in which my pre-teen asks THE question

The question came unexpectedly, as these questions always do. He’s a pre-teen, so probably I should’ve known it was coming, but of course, I’d wanted to pretend this day would never come. He’s been curious, looking around a little, bit, and I knew he’d noticed, but I’d blinded myself about the depth of his curiosity.

Then, one day, we were in the back of a taxi together, and whammo, there it was.

“Mommy, can I get a facebook page?”

Crap. No. Of course not. You’re not old enough. It’s a hideous time-sucker (which I know from experience, darling, let me tell you).  Plus there are wicked predatory types out there who would love to know where your innocent boyflesh can be found, or who would send you messages about “free offers” and “cool games,” and then all of a sudden I’d be in a Lifetime horror movie where my sweet boy drapes his room in black raincoats and spends all his time in desperate online chat rooms.

But I didn’t say that.

I said yes.

In fact, I set up his account for him, putting on every privacy setting I could find and warning him that I had the password to his account and would be checking it regularly for inappropriate content.  If he were to change his password without telling me, I warned, his computer privileges would be revoked altogether.

Husband said, you love facebook, so isn’t it a tad hypocritical of you not to want him to have an account?  I said, I love my glass of wine at dinner, too, but that doesn’t mean I think Liam should be swilling the sauvignon blanc yet. (Full disclosure: I used to have a wee facebook addiction problem but it’s better now. Now I have twitter. Facebook is just the gateway drug.)

Why did I say yes? I said yes because Liam said some of his “casual acquaintances” at his new school have Facebook and I want to encourage him to make friends there.  Maybe, I think to myself, he can use facebook to connect with these new kids while he maintains connections with friends from New York and the school he attended here last fall.

Of course, my plan could backfire, as parenting plans so often do. Maybe he’ll use facebook to cling ever more fiercely to the past or spend all his time online moaning about his terrible life at the new school—thus pissing off his FB friends who go there too.

In the meantime, I confess that I’ve been checking his page.  My findings? Pre-teens communicate primarily with three-letter capitalized acronyms (LOL OMG), exclamation points used in groups of ten, and emoticons. As near as I can tell there are very few actual words exchanged.  My son’s profile page indicates that his “religious views” are Christian, which is strange because to my knowledge, my son has no religious views. As recently as last Christmas he wasn’t even quite clear on the details of that whole birth-of-Christ thing. I suppose, though, that in this country, where religion is everywhere, he feels the need to define himself in the eyes of god and facebook (are they really separate entities?)

Nowhere on his page do I see any evidence of dating of any sort – not girls, not boys, nothing.

I’m sure he’s curious about dating, but he can’t be that curious yet, can he? I mean, he’s not old enough, and it wouldn’t be at all appropriate, right?  I’m sure I’ve got years before he’s ready to date.

Wait. Where have I heard that before?

update! for reasons that seem eminently appropriate, my post about lurking on my son’s facebook page won the yeahwrite #46 lurker’s favorite prize!  if you don’t know yeahwrite, you should be spending time there every week, either to read the funny, wise writing that gets posted there, and/or to post your own work. it’s a great place to read and be read.

What? You say you’d like to friend my son on FB? NO WAY BABY. But here’s a much better way to make friends: link up with yeah write, or at least, go read the writers on yeah write. They’re much more interesting than my son and most of them even speak in complete sentences, using a minimum of emoticons.  Click on through…then come back to vote for your three favorite writers.

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40 Responses to in which my pre-teen asks THE question

  1. Mayor Gia February 28, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Hahahha wow. The things parents need to worry about today, that our parents didn’t…

  2. Katie E February 28, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    My 10-year-old has mentioned a desire to be on facebook a couple times, but not too seriously. I have a feeling that when she goes to middle school next year, she’ll really start to push for it though.

  3. Alison@Mama Wants This February 28, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    You’re brave! My son is NEVER getting a Facebook page. Ever.

    I have been known to eat my words though.

  4. Louise Ducote February 28, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I like the storyline here: the set-up, the surprise question, the resolution (which was also a surprise, as I thought you were going to turn him down). I think your strategy is good, but I’ll look forward to the sequel.

  5. Runnermom-jen February 28, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I think you’re a smart mama. If you wouldn’t have allowed him a FB account, he probably would have done it behind your back.

