A recent post by Dru Blood regarding responses to “The Pussification of the Western Male” (the original “Pussification” piece can be found here), led me to the hilarious and fascinating response titled “The Dickification of the Western Female”. It also led me to surf Michele’s site a little bit, which is not something I usually do, although I’ve been aware of the existance of her blog for about a year now; it’s nothing personal, but I’m one of those lazy shiftless young’uns that can barely be bothered to keep up on current events, so reading a blog dedicated mostly (from my glimpses) to political analyses isn’t my idea of “lite reading”. At any rate, I surfed up a few entries and ran across this: what do you do if your thirteen-year old daughter is running a blog on which she uses foul language and disrespects members of her family?
My immediate, knee-jerk reaction? It’s just like any other blog–if you don’t like the content, don’t read it.
Of course, that doesn’t take into account the fact that this is the girl’s mother reading this stuff. Parents feel strongly about these types of things. I mean, after all, everything the child writes and says and does is immediately a reflection of how her parents raised her. Isn’t it?
Is it possible for a child to be raised in such a vaccuum that, if by some chance, someone outside of the family should have an influence on her that was not a part of the initial “defense system” put into place by the parents, that said parents will automatically be able to step in, identify the situation, and correct it?
I, of course, also have problems with the idea of when childhood “ends”. Actually, that’s not right–I have trouble with when parental separation should begin and when the young one in question should be allowed to make her own mistakes without constant intervention from a higher power (i.e. Mom). This is highly dependent on the kid herself (I know I’ve written about this before) and her level of maturity. But then there is the equal problem of what defines “mature”–everyone’s definition is different. People my age (and my parents’ age) tell me I’m 19 going on 45. I have been known, however, to become foot-stompingly violent in debates when people aren’t listening to me, or to giggle uproariously for hours when watching bad movies like Baseketball (not to mention for days after). And I hope I never grow out of that (either of them).
One commenter (the same person who wrote the “Pussification” piece) mentioned that:
Kids aren’t allowed to drive until they’re 18.
Kids aren’t allowed to drink until they’re 21 (should be 18, but we can discuss that another time).
Kids aren’t allowed to join the circus, or buy a gun, until they’re 18.
And kids shouldn’t be allowed unfettered, unsupervised access to the Internet either, until they can handle it.
Putting aside the potential inaccuracy of that first statement (I don’t remember Texas laws well enough), I question how one can determine when “they can handle it”. Obviously, this includes some basic don’t put your real name out on the Internet until you understand the full ramifications of doing so, don’t give out phone numbers, and don’t meet people in person that you met online until you’ve had some martial arts training. But does this also mean that they should know not to chat with other people? What about building a website? Actually getting to put that HTML learning to good use? What about porn-surfing–futile as it may be without a credit card?
My parents gave me a very long leash regarding the Internet when I was 13. Nothing was forbidden to me; I stayed up all night chatting on Yahoo back when it was cool, told everyone I was 16 and had an online boyfriend for about two weeks (shh!), ICQ’ed till my fucking fingers cramped up, hunted for porn, chatted with gothic poets who wrote amazing bad shit and seemed to be on something all the damn time, built a Trekkie website from fucking scratch with reviews of all the Next Generation novels, and built another website from scratch dedicated to Doom II and Quake. Anytime my parents attempted to become involved in my projects, I would drop it–I wanted some independence, to be able to say, “Look, I forged this relationship or created this shitty blue Trekkie website without my parents holding my hand, or taking me out to socialize me, or forcing anything down my throat.” It wasn’t about cybersex (which I was, quite frankly, horrible at) or bucking authority or even about doing anything particularly “naughty”–porn was just nekkid people doing things I didn’t want to see them doing (I don’t have a liking for it now, and I didn’t much then, either) and an online boyfriend was just someone to tell my made-up dirty secrets. Actually, that’s not so different from… wait, I won’t go there.
At any rate, one could say I was lucky that I never got “hurt” while I was being a little wild one. Ignoring the fact that my real name was never told to anyone (people were still swallowing “Geisteskrankheit” back in the day), I never chatted off-line with anyone, I never gave out my address, or phone number, or middle names, or my parents’ names, or any of that, yes, one could say I was lucky. No hacker ever looked up my IP address, hunted it down to my popular service provider, hacked into the logs, discovered my parents’ account and address, then came to rape or kidnap me. I got embarrassed–found myself in tight social binds that required either humility or ridiculous amounts of blustering to get out of (guess which one I picked?), I got angry–people will always piss me off, I suppose, but I also learned what it meant to form relationships on a basis other than “our mommies are friends” or “she’s the only one that’s nice to me in school”–I could talk books, and programming, and music with a wider (and yes, older) range of sources than the kids living my apartment complex and going to my middle school.
That’s not to say my parents never expressed worry about my all-night computer sprees, but they trusted I would learn my lesson about sleep deprivation and would bore of chatting online. They also trusted that, no matter how poor my language, no matter what I was exposing my already rapidly deteriorating eyes to, no matter what my latest obsession was, I would either adhere to their training (spotty as it at times was), or not, and that would simply be part of my development. If I went too far and started causing an uproar, my ass would have been out of the house, like my brother was. They wouldn’t have failed as parents–they ingrained what they could as well as they could, and at thirteen, I had enough of a mind of my own to be able to decide if things were right or wrong. Admittedly, that was based on standards much more like my parents’, but even then I was deviating from their norms. They accepted that their child would not be a little mind-clone (it seems I’m already a physical clone, alas) of the two of them.
