Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Vacation

Yup, it's here. Today is Monday, the first full day of summer vacation. The kids slept late, got up, ate enough to feed a small village, then looked at me.

"I'm bored."

Three times. Each one of them. Separately. All within an hour of waking up.

It's the first day...

Brings certain images of yesteryear to mind...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Selective Communication

Last month, my son sent over 15,000 text messages. He's in the eighth grade, and when I saw his usage, I knew, instantly, what had to be done: a psych consult. What had I done wrong that my son would send 500 text messages a day?
That's nothing, his friends assured me. Then I heard tales of over 30,000 messages, they reminded me that you have to count messages received, and all the while they were talking, they were texting, and receiving texts. In my day, it was the phone - a constant war waged between me and my parents about my extensive phone usage. They kept asking me why I had to speak to kids I had just left at the bus stop, and they reminded me, over and over, that a phone call is meant to last no longer than 3 minutes. Probably, I would be a 2008 textaholic as well. All teens want to do is talk to each other. So, he 's communicative, I told myself last Friday,a communicative male. Not so bad. What I forgot is they communicate WITH EACH OTHER and not, necessarily, with adults.
Here's the conversation between Philip and I on Friday evening:
Me: I'm taking your sister to her dance recital rehearsal. I'll be back around nine.
Philip: I'm going out. To church.
Me: Tell the truth.
Philip: Youth group meeting.
Me: Stunned silence. Brief image of my long haired son celebrating the Eucharist in ten years.
Philip: Texting.
Me: You are doing this voluntarily?
Philip: This girl asked me.
Me: Silent. ('Cause I get it).
I know and like the folks who run the church youth group, and when he assures me he has a ride there and back (with the girl), I am secretly delighted that he is involved with a group known for their diligent community service.

Fast forward. Ten at night. After going to our church at 9:00, I am told there was no youth group meeting. I go on AIM, send a myspace bulletin, text his friends, drive by our church again, peer at every group of adolescents I see. Philip is not answering his phone or texts I am sending him. I am frantic. If he's not answering his texts, it only means one thing...
The kids get back to me, and give me the phone number (imagine starting a conversation with "the girl who asked him" as the only identifying factor - then imagine the kids knowing who this was).
Turns out, he had gone to the youth group meeting. The youth group went to see a concert in a rented bus and they were not allowed to use their cell phones during the bus ride or the concert.
"Jeez, Mom, why are you so upset?"
"You have to TALK to me more. You went to a Baptist youth group, and we're not Baptists. That was an important piece of information."
"Man," he says, opening his phone to read his new text, "I'm sorry, Mom, but it's like you want to know every single thing about me."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moments Before the Sullen Years

During the East's recent heat spell, I decided to take the kids to the beach. I haven't done this since my middle guy, Philip, became a full blown teenager. My nine year old eagerly helped pack the car, organized the towels, and was twitchy with excitement. My 16 year old looked at me when I announced we were going to the beach. "With you?" he asked.
I wasn't sure if Philip's response would prove eager or sullen.
"I can't leave right now," he told me.
"You're busy?" (he had spent the morning in only two pursuits: heating and eating frozen
pretzels and tormenting the cats with a laser pointer)
"No, I just found the best website of my life."
Thinking the parental controls hadn't filtered what a teenage boy might seek, I sprinted to his room. He was, as usual, on the phone. He and a friend were clicking through a website that depicted adult twins attached at the head, folks with tumors hanging off them like giant squids, women with full, dark beards, people born with a "vanishing twin" that hadn't quite vanished and now draped limbs (and only limbs) from the twin host's chest.
"I have to see this, Mom. It's amazing. Then we'll leave, okay?"
I endured two minutes of medical nightmare, and then, almost smiling, he looked at me. "Wasn't that awesome?"
I nodded and handed him his bathing suit. He was, I reasoned, still a kid. Philip took the suit, and looked at me, his face suddenly clouding.
"Wait. Are you going to wear a bathing suit?"
"Nope." He smiled, this time a full smile of relief.
"This time, I'm going all natural at the beach."
It's hard to find words for the sound that emerged from Philip at that moment; his sister described it as "a big animal roaring inside a tornado."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sexting in Middle School

I think, all in all, I am a pretty liberal parent. My kids talk to me (okay, we shout, and cursing is allowed during these times), but generally, they know what I expect from them,
and I try to
meet their expectations. But a few days ago, while some friends were over, a group of girls began sexting the boys -- my boys and their friends.
I had heard of sexting, in the same way I had heard of bombs and assassinations and plagues. They were terrible events, but blessedly distant. I didn't worry too much about any of it. But then, over the weekend, during a sleepover, these girls decided to shoot pictures of areas that are covered on American beaches and send them to boys' cell phones. The girls are 13.
My response? I wanted to call the girls' parents.
The boys quietly deleted the images. They sat me down and explained this had been happening for quite some time, but since they knew I would become "justice mom" they didn't want to tell me.
"So, do you think there's something wrong with them?" I asked.
My high school boy told me if they took a picture of someone else and sent it, then, yes, that was wrong. But girls did it all the time. It was, he reasoned, their body and their choice.
My middle schooler agreed. He explained girls sometimes did this as a way of flirting.
"They're in the eighth grade," I protested, "they are children. Can't these pictures be downloaded to the Internet?"
The boys looked at me. After a few seconds of glaring, they explained the pictures (and sometimes acts) made them uncomfortable, but they came unbidden as text messages. The end result? They wished I had never found out.
But I did. And what I have learned is that there are potentially criminal charges for the sexters.
It is a form of telecommunications harrassment and depending on the age of the sexter, sending pictures like these can be construed as pandering obscene material. But that wasn't as bad as the next fact I discovered: kids as young as ten are engaging in this behavior (modeled by older siblings) and the behavior is not only increasing: it is exploding in popularity.