Monday, July 8, 2013

Swimming Upstream.

A friend once told me that her older sister had given her some advice for when her daughter started school. She described how it felt that she too was starting school all over again.  This time as the parent but nevertheless still experiencing the anxiety of wondering who the other parents would be and if they would like her.  If she would fit in.  It was helpful to me, there was no doubt that as I walked my kindergartner to school, I was reminded of the feeling of wanting to make friends and hoping that people would like me too.

Now my kindergartner will return in the fall as a fifth grader.  We are immersed in social dynamics - which can be harsh and hard and cruel.  We spend hours talking about how to deal with someone who isn't kind, when to walk away, stand up for a friend or stand your ground.  It's complicated, confusing and exhausting.  As parents we want our children to navigate their way as smoothly as possible.  Their hurts are so hard to watch and we want them to have as few as possible.

Why don't we extend the same consideration to our selves?

In the last few weeks I have been involved in several discussions, with various groups of mothers.  I don't know all of them well and most of them are not people I know from my daughters school but the topic has been the same.  Cell phones.   Our children are aged around 10/11/12 years old, with many heading off to middle school.  The reasons a kid might need/want a cell phone are myriad but walking  alone to school is the main one.  Divorce and two homes is also a big one and then of course there is just the want of one.

One group told me that it was agreed among parents at their school that a cell phone was the best 5th grade graduation gift.  They decided on a brand and all the kids were presented with them at the same time.  Then some of the mothers admitted they had not wanted their kid to have a phone yet - or at least not an internet ready phone.  Some said they wished within days of giving the phone that they had not done it because of the endless texting which was commonly done under the covers at nighttime and which had already led to hurt feelings and loss of sleep.  Some said they could not really afford the added expense but felt pressured to do it.  One mother told me she didn't do it and her child stood in an excluded group of 5 children at graduation who didn't get a phone.  The pain of that experience for her and her daughter was etched on her face. Some reported giving the phone with strict rules and guidelines.  Some were having no problems at all.

I realized as I listened to them all that many had been peer pressured into giving the phone.  Some were clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing - concerned about cyber-bullying and what their kids would see on the internet.  Some had parental controls locked in - others didn't.  Some knew that even if they had parental controls not all the friends did, so the world wide web with all if it's pitfalls was definitely open to their children, sooner than they wanted it to be. Several expressed that they did not feel their kids were ready to hold the responsibility of a phone as they didn't fully understand the potential harm in posting their thoughts and photographs on the net.  At ten this hardly surprising.

After talking to several of them it was clear that they had succumbed to the peer pressure.  They had done something they didn't want to do so as not to be left out, stand out or appear different,  in direct contradiction to what they are painstakingly teaching their children when they tell them to be who they are and stand up for their own thoughts and preferences.  It seemed they felt they were swimming upstream and of course it would just be easier to turn and swim with the shoal.  Except it wasn't sitting well with them - they felt uneasy, pressured, perhaps you could even say bullied.

I feel sure if I talked to those who set the group plan in motion - their motivation was based in inclusion and fun, so where does it go wrong?   Perhaps, it is simply this - asking everyone to do one thing - even when that one thing appears to be fun means that some will do it against their true will.  Here's what I learned from this -  as parents we should practice what we teach.  Everyone is different,  difference is good and we should embrace it.  Make your decisions for and with your family and feel confident enough about them to do them without needing peer validation. We need to be smarter than our fifth graders - socially, emotionally at least, if we are talking math - I don't stand a chance.


  1. I really appreciate your thoughtful writing on this important topic. My daughters are in their 20s (still with flip phones!), and my eldest often says how glad she is she grew up essentially before the internet age really took hold. Both of my girls are on social media, of course, but HATE how addicted so many of their friends are. In their own way, they're swimming upstream, although with more consciousness and choice than any tweener can manage.

    Also, a friend of mine says how glad she is she raised her kids long before cellphones. "It was boring enough being in the park with them twenty-plus years ago. I would have been an even worse parent glued to my cellphone."

  2. @Cuteasabutton - so true. I love many things about our exponentially expanding technology but it is a double edged sword for sure.


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