Which leads me to my next topic: public “disrespect” of family members, family rules, etc. Putting aside legal arguments of when real citizenry (and thus freedom of speech) begins, when are folks allowed to “disrespect” family members? Not knowing the particulars of what was written on the thirteen-year-old’s blog in question, let’s just take my public dislike of my father. I make no bones about it. I don’t like his lifestyle, I disagree with some of the ways in which he raised me, but that’s life. Now, on my site, in my domain, is it wrong for me to express these opinions? It may be tacky and tasteless, but is that reason for taking down my site, should my family decide to begin (or resume) reading it? Is there something wrong with someone choosing to rant about family life, or the rules placed on her by higher powers? Or is there only a certain age at which these things can be done? If you’re 34 you can rant about how hectic your life is and how the limitations placed on you at home are frustrating (perhaps due to a young child or an ill family member), but you can’t at 13, when it seems as though there are even more restrictions, due to everyone around you talking down to you? Is it the public nature of the thing? Would it not matter if she wrote it in her journal kept under her matress, but as soon as she makes it public, that makes it bad? What if she just talks about it with her friends? Isn’t that just as public?
Another issue regarding family is what counts as disrespect. For instance, my mother still converses with some of her family members that I have publicly stated that are not a part of any family of mine. I want nothing to do with them, blood relation or not, and I’m pretty set in that. I don’t what to hear the latest gossip about them, I don’t want to hear about how they recently stubbed their toe, because some things are just fucking inexcusable, including their behavior much of the time. My mother, however, is willing to look past that and maintain dialogue and hope they get better and yadda yadda. So am I “disrespectful”, or do I have a difference of opinion?
Related is the idea that creepy, nasty people are preying on the girl’s website, reading what she writes and masturbating gloriously and exhaltedly in the temper tantrums of a peeved chick. That sounds trivializing, but I don’t (quite) mean it to be. If some nutcase comes to my site, reads what I write, and gets a thrill out of it… that’s no reflection on me. He can masturbate till his damn palms become chaffed or grow hair, and it has nothing to do with me. Nada. Should I receive kinky e-mails, I’ll report it as abuse or just trash it, banning the author. That isn’t something I think parents need to be worried about, even the e-mail aspect of it. If said kid is silly enough to plaster her e-mail address on the net without some protection and doesn’t expect junk mail, or is unduly traumatized by said junk mail, maybe they should be scared off from the Internet or their website for a while. But note that my point isn’t that the possibility of scary e-mail should be enough to stop website administration, but that the damn kid should be allowed to take a few knocks. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a parent to do that, to let go a little and step back, but babying your child forever, or even, “we’ll wait till she’s 18 to expose her to a little bit of reality”–at eighteen, that kid is heading off to college, or starting military service, or moving out. Is exposure as one large explosion better or worse than gradual exposure? Hell if I know, really.
Also mentioned was the dirty language of the thirteen-year-old on the website. My commentary on that? We are fascinated by what we are told not to do, yet what “everyone else” does. It’ll wear off. I recall feeling grown-up when I could get away from my parents and string together so many bad words that the sentence lost intelligibility (much like what the number of syllables does to the word “intelligibility”). Eventually, you learn they’re best used in times of emphasis, and in moderation to retain maximum effect.
The “We are fascinated by what we are told not to do” idea, of course, applies to all of the above, actually. Restrictions (and allowances) in anything other than moderation leave potential for obsession. I went through my obsession with Internet stuff when I was thirteen, I survived; as much as every parent wants to think their child is the next child wonder, I’ve found that many parents underestimate their child’s stability and reasoning capability based on some odd events (like my foot-stomping, or the high school shootings). (No, thirteen year olds should probably not be exposed to some of the sicko porn out there, no they shouldn’t be exposed to… well, fill in some blanks yourself, but I also think the question of whether things concerning sex and sexual lifestyles has been put into perspective for the young’un should be asked. It then becomes, once again, a matter of trusting the training.) Had my parents restricted me and watched every site I visited (they could feel free to look in the History, although I knew how and when to delete that, too), I would have been pushed by my curiosity to see what was being hidden, and probably would have succeeded in either circumventing security or fucking up our computer sufficiently in attempting to circumvent security that it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble to restrict me. (Actually, I had my own computer by this time, built by me, operating system’ed by me, secured by me, but if I were on a family computer, then the previous statements hold true…). In a household run by a programmer with a daughter already displaying a serious interest in the field, there was no way they were going to ban me from a computer.
So.. conclusions… right. I know a bunch of what I wrote is contradictory–restrict, but don’t, cushion but let kids learn a bit by experience, etc. but the topic interests me in the levels of subtlety that can be applied. In the thread in question, very few of the people responding advocated any kinds of hands-off approach, which surprised me. A sixteen-year old made an argument I loved–get her trust, and you won’t have to worry so much. It seems that so many parents are just accepting that they can’t monitor every aspect of their child’s life (which they can’t) and swing to the extreme of lock-down, rather than using the fact that their child is becoming more grown-up to form a trusting friendship that can go a long way towards keeping the kid out of trouble. Oops, I was on “conclusions”, not another argument. Yeah, so… anything I missed?