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Three Things About Kids and Learning That You Should Know

Pi Day Celebration

Pi Day Celebration

Being somewhat self-reflective and slightly neurotic (although I’m told you’d never know it if you meet me, thank goodness!), pretty much every day I wonder if I’m screwing Devon up in some way. Do I coddle her? Does she need more structure? Should I step back and let her make mistakes? Should we impose more rules? What would happen to her grades if we stop asking questions?

Aside: Devon is a great kid, so clearly these questions are more about me.

So. When I found myself sitting across a dinner table from Jessica Sommerville, PhD, and Associate Director for the Foundations for Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Competence at the Center for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Washington, I had to ask this question:

“What are the things you think parents need to know so they don’t screw up their kids, or at least so they can minimize the damage?”

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Giving My Kid a Chance: Facebook. Oh God.

Rodney's a lucky dude.

No fish lips here.

For years, Devon has been asking for a Facebook account. For years, I’ve said no. In my gut, I’ve worried that Facebook isn’t an appropriate forum for kids.  Before Facebook, embarrassing moments and rumors were kept mostly within the bounds of school; now they’re potentially global–which I can imagine could be humiliating to epic proportions.  I see some of my Facebook friends–mostly kids–share a little too much information, usually out of anger, sadness, or boredom. And then there’s the fact that once you’ve posted something, it can come back and bite you in the rear.

So why on earth did we let her get a Facebook account? The reasons are practical and philosophical. Here goes:

Our family and friends are spread out and in different time zones.

Devon’s best friend lives in Sweden, and has a Facebook account. She sees her friends who live in Winthrop, where we used to live and which is 400 miles away, once a year. Many of them have Facebook accounts. The pony she loves is also in Winthrop, and Annie B. (pony and kid trainer extraordinaire) frequently posts photos of Sparky and the riding program on Facebook. Most of my family lives in England. Some of them use Facebook. Devon has cousins in Texas. They use Facebook too. They’re all keeping in touch with each other even though they’re in different time zones. Devon is missing out.

Rodney told me a few weeks ago that he thinks Devon should have a Facebook account. She needs to learn how to use social media, and if she starts now, we can supervise her. 

Full disclosure: this one hit a nerve. I’m paranoid that I’m overprotective and that I don’t give Devon opportunities to make her own mistakes. I constantly struggle with keeping her safe and letting her experience the world. I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out. Rodney is pretty balanced and very, very fair. His opinion carries a lot of weight with me. Which is good since we’re married and all.

In her social media class, the students were asked which social networks they’re on.

Devon told me she had to write “none” while all the other kids had actual websites to write down. Apparently she doesn’t consider Instagram to be a social network. And I bet some of the kids in the class aren’t on any social networks at all.  But, after Rodney’s comment a few weeks ago, this one was the final nail in the “no social networks until you’re thirty” coffin. It struck me that this social media class could address how to use social networks, what is appropriate to write on social networks, and how body language can affect a face-to-face conversation and how network conversations are different. And maybe about how something you write on a social network could come back and bite you in the ass years later. It strikes me that it could be one of the most useful classes she takes if it teaches good social network skills to her and her peers. I need to find out more about the course material–it might make me feel better.

Because Devon is thirteen, we get to set some Facebook ground rules (which are subject to change based on new information). 

  • Use Facebook for the powers of good, and not evil. My first post on Devon’s wall said just that, and she responded “Yes Yoda.”  Good answer.
  • No Facebook until all of your homework is done.
  • If you’re not sure if you should post something or not, DO NOT POST IT.  She’s got this one down. I’ve been talking about that for ages.
  • Mom and Dad know the password. Always. Well, maybe not always, but for now.
  • No fish lips poses or other photos that make me cringe. This one is is subjective, I know. But like the Supreme Court on porn, I’ll know it when I see it.
  • No cursing. No re-posting stuff that has cursing in it, unless I approve it first. I can’t make a bright-line rule on re-posting. Rodney and I curse. Sometimes cursing is funny—it’s all about the context. There, I said it. I suspect this one might evolve though, and I’m not sure in which direction.

So, Miss Devon.  Fly little bird, fly.  Well, not really. You can’t fly. But enjoy your new [limited] freedom [with rules]. Learn from it. Be kind with it. I’ll try to let you make mistakes. And I love you.

Do you guys have any social network rules for your kids?

By Tracey March

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