Friday, February 27, 2009

Parents Don't Belong on Facebook

"Parents don't belong on Facebook."

Or so said my friend's 18 year old son, when she asked for his help in setting up her Facebook.com account. It wasn't too many years ago when this same boy used to share everything with his Mom. They would take long drives to nowhere, and discuss girls, his day, his friends, his dreams. No topic was taboo. But now, as a young man, he was putting down his cyber-foot.

Facebook is the equivalent of a young person's electronic journal. It is a place for a kid to be free to talk to his or her homeys (It was hard to type that without smirking, yes), without fear of parental censorship or ramifications. As a parent, you would respect their privacy if it was their diary or journal, right? (Right?!?)

I have to say that I like Facebook. I like keeping touch with a lot of friends all at one time. I like knowing what is going on in their lives. Sometimes life is just too busy to email everyone. With Facebook, you can update all of your friends at the same time. When my daughter gets old enough, do I want to be able to access her Facebook space? I'm not sure about that yet. She's 9, so she won't be getting an account for at least another 20 years. (uh-huh)

However, I do think that there are lots of places that adults don't belong. As adults we have a lengthy history of messing up things that started out as kid's entertainment. Let's start with Beanie Babies. Kids fell in love with these cute little stuffed animals, and to the extreme horror of their parents, they CUT OFF THE TY TAGS! (OMG, what WERE they thinking? Did they think they were TOYS for God's sake???) At $5.00 each, they were a perfect and easy kid's birthday gift. Then, adults discovered monetary value in Beanie Babies, and it all went downhill. We bought the animals, but we didn't let the kids play with them, much less bend/cut/mutilate that "precious" TY tag. We were saving and collecting them to pay for our children's college education. Our children lost interest in Beanie Babies, and the resale market plummeted. A Beanie Baby is again worth approximately $5.00.

Enter the new high-tech Webkinz stuffed animals. This time, you DO open the tag to get your secret Kinz code to enter into the WEbkinz site. The plush animal itself rates a distant second to the animal avatar who resides on the website. Oh, there's so much to do! The animal has to work, garden, buy food, get groomed, etc. It's enough to keep kids and adults busy! Oh, and your real live dog or cat who actually lives with you, they won't mind that you have to spend all of your time on this fake animal now.

While the WebKinz phenom wanes, I am seriously suspicious that there are many more adults playing on the Webkinz website than children.

Harry Potter. Kids discovered the young magician and devoured his books. Then, came the adult fans, and in true fashion, laid claim to it. As adults, we take the special things that are geared to children and we adopt them as our own. Didn't we have good childhoods? Do we have to take everything cool, and by our very un-hip adult ownership, make it "uncool" to our children? Why can't we abstain from taking their "stuff?"

"The 39 Clues" is a multi-media mystery and adventure which involves a series of books, cards and a gaming website. The books and website are geared towards 6-14 year olds. I introduced my daughter to the books and she loved them. We entered her cards into the website, and she immensely enjoyed going through the "training missions."

Imagine my surprise while researching "The 39 Clues," when I came upon an adult chat forum whose main discussion was how to get around the age bracket of 6-14 years old, when registering for the site. There are prizes to be earned, but guess what, kids aren't going to be able to win, because there's so many adults playing on the website. Why can't we just leave the kids' arenas to the kids? Why must we get involved and sully the entire event? It's enough to boil my blood pressure when I see the high scores for the month at 350,000 points. Try explaining to your 9 year old, that the game is being played by adults, too. Try explaining that adults are playing the games that are meant for children who are her age. Adults who seriously need something better to do with their daytime hours. Pathetic.

Another example of adult infiltration of 39 Clues...On EBay, people are selling rare, unused collectible cards. Instead of collecting the cards and taking your chances with the random card packs, adults can get immediate gratification by purchasing the cards that they need. Can't wait? Buy your rare and ultra-rare cards online!