  6. Megan Lawing February 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Haha! This is too funny. Facebook is a lifestyle. I had to delete my account because I was also an addict. Which now I am an addict of Twitter, blogging and as of recently, yeahwrite. Ha! Good luck with him though! It sounds like you’re safe so far!

  7. Katie February 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    HA! I love how you posed this as “THE question.” When I read your title, my mind was going in a completely different direction. I don’t envy parents these days. You have a whole new set of challenges that parents raising teens ten or fifteen years ago didn’t have to face. Facebook for example. It sounds like you’re handling the situation well!

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      I think you’re right – it is a LOT more complicated to raise kids now than it was 15 years ago (altho I bet 15 years ago parents thought it was pretty tricky, too). Technology, media, sex…it all seems so much more pervasive and complicated!

  8. Ado February 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Oh, it’s all ahead of me, so I read your blog to help find my way and my sanity. (-:
    Oh the angst! I too love FB but dread the day they will want their own page. It’s always hard (for me) to accept that it’s time to move up to the next phase…and the preteen wanting FB phase is certainly one of them.

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      Ah, thank you Ado! Watching Liam shift out of boyhood into…god, I don’t even know what to call it. It’s weird and strange–I mean, if you think about it, you have girls, so they’re going to grow into some version of “girl,” which you will recognize, more or less. But my boys are growing into…MEN. And that entire realm is a foreign country to me. I feel both literally and figuratively as if the boys are going into uncharted waters. Husband is helpful but in that husbandly manly way says things like ‘well, let’s just go kick a ball around…” instead of “you seem unhappy, what’s up?” Sigh.

  9. bottleinfrontofme February 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    they are all on facebook these days. despite my better judgement, I even asisted my duaghter set up the account with the wrong date of birth so her account was valid. All her friends were already on and i just didn’t want her to get left behind. Peer Pressure, huh 😉

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Yes, indeed, it IS a version of peer pressure. And here’s me, almost fifty, still caving in. Ugh. I guess some things never change, hmm? Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Andi Brown February 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I choose to remain naive to what is coming with my kids!

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 4:23 am #

      yeah…I keep trying that and then WHAM, they hit me in the face with someone totally unexpected. I guess it’s a case of when you least expect it…expect it!

  11. Jennifer February 28, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I love the way you write! It was a very smart tactical move to set up his account and set boundaries around privacy, password, etc. (Can you tell I’m taking notes?) My 8 yo daughter is campaigning for FB and an email account because kids at her elementary school have them. I can’t quite allow it yet (but she’s also very socially immature right now). How old is your son?

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 4:22 am #

      Hi — thanks! Liam is 11 and in 6th grade. I think if we were still living in teh States, as i said to someone else here in comment-land, I wouldn’t have said yes. But here, things seem different somehow. There’s more transience, more change, more shifting. I wouldn’t have done it in elementary school either…but then again, i wasn’t going to let him be on FB until he hit the ripe old age of 13. So never say never I guess (can you hear the deep sigh in those words?)

  12. January February 28, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Love it. Made me laugh and made me think…I have a four year old and a two year old. I’m pretty sure they’re not quite there yet…but I wonder what’ll be going on in the next 5-10 years. Eeek. 😉

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 4:20 am #

      you know how everyone says “their childhood goes so fast…” and you don’t really believe it because you’re still in the hell of diaper bags, toilet training, and nap time? Well…believe it. Because I swear it was only yesterday that my baby was…a baby! And now he is LOLing as fast as he can. Sigh… thanks for stopping by!

  13. Daisy Nguyen February 28, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    I love it that my kids have Facebook! You see another side of them that you didn’t know exists. It’s interesting to watch their personalities and styles develop & grow on Facebook.

    On another note, I have a friend that started her son Liam on Facebook when he was 3. It was her way of keeping a record of all is milestones and to keep the grandparents, families, friends connected without Liam (her son’s) pictures and events taking over her own Facebook profile. Naturally, Liam doesn’t post things himself – he doesn’t read or type yet! But, his mom puts some of his best, funniest and most “kids say the darndest things” moments on Facebook. I’ll be curious to see if he takes that profile over when he’s old enough! I love this concept and enjoy watching him grow right on Facebook!

