Adventures in Digital Puberty

My digital enthusiasm hit a roadblock lately. My oldest daughter discovered the addictive world of social gaming. What began with her checking out an ad on TV for a gaming website soon evolved into pops of smuggled light in a dark room after bedtime. I looked into this gaming website, and I was able to read all kinds of horror stories about it. Parents told tales of bullying, of graphic talk and advances in chatrooms, and of kids receiving points for dating.

Once you consider some features of this site- the chatrooms, the constant clothes changing (into mostly skimpy outfits), the pursuit of cash and fame, and the encouragement to “date,” it’s easy to see this place as a playground for the perverted. It didn’t help that my first questions about the site were answered by my daughter with a speech about the site’s value as a teaching tool. Apparently they give quizzes, and they give you the answers if you get the questions wrong. So, for example, she learned from this site who Brad Pitt is married to. Although I am a big fan of learning tools, I’m not sure I’d characterize celebrity gossip as useful or necessary knowledge…

I know that some parents would (& do) forbid their kids from going to the site. My first reaction was to limit her time there as much as possible. But today I swallowed my prejudice and jumped in.

The truth is that if I did just dismiss this site altogether, she would still find ways to visit it. I would much rather that she not hide her activity, but instead have me to talk to about what she encounters on the site. So I told her about my experiences trying out chatrooms when I was younger and about what I’d read about this site. We talked in detail about the different features of her site. I offered to sit down with her any time she wanted to talk about things she saw. We talked about bullying, we talked about the possibility of people not being who they say they are, and we talked about making connections online. We talked about her favorite parts of the site and the parts that made her uncomfortable. She told me about the friends she made and what brought them together. And I pledged to talk to her about it again any time she wanted.

She was full of questions and of stories and examples, and I was really struck that I never would have heard any of it had I not gotten over my initial set of worries and discussed this with her. And what would that have meant? She wouldn’t have had a chance to vet her strategies for safety and bullying with me, and she wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing some of her stranger encounters. She would be left without my guidance when determining what was acceptable to her.

From time to time, we parents need a kick in the pants to remind us that raising kids isn’t about creating copies of ourselves, but about providing guidance and safety for them as they develop. She is a different person, growing among a different set of influences. And that’s okay with me.

I did, however, discuss all of this with her as we headed out to the woods to take a gadget free walk among the fall colors!

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