These days of parenting are different, aren’t they? We’re on a hair-raising new frontier of childraising that grows more technologically complicated and confounding with every new iteration of “i” device, social media platform, and social sharing app our kids use. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed things that other people’s children have done and thought to myself, “If I were that parent, I’d absolutely want to know about that.”
Yet, we’re also more concerned than ever before about poking our parenting noses into someone else’s family business and overstepping boundaries. Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew more about where we stand on this topic? I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s my social “contract” with you if you have any opportunity to interact with my child or witness his behavior.:
Please tell me if you witness my child being disrespectful or rude to an adult, or making a bad impression on adults in a public place. Even if he doesn’t think anyone is watching, and he’s with a group of kids who are all engaging in disrespectful behavior. I’ve seen teens behave badly in public places like malls, movie theaters, and restaurants by being obnoxiously loud, using profanity, and leaving without cleaning up their disastrous messes. If that were my kid, I’d want to know about it.
Please tell me if my kid behaves like a privileged guest exempt from your household family responsibilities. Please treat him like he’s one of your own kids and ask him to help with the chores your kids are asked to do. Setting and clearing plates from the table, cleaning up when they’ve made a mess, even shoveling snow from the driveway. It helps all of our kids to participate in activities that serve the good of any household, and it builds character to have them pitch in.
If my kid uses any kind of language or attitude that is unacceptable in your presence, please call him on it and let him know that you don’t allow it in your home. I’ve had kids swear in the back of my car, or watch inappropriate YouTube videos as if I’m not even there, and I firmly but kindly tell them it’s not allowed in my car. Yes, my own kids were momentarily mortified, but that’s OK. I’m drawing an important “respect” line for them, and for their friends, and they’ll both learn from it.
If you learn that my kid has bullied anyone, anywhere, in any way, shape or form, please tell me. Even if it’s a subtlety such as deliberately excluding someone from a conversation on social media or tagging everyone in a photo on Instagram, except for that person. This is the new bullying modality. I want to know about it if my kid engages in this behavior.
Please tell me your concerns about my kid’s social media activity. The kid “grapevine” is important. I have seen Instagram pictures on the feeds of my son’s friends that I’m sure those parents know nothing about. If my daughter was putting pictures like that on her Instagram feed (followed by 2,765 “friends”), I would be concerned. I follow my kids on their social media accounts, and I tolerate teen silliness and some questionable language here and there (they’re talking with each other, not with adults), but when I see a 13 or 14 year old 8th grade girl posting suggestive photos of herself and gratuitous cleavage shots, I’m concerned. If I were her parent, I would want to know about it. Please tell me if you’ve seen this kind of behavior from my child.
If you learn from your kid that mine has been experimenting with alcohol or drugs, or other risky behaviors such as shoplifting or vandalism, please tell me. That one doesn’t really require further explanation.
If your child and mine are close enough that my child has confided anything to your child that might indicate danger to himself or anyone else, such as thoughts or acts of self-harm (e.g., cutting, eating disorders), feelings of depression or worthlessness, or plans to harm someone else, please break that confidence and tell me about it. I respect my child’s right to privacy, but those topics trump everything. If your child has concerns that my child is in a depressed and possibly dangerous state of mind, please tell me.
I have what I consider to be a good and loving relationship with my kids. But how many times have we heard a parent who has suffered a devastating child behavior disaster (opiate addiction, drunk driving accident,…) say, “I don’t know how this happened” or, “I had no idea this was even going on”?
Some parents deal with the emergence of worrisome behavior issues by turning the other way and hoping (desperately) that everything will work itself out. I’m not that parent. Parenting is persistent work, and sometimes that work is the last thing you want to do. This is the difficult, downright “icky,” uncomfortable stuff. To do right by your kid, you must face it head on. To do right by our kids, we all must face it head on.
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