Friday, 14 February 2014

Cotton wool and precipice of social media

I never had a problem with being over-protective.  When the boys were little, I trained them to do all the play equipment in the park on their own so that while other mothers were hovering over their precious ones, I could sit and read my book.  When they wanted to jump from the top of the climbing frame (and I mean the very top, the bit that you're not meant to climb on), I cheered them on.  From the age of seven I began training them to cross the road on their own.  They used kitchen knives, axes and other dangerous paraphernalia from about the age of three.  I was satisfied with my 'equipping them for life' programme.

Cotton wool wrappping was not for my boys.  Oh no, they were made of tough stuff.  And so was I.

Or so I thought.

It was easy then.  The dangers were real enough, but in some strange way I was still in control. 

And then 'social media' began to beckon it's bony finger towards Toby.  Suddenly I began to rummage in my bag of motherhood for the cotton wool I had never used before. 

Of course, Facebook helpfully has a lower age limit of 13, so we could easily say 'no'.  But Twitter brought us to a standstill of discussions.  'All' his friends were on Twitter.  He was missing out on social arrangements and 'in jokes'.  He could make his privacy settings very strict. 

The dangers were staring me in the face.  I knew, more than Toby (although that isn't, of course, possible), that he was standing on the brink of something damaging.  Everything in me wanted to pad him out with as much cotton wool as I could find, transforming him into a well-protected Michelin-man. 

Then I realised that just as we had taught them to climb trees and cross the road, walking through the perils with them step by step, so we could teach them to navigate their way through the danger-zone of social media.  Taking a deep breath, we agreed on some Twitter rules, wrote a contract and signed it together.

We can't just leave them to work this out on their own.  It's our job to train them and equip them for life.  They might be hurt.  They might encounter difficulties.  We can't protect them forever, and I'd prefer to teach them myself than have them learn from their friends.  I'd like to keep our communication airwaves open so that when they see a tweet that shocks them, we can talk about it.  Just like when they wanted to leap, arms wide open, from the highest branch of the tree, I have to keep my eyes open and teach them to land squarely on their feet.

No cotton wool allowed.  However tempting.

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