On Wednesdays we wear e-twing! Um. What’s e-twing? Educated TWeens on INstaGram. Join the movement!
If you are a parent of a tween, stop right now and take this pop quiz.
There’s only one question.
Are you ready for it?
Is your kid on instagram?
a) Um. No freaking way #inserteyeroll
b) Totes! #likeduh
If you answered A, well, I hate to be the one to break it to you but you’re probably wrong.
And if you answered B… Congratulations! You seem to know a little bit about what your tween is doing online. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
But only for a second. Because your job here is far from over that’s why. See, letting your child have an account on insta (you knew they called it that, right?) without teaching them how to use it properly is like buying your kid a car without teaching them how to drive.
Or some other metaphor that’s a little less lame. Still. The point I’m trying to make here is an important one so just bear with me.
So… Are you on instagram? Do you follow your child to see what he or she is doing? Is their account set to “private” with geotagging turned off? Have you instructed your children not to accept follower invites from anyone they don’t know? And to never, ever, ever give out any personal information like address, location or phone number? Like, ever?
Well done. Piece of cake, right?
Because those were only the starter questions. Now take this next set out for a spin:
Are you pissed because I said at the beginning that there would only be one question?
Well, guess what?
You have a tween now. Get used to it.
So have you told them yet how they should never post a picture that will hurt, embarrass or make someone feel left out? Explained to them — really sat down and explained — that any picture they post on instagram is out there forever? Even if they go back and delete it? Because that cute bikini pic they posted on vacay is just one screenshot away from landing in front of the wrong, creepy set of eyes?
Sad and hard to talk about… but true nonetheless.
So did you tell them?
If you’re anything like me, your answer falls somewhere between um, I think I did and well… kind of, sort of.
And that’s not enough.
Did you know that there are beauty pageants on instagram?
Well then you may want to sit down.
Because you know who the participants in these pageants are?
See, right now, as I sit here typing this, there is a tween girl with an iphone somewhere making a grid out of four pictures of her besties using instacollage or mixel or whatever cool new app is making the rounds this week (omg juxtaposer is sooooo amaze!)
When she’s finished, she will post that grid on instagram, and then write something along the lines of: BEAUTY CONTEST! VOTE SOMEONE OUT!
Did you just throw up in your mouth a little? I know I did when this whole thing blew up here on the Main Line over the weekend.
And I’ll get to that in a minute.
But wait. That’s not even the worst part. Because what happens next is this: People will actually vote for who they think is the least attractive in the comments, and whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded with a big fat X drawn across her face.
Do you want me to repeat that last part?
Of course you don’t but I’m going to anyway.
Whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded with a big fat X drawn across her face.
Then the question will be repeated two more times, until there is only one gorgeous X-free girl left standing — the homecoming queen, the fairest of them all, Miss Tween freaking America.
And you thought you had it tough in middle school because no one had invented Japanese hair straightening yet.
But don’t hate the players. They’re just kids.
And don’t hate the game. Instagram was designed to be an online photo-sharing app that let users pimp-out their pics with cool filters and then share them.
So who do we hate?
We hate the coaches.
Because we are the coaches.
And we are failing our children by not giving them the tools they need to properly navigate this scary new world, and by not monitoring their interactions in this world closely enough once we do.
I had heard about the beauty pageants from a friend in New York a few months ago. But I didn’t realize it was going on in my own town until late Saturday night, when, after five days of being on vacay in Mexico, I finally got in bed with my iphone and signed onto my daughter’s account to see what was going on.
Because part of the deal I have with my daughter is that until she turns 13, I can access her account any time. And if there are any followers, posts, comments or people she is following that I think are inappropriate, she will delete them, no questions asked. True story, except for the no questions asked part. Because she usually does have questions and/or arguements but I am her mom and I said so.
So I started scrolling down her news feed.
And that’s when I saw them.
The Beauty Contest grids.
About a half dozen of them.
And there, smiling out from one of the squares, was my kid.
When I asked her about it the next day, though, she said she knew someone had posted her picture as part of a contest, but that she didn’t really care.
Um… impressive, I guess?
Then again, she hadn’t been voted out yet.
There were other girls who weren’t so lucky.
And they were devastated which is a ridiculous understatement to say the least.
My first instinct was to block all the girls who had posted the grids from my daughter’s account.
But here’s the thing.
These girls were friends of my daughter’s who had been in my car, at my parties, in my house. They liked to dance, and sing camp songs, and bake brownies. They weren’t Heathers. Or Reginas. Or even Monas. And if you don’t know who Mona is, you need to go watch an ep of PLL like now.
These were good, sweet, funny girls who I knew and who I liked.
Yes, what they were doing was wrong.
