Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hey Mister, What Do You Want With My Kid?

This morning my parents got into a lively discussion over breakfast about helicopter parenting.  My father had heard a story on the television about a mother who doesn't allow her ten-year old daughter to use a public bathroom stall alone.  She insists on entering to cover the toilet seat for the child.

My mother shook her head.  "That is so invasive," she said.

I wasn't really surprised by my parents' comments.  After all, these are the two people who raised me, who never asked about my grades, rarely attended a ball game, and only showed up at school for the parent teacher conference (hey, education IS important!).  But if one were to define the anti-helicopter parent, there would be a picture of my parents next to the term in the modern dictionary.

The whole conversation brought me back to thinking about an interaction I had with my daughter last night.  As she and I were chatting, it came to my attention that one of her brother's friends has a cousin who has been chatting on Facebook with her.  My daughter is a few weeks shy of thirteen, and this "cousin" is...wait for it...twenty.

(Insert long expletive of fear and anger here.)

(Now insert deep breath here.)

I made it clear to my daughter this relationship was not going to continue, wrote the young man myself, and made a mental note to check up on who she's messaging more often.

"Well I unfriended him," she announced, tears flowing.  "I hope you're happy!"

Well, no, baby, I'm not happy.  In fact, I'm somewhere in between being flabbergasted and sick to my stomach.  I'm an educated woman.  I monitor my children's screen time.  I pay attention when they talk with me every day.  I listen and have conversations with them on a daily basis.  Yet somehow this person had entered into my home and I hadn't even known.

A few weeks before, my oldest child had come home with two friends, one of whom I knew and one whom I did not know.  He introduced the boy I didn't know, who looked the same as any teenaged boy, and I kindly said hi to him as my kid walked out the door with his two friends.  Turns out the boy is of adult age.  My oldest is fourteen.

It frightens me to know how easily young adults can co-mingle with adolescents.  For my children, these young adults are held in esteem, having passed the rite of turning eighteen and finally being on their own.  Not having to follow adult rules, live under adult roofs.  It's intoxicating.

But as we all know and most can remember well, there's a big difference between who we were as a young teen and who we were as a young adult.  Our decisions, our interests, changed.  Which leads me to the above question:  what do you want with my kid?

Of all the parts of my children going through adolescence that I've encountered and felt ill-prepared for, this is one of the top issues. I always pictured myself as the vigilante mom who would hunt down the sexual predator on the screen with my sixth sense and pin him to the wall by his gonads.  Or young adult men who tried to mess with MY kids would take one look at me and bow, saying, "excuse me, ma'am", and turn and run.  Instead, one actually looked me in the eye, in my face, greeting me as though his relationship with my child was absolutely normal.

My conversation with both children ended in a sad and upsetting discussion of things that can happen between adolescents and adults, primarily sexual abuse and inappropriate relationships.  My daughter admitted she hated telling me the truth.  I hated bursting her bubble and hurting her heart.

I've always worked hard not to be a helicopter parent.  I have a tendency to have a mama bear that appears from time to time.  But I've tried to control that and give my kids room to be kids.  To climb trees and fall, to work out problems with their friends without my intervention, to take pride in their own successes.  To use the public facilities without me in the stall.

But in a situation like this, I'm unsure where I should be.  And being outside of the stall with an ear to the door just feels too dangerous.

So for now, as far as the computer goes, I'm in the stall.  I'm spreading down the toilet paper.  And I'm hoping they are both learning how to do it a little bit better themselves.

Fingers crossed.

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