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 4:19 am #

      using FB as a “baby book” is a great idea! wish I’d thought of that… it is interesting to sort of “spy” on him via FB – I feel a little bit guilty about it … but only a little!

  14. XLMIC February 29, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    You are the “nice” mom for sure! My 12-year old hasn’t even asked but I’ll bet his 10-year old sister will ask soon. My answer will be different than yours… but I am the “mean” mom 😛

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 4:18 am #

      I think if we were still living “at home” in the States I wouldn’t have given in. But b/c the context is different out here – a much more transient population, I’m hoping it will help him feel sort of situated and less anxious about all the changes in his life… we’ll see how that works. Everything could backfire…

      • Arnebya March 2, 2012 at 9:51 am #

        This is why I liked the post so much: you adapted to the situation. It’s what parenting is all about. We all have preconceived ideas of what we’ll do, how we’ll do it, what we will/won’t allow, but then once in the actual situation, we have to do what’s right for us. You recognized that were you still in the US it wouldn’t have happened yet, but understanding all that he’s going through, and providing him an outlet…I respect that and you. Although you say it could backfire, I guess everything we do with good intentions could but from what I read here, you keep the lines of communication open and I think that’s key, teaching kids proper use of social media. For example: my friend’s daughter had a picture of herself in her bra and underwear on FB. Posing sexily on a bed my friend did not recognize. Her daughter is 15. That she thought this behavior ok and cute is beyond me. But it didn’t surprise me that my friend said she’d never talked to her about what is and isn’t appropriate online (um, I’ma need you to talk to her about inappropriate actions OFFLINE too because what the hell).

        • Deborah Quinn March 2, 2012 at 10:25 am #

          Thank you for the comment! It’s sooo hard to find that balance between “appropriate” and…not–both in terms of their behaviors and our responses to those behaviors. But I share your worry about the girl who posed so provocatively on someone else’s bed. That would freak me right out and I don’t think my response would be very balanced or mature. Probably along the lines of “are you totally nuts, you idiot child??” Which wouldn’t really do the whole “opening lines of communication thing,” would it? Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Stacey February 29, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I dread this day…or what the “facebook” of the day 10 years from now will be! Good for you for setting it up for him with all of the privacy settings and making your rules known!

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      I thought this day would never come. Whoops. It came. Hard to believe. I try to be clear but lord it’s hard! Thanks for the note.

  16. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms February 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I always choose the road of teaching how to use technology and monitoring over forbidding. It is foolish to think you can forbid something like an email account or FB. Seriously, it only takes what, 5 minutes at a friend’s house to set it all up and you don’t know. And you have learned the scary truth, their walls are boring as hell. 🙂
    Just to add to your list., it is always prudent to keep on the prowl for the “real” FB and Twitter accounts. Kids have been known to have the page for their parents and then to have the “real” one.
    We have a rule in my house that if you ever clear the browser history, fire and brimstone will rain down on your head. Ellen

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      That tip about the browser history is great – I’m going to do that, absolutely. Although actually I don’t think Liam knows to do that yet, so if I bring it up, he’s likely to try. Whereas if I keep my mouth shut, I’m more likely to get an honest look at what he’s looking at: endless sites about yugioh cards, star wars, and arsenal soccer. BORING. I guess at this stage of the game, boring is way better than the other possibilities… thanks for stopping by!

  17. Kim Pugliano February 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    When Noah (12) started middle school in August (September?) and his friends started getting pages we let him get one. He doesn’t have the password; only I do. It’s the BEST form of punishment. Currently he is FB unavailable until he brings his grades up. I did catch one bullying email but I know the dad and I nipped it in the bud. I also blocked the kid. That FB is so boring. All they do is ask people to like their status and they will say something nice about you. How dumb. Noah knows if I see anything inappropriate that child is blocked or he is removed. I also read his texts.

    • Deborah Quinn February 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

      Hmm…him not knowing the password is a great idea! Wish I’d thought of that. Then again, the whine of “mooommmm log me innnnn” sort of makes my skin crawl. And as several people here have discussed, it’s entirely possible that Liam has already set up the “real” page – but I’m not sure he’s old enough to be quite that duplicitous. Yet. I guess it’s all karmic payback for what we sent our parents through, hmm?

