Friday, June 17, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Governator

and Congressman Weiner
and Chris Brown
and Tiger Woods
and John Edwards (the politician, not the guy who talks to dead people)

Your recent shenanigans have provided me with many teachable moments with my 13 year old daughter that I could not have scripted better. Seriously.

One of the biggest challenges facing the parents of teens in this technological age is dealing with  what our kids put out there on internet.

Some of my friends have elected to completely shut off their children from any internet access. No Facebook. No Youtube. No email. Whether or not their kids are logging in on the sly, I cannot say but this strikes me as reactive and not terribly useful longterm.

Eventually kids grow up. They reach 18, graduate from high school and move out. The parental ability to set boundaries and enforce consequences for choices ends then and all we can hope is that something we taught them sticks. The World takes over in the consequence department in a way that parents cannot even dream of. Those consequences can be life altering and long-term.

Forbidding kids to have an on-line presence reminds me of the town where I grew up, when I was growing up there. My hometown is one of the officially 'dry' towns in Canada. Liquor licenses are a non-issue and there is no liquor store. Rooted in the community's strong Mormon legacy, drinking is not just frowned upon, it is pretty much outlawed. [Drinking coffee is similarly sanctioned but I, as a true rebel, delighted in taking my thermos of coffee to the weekly Student Council Meetings when I was in grade 12.]

Now, here's the funny thing. Outlawed as it may be, alcohol is available for the asking. One of my friends father's ran a 'bootlegging' business, bringing in beer, wine and liquor from a nearby city and re-selling it to members not only of our community but also to the large aboriginal population on the Reserve that abutted the town. Roadtrips across the American border into Montana contributed to the thriving economy of a 'wide spot in the road' town less than 50 kilometers to the South. American beer was popular in my old stomping grounds long before 'importing' became popular and brands began to span the world.

One phenomenon that happened often was running wild after high school by many of my devote Mormon classmates. Moving away from home to work or to attend college without a parental supervisor was a double whammy for many. In a city where alcohol is a part of life on a daily basis, kids grow up watching the adults in their lives making choices. Whether the choice is yes or no, it is made on a regular basis -- at restaurants, dinner parties and other gatherings. For the most part, this was not a regular part of my classmates world. I can recall going to dinner with a friend and her parents and when the server asked Mom and Dad if they would like wine with their dinner, the NO was dished up with a look of righteous indignation at even being asked the question.

Anyway, suffice to say that for young adults who had rarely, if ever, seen examples polite refusals of alcohol to suddenly be thrust into the wonderful, wacky world of being an undergrad -- well, it was a recipe for bad choices. The 'no' muscle had not developed. The 'be polite' muscle was overdeveloped. More than few of my friends spent much of their first few years of post-secondary education in a daze. Granted, most of them returned to the fold sometime around their 21st birthday (remember, in Canada drinking age is 19 everywhere except Alberta where it is 18).

So, what does this have to do with the internet and philandering politicians and other public figures? Plenty.

Those parents who believe they can protect their children by keeping them away from the World Wide Web are not only naive, but also setting up their kids for failure in many ways. It is only by controlled exposure to what is out there that our kids learn to say yes and no with their own conviction (not conviction borrowed from their parents or friends). It's kind of like getting your kids inoculated against small pox, exposure to a small amount of cow pox boosts their immune system and the deadly virus cannot set in and kill them.

Having larger than life examples of 'what can go wrong' is a wonderful teaching tool. All of the goof ups of the past few years have helped me open up a dialogue about real world consequences of private choices. Once the Pumpkin quit giggling herself silly about the Congressman's name, we were able to talk about not only how foolish it was for him to take and email those photos but also about how male hormones can make even the most educated, responsible adults behave stupidly. I think the discussion ended with something along the lines of: "So, Pumpkin, if a grown man, with as much to lose as he had, was willing to let himself be overwhelmed by hormones, can you imagine how little control and/or sense a teenage boy has? . . Yes, you are correct, less than none."

Tiger Woods opened a discussion of the importance of not only honesty and fidelity but also of the importance of making sound choices when selecting life partners.

The Governator. . . well it was a wonderful blend of fidelity issues and attitude. When he stated he didn't get the big 'problem' with his behaviour, both of us were stunned. I suppose if he had a spouse who was okay with such choices, there would not have been any harm. But even a Canadian with limited education in U.S. political dynasties knows that Ms. Shriver would be sensitive to sexual dalliances. Clearly he didn't check with her before hand to see where her personal tolerance level sat.

So, my child has an online presence. I (and her other parents) monitor randomly. She hasn't unfriended us on Facebook and she shares with me links to music, videos and stories she finds interesting. The dialogue is something I treasure. If I can slip in some 'life lessons', well, that is just a great bonus.

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