The Digitally Aware Parent (DAP): When a Kiss is Not Just a Kiss
It wasn’t that many years ago that Valentine’s day brought a lot of pressure to couples to “do the right thing” and buy the gift appropriate to how the “holiday” was viewed. I know my wife could care less and would rather I get the dishes done and help with the laundry throughout the year than try to push presents and candy on her during a day she refers to as a “Hallmark holiday” created by merchants.
It also wasn’t that long ago that young adolescents spent weeks, months and sometimes years (okay, this was me) to muster the courage to share some candy, a valentine and yes, maybe a kiss for that girl (or boy) we had temporarily set our hearts on. Unfortunately, through the advent of social media and texting – this is no longer the case.
To prove my point I have only to travel as far as my living room couch. That’s the home office for my 13-year-old texting machine – otherwise known as my No. 4 kid and son. Each evening he plops himself down and through a dizzying array of hand dexterity, manages to churn out about a hundred texts per hour. I wish I was kidding or exaggerating. As a parent, I also feel it’s my right (much to his chagrin) to read what’s sent from that smart phone and if I’m lucky enough to grab it before he had the chance to delete anything, I usually find lots of things to use as “discussion starters.”
13 and a Player?
Let me first say that he is not a trouble kid. Other parents love to have him; he’s polite, giving and courteous (except when it comes to his 11 year old brother, but that’s expected). He’s also, according to the son of one of my friends, a bit of a “player” at school when it comes to the girls. This is something that I neither wanted to hear about, nor was remotely proud of. It’s a different world out there from when we were kids. The girls are ridiculously more aggressive and there are many more means of addressing common “rights of passage” for an adolescent that can be performed in a stealth-like or impersonal manner – like texting and Facebook. And we as parents have EVERY right to make sure those rights are dealt with in an honorable way. It was during one of these text and Facebook checking exercises that I came across my son experiencing a “right of passage” that was considerably more difficult and fear-inducing for me than for kids today – the first kiss.
Now, when we were younger, we had only two means of communication other than the one we were all trying to avoid – face-to-face conversation. One was “note passing” in class and the other was the phone. Note passing was always ineffective as it seemed to never reach the right target and ended up in the hands of a classmate or a teacher that was fortuitous enough to intercept it. So the phone was usually the best option. This is how my phone calls to girls went when I was 13 or older (when in those rare occasions I mustered enough bravery to actually pick it up); “Hello ummmmm, aahhhhhh, is Julie there? Hello, Julie, this is ummmmm, ahhhhh, mmmmmm, Mmmmmmark from class. Ummmm, ahhhhh…..” You get the idea. About 10 panic stricken phone calls later and some even more gut wrenching, face-to-face, personal conversation later, I may have mustered the courage to peck a girl I really liked on the cheek.
So what’s the same communication look like in text or Facebook fashion for my 13 year old? As best as I can remember from looking at his recent text conversation, it very closely resembled this; “Hey babe, it’s me. Wat up? Wat m I doin? IDK. Hey, y ever been kissed? Wanna? 2nite? U goin 2 Basketball game? Meet m @South blchers? IDK, 7? Kewl.”
Spelling issues and sentence structure horrors aside, I was floored. To this day I still haven’t received a straight answer as to whether this supposed first kiss was ever consummated, but it certainly led to a much bigger discussion about relationships, kissing (I am a firm believer that kissing leads to pregnancy as I’ve told my high school bible study classes over the years to a room of rolled eyes) and sex.
There are a couple of things to gain from this story. First, I believe it is firmly within your right as a “Digitally Aware Parent” to check what your child is writing on his phone and on Facebook (or Twitter for the more digitally advanced kids). I have told the two left in my house that the minute a password is changed or I see them deleting things, they lose the privilege to have an account or a phone. I WILL have access.
Secondly and more importantly, you need to not be like me and wait until you find this type of stuff going on to actually have a real discussion with your kids about dating, relationships and how to treat the opposite sex. I’m aware there is much worse going on out there and we’ll cover some of that here in future blog posts. But in the meantime, use these somewhat minor opportunities for good. Don’t be one of those parents who are identified by your kids when they’re older as the ones who “never talked to me about dating or sex.” They may not want to do it now and complain about it, but you’re planting seeds for the future.
One more thing. We now limit how much time our younger sons can use their phones. Evenings especially, are family time and yes, I had to put down my iPad in solidarity to this new edict. You can do it too.
Mark Gilman is a Senior Vice President for a Detroit area marketing and social media agency and an advisory board member of Enough is Enough. A former reporter, radio talk show host and corporate communications executive, Mark now provides marketing and social media strategy for companies and non-profits across the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org