I remember hearing about young boys who collected baseball cards. It was a natural extension of their love of baseball itself. Young boys used to thumb through their cards lovingly(Ack! Unprotected??), trading their duplicates to friends, and flaunting their best cards with something akin to pride. It was a social event, and part of the fun was the story behind the card's acquisition. Admit it, there's just not a lot of pride today in saying, "I bought it on eBay."

Unfortunately, Boys don't collect baseball cards anymore. I assume it's because there are too many adult boys collecting them now. Adults boys put each of their rare cards into its own protective PVC-free, archival plastic sleeve. Yeah, we messed that up, too.

The funny - or maybe ironic - thing is that when adults take over ownership of a children's venue, the children seem to lose interest. So...who knows how much longer this Facebook thing's going to be around...

In the meantime, I'm going to help my friend set up her Facebook account. I'm pretty sure that her son isn't going to accept her friend request though. :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where have the Family Friendly TV Shows gone?

We have tuned out, Mr. Nielsen. You do not offer anything wholesome to our family. American Idol and Survivor just don't cut it. We want to see programs about "real" children and "real" family situations. We are taking a trip back in time through the wonder of DVDs!
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My daughter is almost 10 years old now, and I've come to the conclusion that there is no acceptable prime time TV show that we can share together. The reality shows are mindless. The so-called comedies aren't funny and are laden with sexual innuendos that I just don't want to explain to her.

It didn't use to be this way. I can recall many family shows from my childhood that I would happily share with my daughter today. And, through the miracles of DVD technology, I have been watching some of these moldy oldies with her. Many older DVDs can be borrowed *FREE* from your local library!

Here are some of our favorites:
  • Gilligan's Island
  • The Partridge Family
  • The Brady Bunch
  • Mork & Mindy
  • Grizzly Adams
Other shows that come to mind that we haven't watched yet are: Eight is Enough, Family Affair and Get Smart. Anyone have any more suggestions to add to this list?

Perhaps it was just a slower, more wholesome age, but these were TV shows that could be watched by the entire family. The clothing and hair styles might seem hokey today, but at least I don't have to worry about them containing swearing, violence and nudity.

Besides the entertainment value, my daughter will be able to fill in many future crosswords armed with the knowledge of these ancient TV programs!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parenting Unplugged

I was sitting at my daughter's piano lesson this week, and I observed the following dad and son "interaction." Not once in this half hour time slot did they speak to one another. Each was engaged in his own electronic world.

Wired In but Checked Out

Dad and Son sitting side by side.
Dad punches keys on his laptop in a zombie-like hypnosis.
Son shoots bad guys on his Game Boy. *Bang*Pow*Stuff blows up*
Father-Son Bonding...
in the Electronic Age.
WI FI...I say WHY FI?
and I wonder, Why Parent?


Our ever-present, instant, 24/7 shiny gadgets, gives us so many more ways to ignore our children. We are living in a world of constant connectedness. Yet, we have never been more disconnected personally from our loved ones. We are constantly texting, IM'ing, gaming, downloading, emailing, phoning, surfing...Are we really connecting to other humans though? I would answer "no."

Unfortunately, my daughter was just introduced to the addictive WebKinz world. On the surface, WebKinz toys appear to be innocuous cute stuffed animals. However, I have found them to be the most addictive form of electronic crack to ever be marketed to children.

After the child enters the secret tag code on the Webkinz website, he/she is now expected to daily keep their pet happy, fed and loved. Every day, my daughter feels compelled to log on to the site to make sure that her pet hasn't died. Of course, there are also games to play, things to buy for your pet, etc. I have found that I need to limit her computer time to 30 minutes per day, or she would be clicking away for hours. Argh, she has been sucked into the Internet whirlpool.

Today, a friend of mine confided that she and her son recently discussed the best and worst parts of their day. He told her, "The worst part of my day is that you spent an hour on the telephone." She was saddened by his response, and was determined to make a point of really being "there" during family time in the future. Missed phone calls can be returned after bedtime. Good bonding time with our children cannot be retrieved from the sand slipping through the hourglass.

