Friday, September 19, 2014

flexing


I am working on an essay right now inspired by something that happened to our family over the summer while on one of our adventures.  Let's just say that a planned adventure had an unexpected snafu.  It was all good, it all turned out okay in the end, but my reaction to our little mishap, my behavior, my internal monologue, and the reactions of my children in particular during this situation have given us a good deal of fodder for discussion.  But all of this reflection has also inspired us a good deal.

So much of that experience was watching how each of the children responded and what it made me realize about myself, and about the ways I parent them.  It's good stuff, important to me, and something I am thinking through a great deal.  As I think about Nicholas especially, who is 13 now, this experience is guiding us in unexpected and wonderful new directions.  And therefore?  I want to write about it.  And I know that I would love to read more about this kind of parenting, the ways we are pushed outside of our comfort zones with older children.  How parenting changes, but also how it is all still the same struggles, with the same creature we have been moving and rolling along with all these years.  Just larger.  And more complex.


But I am struggling a bit.  How do I tell you enough of what happened without revealing too much?  To make the story worth telling, without it being at the expense of myself?  Or more importantly, of my children and their privacy?

My husband, Jonathan, is a librarian and a technology specialist in public schools.  He thinks about these issues a good deal as well.  He was recently telling me about the class he is co-teaching this year, and about how they began the year demonstrating for his students the idea of a digital tattoo versus a digital footprint.  The tattoo, he said, is your representation on the internet that you do not control.

In Jonathan's class, he actually used this blog.  As an opening activity, he encouraged his students to find out what they could about our family, the personal life of their teacher.  Could they find out where we live?  Our children's names?  Their ages?  Where they go to school?  With some digging, they found out a good deal.  And it is mostly information that I put out there.

It's funny.  I think of this blog as a writing endeavor.  One that has opened doors for me professionally, connecting me to people who I would not have otherwise met.  I do not consider it a family blog with the purposes of scrapbooking or keeping family and friends up to date on our doings.  I choose to share, and not share, that information in person.

But of course, given what I write about, and my training as a child psychologist, there is a good deal of information about us here, and our doings.  How could there not be?  It is just how my mind works.  But not necessarily how I conduct myself in real life.  Things happen.  I observe.  I noodle.  I noodle some more.  I try to do better.  Sometimes I do, but mostly, I try again.  Admittedly, the thought of it being read purely for the information piece makes me uncomfortable.

The digital footprints we leave behind are a recurrent topic in our conversations with our children as they begin to gain more access to devices and social media.  We have already experienced minor issues of this with Nicholas, finding pictures of himself, references to him, comments about him in the social media world.  Most of it is fine, typical childhood stuff.  But there have been a few instances when his image, or feelings about him or references to him have had content that he would not have chosen to make public.  And he has been upset.  Which, yes, has led to some very good discussions and has helped him to better navigate his own choices, to encourage thoughtful behavior and to inform his responses, or non-responses, to others.  But still.  It is an increasing challenge.



It is a process of his personal growth that mirrors my own process of growth as a parent and as a professional.  And so, as is so much with children as they get older and therefore enter into more and more aspects of the same world we live within as adults, we are admitting we just do not know and are walking these steps, figuring it out, together.



I think that's the story here.  The together piece.  And the communicating with each other piece.  And the reminders from time to time that, as with any piece of information, you are getting a glimpse, not the full picture.  And judgement, assumptions, and responses should be weighed accordingly.  Of course, as Sonya Huber writes, we cannot control how other's interpret what we put out there, but we can be mindful.

Recently -- likely because I am thinking about this a great deal -- a number of people whose writing I read have spoken about this issue.  One of the best phrases I have seen used when reflecting on this issue of our growing children's privacy is Amanda Soule's on her blog, soulemama.com.  Several times she has used some form of the expression because it is their story to tell when writing about her conscious decision to protect the lives of her older children.



I love that.  But I am unsure of when this becomes the case.  And also, I want to continue the parenting discussion, the parenting focus of our lives, nurturing deep and connected relationships with growing children that change and morph and divert in unexpected ways.  There must be a way to do this.



Perhaps part of the solution is one I have taken a few times here.  That is through books.  Perhaps writers of books for middle grade and young adult readers have already figured this out.  That you can continue the discussion, but with some insulation provided by the safer distance of fiction.  Or thinly veiled personal experiences labeled as fiction.  Through shared reading we can talk about characters and their struggles, personalize what fits for us, discuss it and relate it to our own experiences but reveal only bits and pieces of ourselves through the lens with which we read a story.



I read another favorite writer's reflection on this question in Brain Child Magazine yesterday.  Catherine Newman's essay, entitled Open and Closed, articulated wonderfully the complexities of parenting these early teen children.  She speaks of the importance of their flexing their muscles of differentness from us, their parents.  Yes.  That.  And as they do so, they deserve space.  Many of them don't even know yet that they want the privacy that they deserve.  But they will.  Someday.



Last year when I was writing about Nicholas entering into Middle School, I asked him if that was okay, because I really did wonder how he would feel about that.  He said yes.  And then told me to be sure to include pictures.  They live a childhood that is affected by these quick snapshot glimpses of who they are, and they put these self chosen images of themselves out there, try them on, see how others react.  And then try again.  It's not really all that different from our own childhoods, this trying on of new personas and walking the line between coolness and silly, competent and oh so vulnerable.  The means are just a bit different.  And we are all just trying to figure out who we want to be.  What is amazing is watching the process unfold in our children, and trying to help them be expansive in their possibilities, helping them block out or ignore what might get in the way.  Making sure we, their parents, don't constrain, but rather expand with them.

So I am noodling over this.  And trying to figure out how to keep an important conversation going using the best possible practices in terms of my parenting and my children.  I think it is a process that my family and I are going to have to undertake, together.

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