parenting in a face.book age

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about life in the Internet age. Then I read this great post from another mom reflecting along the same lines about why so many parents – especially mothers – are drawn to share (and over-share) in the online world and what effect this is having on our kids:

In the “life through a lens” modern phenomena, we can spend too much time “documenting” instead of living, “blogging” instead of being – and “presenting” instead of parenting. And we must ask ourselves: If every mile stone is yet another cute photo to share online, where is our true focus?

As I reflect on what it means to mother in the online era, it seems that some of the perennial issues of parenting – how to be present to my children, how to protect them from the evils of the world while still giving them the tools to navigate wisely – persist in the Face.book age. But new worries and concerns are added to them as well. There’s no road map given to new parents today; our own parents never worried about internet stalkers or inappropriate pictures surfacing online. Yet we have to forge ahead, doing the best we can in a constantly changing world of technology.

I see extremes around me: parents who post every itty bitty picture and milestone on Face.book, and others who forbid their kids to go online out of fear of the dangers they’ll encounter. Most of us muddle along somewhere in between. But no matter where we fall, these are a few of the questions I think we should ask ourselves about what it means to parent in a Face.book age:

Where are my boundaries?

The tendency to overshare is a big one. I strongly believe there is a deep and growing sense of loneliness today, as people get busier with the work/family shuffle and have less time for investing in real relationships. Connecting online seems easier and more efficient. And the more we share, the more our updates appear on our friends’ Face.book feed, the more we’ll feel connected, right?

As a result there can be little discernment about what’s appropriate to share or not share. When it comes to children, I wonder how many parents take the time to pause about whether or not they should post the bathtub shot of the baby online or the status update about the latest embarrassing story. The Internet has a long memory, and I wonder how many of these childhood moments may resurface to haunt our kids as teenagers or young adults – seeking employment, for example.

Beyond Face.book, I’m even more amazed by the photos and stories that people share about their children on blogs. I feel strongly that my children’s names and faces are to be protected from the strangers who could stumble onto this site. (The picture above may be the closest thing some of you have ever seen to S’s sweet face.) While I’m sure that 99.9% of you are lovely, trustworthy people, I still have to put my family’s privacy and protection above the desire to share their beautiful faces with you on a regular basis. I’m not saying that all bloggers should feel compelled to follow this lead, but I simply hope that parents can reflect on what healthy boundaries to draw between the sacredness of family life and the desire to be engaged in the world online.

How do I stay present to my children?

We all need release, escape, relaxation at the end of a long day of work and parenting. But too often – and I have fallen into this trap myself – our desire to connect online takes away from our precious face time with our children. Who among us hasn’t felt the child tugging at the pant leg while we check our email – just really quick, sweetie; Mama just has to send this one message - or heard the annoyed whine of a preschooler who wants his father to look at him instead of the Black.berry.

Yesterday our toddler class discussed listening skills for the under-3 crowd, and the teacher made the point that if we want to our children to learn to listen to us, we have to model how we listen to them – not half-heartedly, not mumbling the “mmm-hmm, sure, honey” while we multi-task. But really listening: with the cell phone set down and the laptop closed and the i.pod turned off.

Like most mothers today, I couldn’t function without multi-tasking. And working from home sometimes necessitates sending emails while S snacks, editing documents on the couch while he plays, checking on important updates throughout the day. But I try to be deliberate about taking moments where I consciously shut off the computer in front of him and turn to read the books, build the blocks, zoom the cars. I always want him to know he’s more important than the box with the keyboard.

Recently I was looking through some notes from a small group I led for a program we’re piloting in congregations to gather people for conversations around vocation, work and faith. One woman in my group said something striking during a tangent conversation about Face.book. She wondered aloud if before the age of constant communication, we could give more of ourselves to our vocations. We were more focused on the present and the people before us. Her words have haunted me; I hope she isn’t right, but I have a sneaking suspicion she might be.

How do I protect my children?

I have heard mothers say quite seriously, on more than one occasion, that they wish they could put their children in a bubble to protect them from the dangers lurking out there in the world. Helicopter parenting seems born of this instinct and the fears of living in a chaotic, often violent age.

But when I reflect on this from a spiritual standpoint, I’m very conscious that withdrawing from the world – protecting our kids from every hurt and disappointment and shock and mistake – is not what we are called to do as parents. I believe we are called to model wise, compassionate ways of living in the world, so that the next generation can learn to navigate the realities of what they will encounter on the road to maturity.

So I don’t want to put S or his sibling in a bubble. I want to help them learn to live well in our messy, broken, painful yet grace-filled world. Part of this certainly involves protecting them while they are young and vulnerable (hence my not sharing their pictures or personal information here), but part of this also involves modeling responsible behaviors for them as they grow.

This applies to the world of Face.book and technology as much as anywhere else. Do I worry that they will someday be bullied online or stumble across some wildly inappropriate website? Of course I do. But I believe I’m called to help them learn what it means to act responsibly online as in every other arena of life. So that starts with not burying my head in the sand and barring them from Face.book (or whatever the latest online trend will be) until they’re 18, despite my fears.

What do you think? What other questions do parents need to ask themselves about raising children in the Face.book age?

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