Mothering Heights


Not Child’s Play


By Christine Fugate.

Somehow parenting seems to be getting more and more worrisome. Not only do we have to ask “do you know where your child is?” but also “do you know what your child is reading on Facebook or Instagram?”

For those of you who don’t know about Instagram, it is an app for posting photos with captions. It’s a mini-Facebook, hip for tweenagers whose parents, like me, won’t let them have an account on Facebook. Sounds fairly harmless, right? Not in my book.

When I sat down to look at my 10-year-old’s account, she had over a 100 followers.

“Who are these people?”

“Friends,” she replied. I know my daughter’s Rolodex and she does not have that many friends. As we scrolled through the names, some were easy to decipher because their user names used part of their names. Others used names like ‘Bieber Fever,’ ‘Gomez Love’ and ‘Fashion Diva.’ Most had identifying pictures but not all of them.

My mind raced back to an article in The Atlantic where Caitlin Flannigan traced a girl’s life and daily schedule through the Internet and her MySpace account. To see if her research was right, she found her at school one day. I don’ t think she introduced herself because the school had a thick wall. It didn’t matter; her point was made.

Any stranger can make a fake name on Instagram or Facebook, ask to follow a child’s account and then see pictures of her at home, the beach and playing sports. Look up her address in the School Power directory and voila, your child’s privacy and safety are gone. This is why I told my daughters they needed to close their accounts.

“But Mom, we know everyone on our lists.”

“I’ll lose all my contacts. That’s how I keep in touch with everyone.”

Here we go again with Mommy the Buzz Kill.

“Okay, but I am reviewing all the posts.” And what an educational experience that has been.

Children I’ve known since they were toddlers are posting rude messages with “WTF” and “If you want me to do something, shove it up your [behind].”

“That’s funny,” my girls defended. “That’s our kind of humor.”

Humor? I racked my brain for my humor when I was 11. Mad Magazine? Saturday Night Live? There might have been a touch of profanity but, as I remember, it was more about weird characters like the Coneheads.

Reviewing the pages, I also realized that Instagram is used to broadcast who is hanging with whom. Instantly. Hurt feelings abound when you realize that you’re at home doing chores when your gang is at the beach. And you weren’t invited.

This social media zone for our kids is unchartered parenting territory and we are going to be the generation of parents that start setting the boundaries and rules. I think about all the energy we exerted on whether or not to breastfeed, let our kids sleep in the bed, and find just the right preschool. All the “don’t talk to strangers”  talks and finding a safe side adult.

Now, we are letting our kids play on the Internet and communicate with people we don’t even know. I know parents who never even check their kids’ accounts.

“I trust my kids,” a friend defended. Trusting your kids is not even the issue.

I just found an Instagram picture posted by a “child” of a woman’s bottom with the caption, “It’s just a lamp.”

A lamp is not just a lamp, no matter where your child plays.

(See related story on Internet workshop for parents in Class Notes)


Christine Fugate can be reached at motheringheights@gmailcom.

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