perpetuated among our youth, yet. I've got my head in the sand a little at this point, but I know I will have to help my kids navigate their way through this, and I feel grossly ill-equipped to do so.

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