Monday, January 31, 2011

"Parenting Teens in the Age of Facebook" or "You Did WHAT Last Night?"

This morning I was scrolling through my Facebook page and came across a poll which my daughter had filled out. It was pretty benign stuff really; whom she had texted last, who was her last “crush” etc. Actually many of her answers amused me, but reading it made me think about two things; how much I know about my 15 year old and how little my parents really knew about me as a 15 year old…

I KNOW I don’t know everything about my child; as a matter of fact I can honestly say I don’t want to know everything my daughter does, there are certain things a Dad just doesn’t need to know. But it did get me thinking about the amount of information we as parents and adolescents have today about each other as opposed to only one generation ago and how that has changed how parents and children look at each other.

With the exploding popularity of electronic connection and social media, it is even harder for parents to hold the line. We all know that many teens are connected seemingly 24/7, but what is really blurring the line is parental use of these same social outlets. Parents have their own Facebook pages, they text, they tweet, they post videos to YouTube. And, like kids, they often post things on the internet which they later regret. Parents are, for lack of a better word, more humanized than parents of previous generations. I didn’t know what my Dad did at his 25th high school reunion, but a quick glance of Facebook will tell you what countless 40 somethings were up to at theirs.

One thing that comes along with this more open virtual dialogue between adults and teens (because let’s face it, because of our voyeuristic tendencies many of us find ourselves reading these on line polls and questionnaires) is that we feel we as parents know what our kids are up to and they’ll tell us everything because we’re their friends.

We don’t and they won’t.

In my work as an Independent Educational Consultant, there are two rules I tell my families about, the first is the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is pretty simple; parents think they know about 80% of what their children do, and they really know about 20%. Think about it for a minute, how much did your parents know? I know what you’re thinking; “But I’m his friend on Facebook.” or “She always texts me when she’s someplace safe.” The reality is that it is normal for teens to rebel; it’s a part of growing up and we are fooling ourselves if we feel our kids are any different.

The second rule is pretty simple also; we are parents first. Our kids have enough friends, they only have 2 parents. We must remember that our number one job is to be the parent, and that our decisions must be made as parents. We have to accept that we will sometimes be unpopular and that’s ok because it’s our job.

It’s not all doom and gloom, there is a lot of good that comes from this new openness between parents and children. I think that there is a strong upside to having parents more humanized; it shows that we too have our own struggles, conflicts and issues, and I feel quite strongly that the more children and parents openly dialogue the more we can have our children feel confident that they can come to us with issues and concerns.

But, as the old adage goes, take it all with a grain of salt.

By the way, in an earlier Facebook question my daughter talked about me being the “coolest Daddio in the whole world”

I bought it.

So yes; I am wrapped around her little finger, but i know it, so that makes it ok. Right?