You know you’ve thought it, too.
Once, it even fell right out of your mouth. OUT LOUD.
That cringe-worthy phrase that you swore you’d never say.
The truth is you don’t even believe it! At least not fully. But just between you and me, you did think it.
It went something like this:
That's when your child will be the one to make a mistake online.
Omg, the cringe.
I know. I've done it, too. And I'm spilling it ALL today.
I picked up my daughter's phone and that's when I saw it.
My daughter's misstep in a screen-cap-able, forward-able, INCRIMINATING form.
Here's the 411.
My daughter was in that betwixt-and-betwixt stage, trying to figure out where her place was with old friends and new.
You know how they say that one is silver and one is gold? I think they forgot to add in a line that sometimes, one is an unknown.
A new-ish friend of my daughter's had asked for help with math. To be more specific, she asked her to take a pic of her homework and send it on over.
My daughter didn't ignore the request. She didn't screencap it. And she definitely didn't come tell me about it. She just took a pic of her homework and sent it on over.
And my daughter was a cheater.
When I checked her phone and saw this, my heart skipped a 'lil beat. Because she had cheated, yes. And because she hadn't talked to me about it, for sure. But mostly: because I never — ever — thought that my daughter would do that.
I'd even uttered the words, "She's not that kind of kid."
Are you cringing for me yet?
The truth is that I can absolutely raise my hand and admit to making these kinds of mistakes. But in the "good old days," my mistakes didn't come with photographic proof!
A bit ago, I had the over-the-moon honor to tell my "not my kid" learning curve story — complete with a 13-year-old me antidote — on The Washington Post.
It's an excerpt from my book, Kindness Wins, a simple guide to teaching your child to be kind online, there may or there may not be a sneaking-out-of-the-house story in it — there totally is — and I'm so excited to share it with you right below.
Now excuse me, while I put my raised hand down. Yep, because as you know, I too, have said "my child would never do that." At least in my head.
If you'd like your own copy of this article, click the image below.
Because when I give a shout out to my embarrassing mistakes, I go all out. Go big or go home, right? Get your copy right here, then read on below.
When I was 13 years old, my friend and I sneaked out of my house after dark to meet boys at the baseball field. We walked to and from that field arm in arm, our words whipping over each other, braiding our friendship tightly.
When we got back to my house, our hair and our clothes and our shoes were soaked from the rain. We opened the door, still laughing and talking, and looked away from each other, straight into my father’s eyes.
We all stood still for a heartbeat, water dripping to the floor between my friend and me in the seemingly slow motion that happens when you know you’ve done something wrong and your parents are silent about it. Finally, he asked, “What were you doing?”
My dad, tall and serious with a Russian accent that would silence my future husband mid-sentence, was giving me a lifeline.
I could have told the truth. I could have said we went outside. We were on a walk. We were doing something — anything — that could have resulted in two soaked-from-head-to-toe girls. But, no. I didn’t think of any of these ideas.
“We did each other’s hair,” is what I (weakly) said.
My dad’s eyes flashed, assessing all the ways he knew I was lying, starting, of course, with the front door we had just walked through.
My parents had never sat me down to discuss the dangers of sneaking out after dark and of not letting anyone know where I was. They assumed, with good reason, that I knew better. I was a good kid with nice friends. I was polite to grown-ups and respectful of teachers. And yet, here I was, caught in the act and forcing my parents to have the “no sneaking out” discussion with me the next day.
While I definitely believe in and strive to live by Shaw’s words above, I know from unfortunate experience that we make some mistakes several times before we learn the lessons from them.
And, most importantly, I know that we need to directly teach our children the most vital lessons, rather than assume that they’ll be understood.
The same is true with social media.
What’s different is the addition of technology and social media.
When my son was 2, he walked up to a screen and swiped it.
When my daughter was 5, she started a DVD via the Xbox for me.
And when my oldest daughter was 10, she knew how to pin on Pinterest and asked questions like, “ARE YOU POSTING THAT?”
Our kids are savvy and incredibly lucky to have these amazing tools at their tiny fingertips. I don’t begrudge them this and think it would be a disservice to not let them be online.
I believe this is true for two reasons:
The first is that having an online presence is the reality of the time we live in, and they’ll need to be social-media-savvy for current school and future work opportunities.
And the second reason, the one that’s more focused on the present moment, is that social media is one way kids are connecting with one another.
And taking away an opportunity for connecting and relationship-forming isn’t our job as parents.
Teaching our kids how to do this responsibly and kindly is.
So it’s that “tiny fingertips” part that I want to home in on: They’re still kids.
And even though they’ve grown up with technology as a part of their daily lives, they WILL make mistakes while using it.
This means that we need to have direct conversations with our kids about the kinds of comments that are okay to make.
When we were young and a friend did something that bothered us, we went about our lives, going to sports practice, having dinner with our family, doing our homework, and then — if we had time and still remembered — we called our friend (or sometimes, someone else) to tell them what had happened and why we were upset.
Kids today have a phone tucked inside their thumb-holed sleeves, and if someone bothers them or they’re in a bad mood or their feelings are hurt or their hormones are high, they can text, comment or message their angst instantly without taking the time to cool down.
This can be costly for even the kindest of kids.
I SHUDDER when thinking about the decisions I’d make and the words I’d blurt if I didn’t use a thoughts-to-actions filter. Our kids are definitely still developing the skills of taking deep breaths and thinking through their actions, but the availability and immediacy of technology makes it difficult for them to practice.
We need to teach them to take a breath before they post online, just like we teach them to take a breath before they talk back to us, a teacher, a coach or a friend.
We need to teach them that not every status needs to be commented on.
That not every thought needs to be shared.
That not every event needs to be documented.
We need to teach them that it’s okay to walk away sometimes, and how to step into and out of a situation as necessary.
And we need to teach them how to come back from the missteps they will take, and how to apologize.
Just like even the nicest of kids will make mistakes, even the savviest of parents won’t be able to keep tabs on everything their kids do on (and off) line.
Texts can be deleted.
Search histories can be cleared.
We can’t assume that because we check their phones we don’t need to teach our kids how to act kindly online. We can’t — and shouldn’t — parent like we’ll always be there to catch them, because in reality we won’t. Instead, we can teach them how to maneuver kindly online on their own.
Once we taught our kids how to walk, we could trust them to know how to walk anywhere (within reason). We could exhale our worries away.
This teaching works in the exact same way.
The exact right time will be different for each family, but it’s definitely when they begin to show an interest and when their friends begin using social media — and BEFORE they have “teen” at the end of their age.
Starting these tricky conversations with our kids when they’re a little bit younger means that they’re a little bit more open to our parenting opinions.
At a certain point the meaningfulness scale will edge away from us and toward their friends.
The right time to teach online kindness is while it’s still tipping in our favor.
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.