In my household, we frequently use a “thumbs up” signal to indicate that we are okay with what the other family member is doing. If I send my 8-year old to find a restroom in a restaurant on his own, once he’s located the door, he’ll come back into my line of vision and give a thumbs up, meaning, “I’ve got this.”
But these days, that little symbol means something else.
My kids are growing up in a different world than I did. The availability of information, online tools, and social networking brings us all great joy, but also some niggling concerns. I worry that instant gratification will thwart the development of patience and problem solving skills in my children, not to mention their sense of self based on the almighty LIKE.
Here are three concerns weighing on me as I allow the Internet to be a part of my children’s lives.
Will they grow up needing constant affirmation from friends and strangers? I enjoy sharing photos of my kids on Facebook and do it frequently, but I understand that the number of Likes bestowed on my photos have nothing to do with how worthy a person I am. But it’s easy to get confused about that. I hear that teens make fake Instagram accounts so that they can provide little hearts to themselves and make their public-facing Instagram accounts appear more popular. I would like to shield my children from needing to feel loved on this level. I fear their egos will be warped if every moment of their lives is a potential popularity contest. Will they start feeling shame about their average-looking bedrooms or imperfect days?
Will their thinking be less exercised, and less elastic due to a lack of opportunities to wonder or recall? Our kids have never known a world in which you could not look up anything instantly. Remember when we would memorize our friend’s phone numbers or how to drive to various locations? Now I can’t navigate my way to the freeway without my iPhone (exaggeration, but I am getting increasingly less secure about my ability to find any destination without an interactive map). About ten years ago, my book club spent an hour collectively guessing how chicken eggs might get fertilized. No one had the answer in her purse. This style of interaction is dated. We interrupt our own conversations to check our phones for restaurant locations, trivia facts, and rarely bother imagining our own explanations for what piques our curiosity. I hope that same brain prowess is being challenged in other ways.
Will my kids absorb basic life management skills from me before they leave home? Today we parents do everything online. We don’t drag the kids to the bank, the post office, or shopping for clothes. How will they know about the time and effort we spend planning vacations, organizing tax documents, or signing them up for camps? It all looks the same from a child’s perspective: mom on a laptop, typing away. They don’t overhear phone calls in which I take care of personal business, because it’s mostly done via email. They’ve never heard me beg a travel agent, “Can we travel on a different day for cheaper?” I settle that with Kayak.com after they’ve gone to bed. I worry that they think everything in life just falls in line magically.
There’s a delicate balance between keeping my children informed about what I’m doing online in order for them to appreciate and understand the tasks, and protecting them from the conversation that goes on there – especially on Facebook, where so many parents are venting about various caregiving tasks. Like my own mom before me, I suppose I’ll just keep doing the best I can. At least I can count on her to give me a thumbs up.
Posted on 8/3/2013
After becoming a mom, Whitney Moss joined forces with her BFF and they began writing down hundreds ideas for fun things to do – with babies in tow. The result was their book, “The Rookie Mom’s Handbook: 250 Activities To Do With (and Without!) Your Baby” and website, RookieMoms.com, which has been on babble.com‘s list of Top 50 Mom Blogs twice. Whitney lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two children, where she resists temptation to put everything they do on Instagram.