I admit it. My computer calls to me. It beckons for me to waste some time there. I attempt to resist when my daughter is with me.

Thinking of this, I wrote the following parental mission statement in my journal.

Today I looked at you and I really saw you. I erased all of the niggling to-do lists from my brain and I really listened to you. I didn't just hear your words with my ears...I also listened with my heart to the deeper meanings that you were attempting to convey to me. I watched your facial expressions. I saw how your eyes crinked at the corners when you were excited. I noticed the way that your mouth turned down when you told me something that was disappointing to you. When we were together, I was really present, engaged and checked in. I owe that to you.

Why is it so easy to plug our children in to Ipods, Game Boys, WII, PSI, 2, 3, computers, etc.? And, why is it so hard for us to unplug ourselves from the same items, plus our Blackberries, IPhones, Laptops, cell phones, etc??? Precious time is ticking away, Parents. You are going to look up from your gadgets one day, and you will find that their childhood is gone and you missed it. UNPLUG!

Yes, parenting is hard. Communicating with our children can be hard. However, I have found nothing more rewarding than having a conversation with my daughter. At the age of almost-10, she is a fascinating human being. She has interesting observations and asks tough questions. I often learn things from her.

So, here's my unsolicited advice for today. Unplug all of your gadgets. No one needs to be as "connected" as we are in the 21st century. I implore you to take your children out into nature. Play some good old fashioned board games. Talk. Connect! Find out what's going on in your child's head. You just might be surprised.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Getting What we Need, instead of what we Want

Happy Valentine's Day!

Daughter: "I am SO AGGRAVAGATED!!!!!" (pronounced: "Uh-GRAV-Uh-Gated)

Me: "What?"

Daughter: "That BOY so AGGRAVAGATED me!"

Me: "What is that word you're saying?"

Daughter: "AGGRAVAGATED! He made me SO angry!"

Me: "Oh, he aggravated you? How did he do that?"

Daughter: "He told me that I couldn't do something in swimming, because 'I was just a girl!'"

Me: "What did you say?"

Daughter: "Well, it probably wasn't nice to say, but I said, "Well, YOU are JUST a BOY!"

Indeed, just a boy. Went on another field trip with my daughter's class yesterday. As always, I am strongly reminded that boys and girls are very different animals. The girls are (for the most part) quieter, and so obviously more mature than the boys. At times, the girls contemptuously look at the boys like they are something icky to be scraped off of the bottom of their shoes. Sometimes, I find myself agreeing. :)

Two of the boys were involved in a lively conversational exchange that included the phrase, "Your Momma is so Stupid."

One boy asked his classmate, "Give me some of that 'puppy chow crap.'" When I asked him about his unfortunate word choice, he asked me, "Should I say 'puppy chow poop' instead?"
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Amusingly enough, early in my pregnancy, I dreamed of having a son. Because of my poor relationship with my mother, growing up and beyond, I thought that I wasn't capable of creating a decent mother-daughter relationship. Therefore, I thought that a son might be the easier of the two options.

After I found out at my 5 month amniocentesis test that I was having a girl, I was scared, but elated. My entire train of thought changed. Perhaps God was giving me an opportunity to heal myself. I was getting another chance to have a good mother-daughter relationship. I could become the Mom to my own daughter, that I always wanted to have as a girl then, and as a grown woman now.

It's funny. We pray for what we believe that we want and desire. God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is "No." I thought that I wanted to have a son, but God saw that what I really NEEDED was to have a daughter.

With little mothering experience to draw upon, I always had a vision of the kind of mom that I wanted to be. In addition, my sweet, big-hearted daughter has taught me how to be a good mom to her. Her love has healed the broken little girl inside of me.

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need
-- Rolling Stones

I hope that you get what you need in your own life. Happy Love Day!