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Practice makes… practiced.

Okay. I’m gonna be honest with you. I had almost half of this post written when I realized it was all wrong. I was going to write a heartfelt confession about my failure to be at peace with life. But then I started grading papers.

I recently assigned my kids an easy assignment – write me a haiku. It’s a short poem with a set number of syllables. I came across this little gem and I thought I had found the best one of the bunch.

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It’s funny right? Hilarious actually. This kid is awesome. He’s quiet but so so clever. When I think of students I enjoy, he’s right up there at the top of the list.

But then I found this.

IMG_3243 The student that wrote this isn’t one of my trouble kids. He isn’t a behavior or academic problem. In fact, I know very little about him. He’s relatively new to my class and we haven’t spoken much. This didn’t come as some great reveal about how my most frustrating kid is having problems at home. This kid is actually a pretty nice kid who has friends and laughs a lot. I would never have known that his heart is breaking.

I guess the lesson to learn is not that I need to find some sort of inner peace and not beat myself up about mommy guilt and all these other things I already know. It’s that as long as I show up, I’m doing pretty good.

I’m not saying we should aspire to mediocrity. In fact I think that “parent” is the most important title we have and we should be striving to do our best. But I think we should bear in mind that what our kids need from us the most is not a perfect zen environment or Pinterest worthy snacks or sagacious advice or the best products available. Our kids need us to show up. If my students have taught me anything, it’s that no matter how mature they seem, no matter how independent they want you to believe they are, they want support. They want love. They want their parents.

adequateWhile it is true that I feel like I know nothing – often I feel like I’m just a kid myself and that it’s ludicrous that I am entrusted with a tiny human and a car payment – It is also true that I have everything I need to be a successful parent. Even just typing those words seems odd, because I, like every parent probably, struggle so hard with feelings of inadequacy. But you know what? I’m a good mom. And as long as I continue to be present and work hard to love my kid in the best way I can, then I will be doing a good job. As long as I continue to work on my marriage instead of walking away; as long as I choose to come home and be a part of what’s going on in my family; As long as I don’t give up, then I’m doing my part. And every time I feel like somebody else could be doing it better, I can rest assured that the most important part of being a parent is being present. Everything else will work itself out.

That is all.

 

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To the Well-Intentioned but Ignorant Parents of Teenagers.

I’ve been mulling over this topic for quite some time, but this morning it became increasingly clear to me that I must say something. Folks, stranger danger is a real thing. And even more real today than it was ten years ago thanks to, you guessed it, the internet.

I speak specifically to the parents of kids old enough to be on social media. Of course, I am no such parent, but I am a teacher of those kids. I am also only 6-10 years older than the high school students I teach. Maybe that makes me unqualified to speak out, but maybe it makes me the most qualified candidate. Many of my colleagues and the parents of my students are old enough to be my own parents, so I tend to share a comaraderie with my students. And yet, I am far enough removed to be able to speak in ways that they cannot yet speak for themselves.

The reason this subject has become suddenly so urgent to me is because today I read an article about a new website called YouNow which is essentially a livestream site that a person can set up a camera feed and you can watch it constantly. Users can connect with cameras using hashtags like #sleepingsoundly. In other words, people – teenagers – are setting up cameras in their bedrooms so anyone, any stranger, can watch them sleep… or whatever. And while the stream is happening, there is a constant commentary by all watchers. I watched one today (for about ten seconds because I felt totally creepy) of a teenager somewhere singing on his porch. The comments ranged anywhere from “you have a great voice you should date me” to much more obscene things like calling the boy a “fag” and telling him he looked like various parts of genitalia. Now yes, this website is not specifically marketed for teens, and yes, there are terms of use that technically prohibit obscenity and illegal acts. But if you know anything about teenagers you know that they quickly find loopholes to most rules. The internet, especially social media, is NOT safe. And it is sobering how real this is.

You may be thinking “I’m smarter than that. I have a facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80% of my students don’t even have a facebook. They connect with each other on Kik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after ten seconds. They use Whisper, an app that a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat, and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

The problem with thinking you’re smart is that I would almost guarantee that there is at least one of those apps you’ve never heard of. And if you aren’t on it, your kids probably will be.

Teenagers typically do not yet understand the importance of internet safety. Along with the age-old feeling of invulnerability that adolescence has always carried, now there is an unprecedented and intimate access to a world wide community of strangers. So instead of driving too fast or sneaking out at night, your kids might be posting naked pictures on a website you’ve never heard of to people they’ve never met.

I know, I know. Your child would never do that! Let me tell you something: You. Don’t. Know. That. You know those tiny feelings you get every day but you cope nicely because you’re an adult? Feelings like insecurity, boredom, even the loneliness of being at home when your friends are all going out – well these feelings are massive to teenagers. A combination of hormones and inexperience create a veritable powder keg of unpredictable behavior. Insecurity might lead to seeking acceptance from strangers by posting a selfie and waiting for people to reblog, like, or comment on it. Boredom might lead to extended conversations online with someone they’ve never met about deeply personal matters. Loneliness can lead to online sex. No, really. It can.

Please please hear me, parents. I am not an outdated, irrelevant old person sitting on my metaphorical front lawn griping about “kids these days”. I spend more time with teenagers than I do with people my own age. And in many cases, I spend more time with your teenagers than even you do. I am begging you to give a crap about your kids.  When I was a teenager myself, social media was just gaining popularity and my mom had my Myspace and Facebook password. I never sent a message, posted a picture, or added a friend without her knowing it. It sounds extreme, but I’m safe today because of it. I can’t even count the many times I would have done something incredibly unsafe and irresponsible if not for the fact that I knew my mom was watching.

My success as an adult today can be blamed almost wholly on the fact that my parents were involved in my life. I could go on forever about the rising rate of teen suicides, sexual miscreance, and drug abuse problems that can be traced back to beginnings in social media. These things are real. And if you don’t show up in your kid’s life and give a crap, maybe no one will.

That is all.