  18. Mynewfavoriteday February 29, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Such hard decisions when they get older! I hope it will help him like his new life more and strengthen his relationships (whether it’s in words or emoticons!). I love your admission too of your teensie tiny FB problem that has been a feeder for your new Twitter addiction! Hilarious:) way to go mama, one hurdle at a time!:)

    • Deborah Quinn March 1, 2012 at 4:45 am #

      thanks for the vote of confidence. I am keeping an eagle-ish eye on his FB adventures… both to see if friendships are solidifying AND to see if he’s…well, let’s call it “testing the boundaries,” shall we?

  19. Jay- The Dude of the House March 1, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Ugh, I can’t even fathom sending the Little Dude to preschool, let alone get an FB account. Good luck!

  20. Jamie March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    FB is a good step before a cell phone I think. You can completely monitor his account and anything he’s saying with his friends. I also think it’s a good way to start the talking about privacy and internet creepy situations. Good gut follow my lady!

  21. Kimberly S. (Sperk*) March 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    This is an ongoing hot topic in my house. I support teens, 13 and above (legal for social media), having FB accounts. It’s where socializing is happening. If I fail to allow my teen daughter access to the social network, I deprive her of the experience of having my support in learning how to safely navigate it, develop appropriate netiquitte, media literacy, etc. Until schools integrate a K-12 articulated information/technology literacy skills programs into their curriculum, all of this teaching needs to be done at home. Which annoys me because the world’s business of all fields is online and social media is an integral part of it. If schools are preparing students to be productive contributors to the world, they should be teaching this stuff. Mind you, I don’t believe in leaving all education up to schools, but IT/Media Literacy should be a core in the curriculum. Ranting, I know. So what can we do? Your rules are great. I put guidelines in place when my daughter began using FB, but not enough of them and have had to backtrack and continue to implement more. She’s gotten savvy at deleting DM’s before I have an opportunity to review them (it’s an issue, so I have computer/internet monitoring software that she doesn’t know about. I’m torn about it, though, because, where do I draw the line on giving her a right to privacy? I mean, I hated that my mom would sneak into my room and read my journal. I don’t want to be that mom. Kids need a safe place to express their personal feelings. But online is not the place to do it. OK. Now…I totally relate to the Twitter addiction and agree that FB is the gateway drug (funny stuff) and the inability to translate teen speak, OMG, LMS…I am a regular visitor to the Urban Dictionary. Removing myself from views on kids and social media, from the standpoint of enjoyable reading, this post is sublime.

  22. Kristin March 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    My kids are still too young for FB et al, but having seen what my students did on MySpace and do on FB – I’m already concerned! And while the bikini pics were disturbing, what is more worrying for me is the bitchiness and harassment that is far too easy to do (and join in on) in these venues. Adults do it – look at how people will pile on someone (usually a celeb) if they don’t do what their current Twitter idol asks them to do. And it gets away from the funny or good intentions the original poster had in mind.

    Got a little off-topic there. Oopsie.

    Anyway, loved this thoughtful post – and as far as I know, my kids will not have a FB page (or whatever is around when they are older) as long as I can hold it off.

  23. Lady Jennie March 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Oh my goodness – I’m dreading that day. My nearly 8 year old just asked for a cell phone. No. Way.

    And of course I thought you meant the *other* question, which I’m dreading even more.

  24. Heather B August 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    I’m so torn on FB and electronics for my son. There are so many more dangers and things to be concerned about now that our parents just didn’t have to worry about when we were growing up. Part of me is even sad that we have to be so cautious. Gone are the days when we can trust anyone. So, we must equip ourselves and take as many precautions as we can, I suppose. I’d like to make a recommendation to all tween/preteen/middle school parents out there, if I may. We’ve been reading a great new book that we are really excited about, so I just have to share. It’s called “MiddleSchool: The Inside Story- What Kids Tell Us, But Don’t Tell You,” by Cynthia Tobias
and Sue Acuna. It has interviews and feedback from middle schoolers, parents and teachers (and a little humor) to help us deal with tackling social media, technology, Internet, gaming, faith, purity, puberty, communication, independence, discipline and accountability, and deepening and strengthening positive, loving relationship. It’s so rich
in valuable help as we face these transitional years with our kids. I think
everyone with a middle schooler or who will have a middle schooler will benefit
from it. I highly recommend it!


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