Fitting In

I'm going to be coming-of-age as a parent to teens in the digital era. This is uncharted waters for me -- any tips or advice?

On Monday morning, my four-year-old daughter skipped into school and happened to reach the classroom door at the same time as her favorite friend.  They smiled sweetly at each other, gently grasped hands and entered the classroom, two blonde poppets wearing winter coats and backpacks like turtle shells.  They exchanged no words, but were clearly pleased to see each other, affectionate and kind.

I’m going to keep that image in my mind.  There was such unabashed innocence in that little gesture, such a delicate moment of peace.

Why?  The years of the mean girls are a-commin’.  She hasn’t been entirely immune to it – last year, as a three-year-old, she came home from daycare one day, telling me, “The other girls finally be-sided that I AM pretty.”

My jaw hit the floor.  The other girls were a whopping four-years-old.  Instantly the mother bear in me bristled, thinking, “How dare they say something like that to my baby!  She’s gorgeous!”

Then I calmed down.  I thought back to the things my daughter had been saying for months, “I like Belle best because my friend does.” And, “My favorite animal is a horse because my friend’s favorite is.” 

Isn’t she capable of making her own decisions?  Can’t she decide what she likes or does not like?  Is my daughter destined to be a follower all of her life?  Will she never be able to stand up for herself?

After her parent/teacher conference this fall, most of those fears are subsiding, albeit slowly, like a tide pool draining inch by inch into the sea.  There is a reservoir of concern there and I’m pretty sure that it will always be there, but I am determined to not become a helicopter parent.  I won’t be that mom calling the college switchboard to track down her college-aged adult child who hasn’t returned her call in two days.  I hope.

But I think back to my experiences as a pre-teen and teen and realize that I didn’t have to deal with all of the invasive social media that today’s young people do.  If I had a bad day at school, I could come home and hope that everyone would forget about it by morning.  I didn’t have to worry that half of my friends were tweeting my misfortune and the other half were watching the YouTube video of my gaffe.  Time was forgiving then, it isn’t now.   What will it be like when my daughter is in middle school?  She’s already pretending to text on an old cell phone, pretending to show me video of her and her friend. 

What would you have done if every minute of your awkward years was recorded, viewed and rated by teens, a population not generally known for empathy and tact?  How would that have affected the choices you made?  Cyberbullying didn’t exist when I was a kid because cyber-anything was science fiction.  Now it is true crime.

My daughter is doing well in school this year.  Her teacher says that she might be the youngest and smallest kid in the class, but she more than holds her own.  I am glad to hear this, and am glad to see her enjoying school, finding confidence, and, as reluctant as I am to say it, fitting in.

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