But how could I blame them when they were playing a game they had never been given the rules to? My own daughter waved the grids off as all in good fun until I actually explained to her what made them so offensive and vile. In the wake of events like what took place in Steubenville, it’s becoming more important than ever for us to empower our kids with the tools they need to decipher right from wrong — both online and IRL.
And so instead of banishing the girls, I did this:
At first nothing much happened.
But then I noticed that the beauty grids were slowly starting to disappear from my daughter’s news feed. And in their place were things like this:
One by one, this little posse of fourth and fifth grade girls — who had just spent hours feeling bad about themselves — was starting to get it. And as they did, they picked themselves up and took to instagram to post inspirational messages of their own.
Did you just get chills?
I know I did. Because if this is not just the most amazing show of tween girl power, then I don’t know what is.
Clearly, when it come to social media, a little guidance goes a long way.
Which is why it’s time for us to take our collective blinders off and really pay attention. Because the minute we give our kids an iphone or ipod or any other gadget that puts technology quite literally in the palms of their hands, we become responsible for whatever happens next.
And please don’t ask me what a 10-year-old is doing with an iphone in the first place. Go right ahead and judge me. But I will stand by my decision any day of the week. The truth of the matter is, so many of the kids who don’t have cellphones are finding other ways to access these apps anyway.
Did you know that you don’t even need a cellphone to access apps like instagram and Facebook? All you need is a computer, or an iPad, or an iPod touch, or a tablet. Or someone else’s computer, iPad, iPod touch or tablet. It takes two seconds to open an instagram account for yourself on someone else’s phone; even less time to scroll through a friend’s news feed and see what they are seeing. Which makes it almost impossible to monitor what your kids are doing online when they are outside your home. And it is for exactly this reason that I choose to educate and prepare my kids instead of blindly preaching abstinence.
Technology is fluid, not static, and this is the first time in history that our kids know way more about something of so much importance than we do. It’s 2013… and whether we like it or not, our tweens are at the forefront of technology. Don’t you think it’s time to stop focusing on the WHY and start focusing on the HOW?
I think you all know the way I’d answer that question.
And consider this: Keeping my daughter off instagram would not have prevented another girl from posting her picture in an online beauty contest. It just would have prevented us from finding out about it.
So when my kids get home tonight, I’m going to take a few moments before all the after-school craziness sets in to sit down and really talk to them about what they are doing online, what they are seeing, and what it means to use social media correctly and responsibly.
This is something we should ALL be talking to our kids about. We potty train them, teach them good table manners, spend 10 minutes deciphering the food label on a candy bar before we let them eat it. And yet, when it coming to navigating the world of social media, for all intents and purposes, we hang them out to dry.
Asking our kids questions about what they’re doing, checking their news feeds at least once a day to see what they are viewing, scrolling through their profiles to see what they’re posting, investigating the people who want to follow them, finding out who they’ve given their password to and monitoring all of their accounts (because most kids have more than one instagram account in case you didn’t know) doesn’t make us helicopter parents.
It makes us smart parents.
And there is nothing more beautiful than being smart.
Six-Year-Old: Hey Mommy! What IS a pay phone anyway?
Ten-Year-Old: Oh I know what it is! It’s that thing superheroes use to change in.
You’ve made it through the first week of sleep away camp!
I guess we should have printed you out a certificate or something.
Because as much as we hate to admit it, you’ve kinda been a good sport.
I mean, you just spent over ten grand to send your kid out into the pseudo-wilderness for seven weeks when you could have used the coin to party like P. Diddy in Parrot Cay instead.
But how can you possibly expect your kids to actually succeed at life one day if they’ve never lived 10 for 2 and therefore can’t properly short sheet a bed? Or swamp a canoe? Or build a fire that can actually burn through rope?
Don’t all fires do that?
And you know what the best part is?
There are still six weeks left until the kids come home!
Can you say par-TAY?
I’m sure you can but you may want to hold on there for a minute frat boy.
Because even though we said that thing about you being a good sport, we meant to add under our breath that you’ve been far from perfect. Because we’re passive-aggressive just like our mothers that’s why. And while we’ve mostly got this camp shiz under control, we could use a little backup from time to time.
I mean, it’s hard to write all these letters and emails and stalk the camp website while simultaneously trying to maintain our stick-straight manes and unlined faces and toned, hairless bods. Plus we’ve got our raging pinkberry addiction to deal with and our teacup Shih Tzu to pretend to still love and you know we have that “hernia” procedure coming up next week.
Which is why we figured now would be a good time to establish some hard rules.
And no, we don’t mean that in a slutty Fifty Shades kind of way.
Sorry not sorry.
So onto The Rules, boys!
Here they are, in no particular order.
You know, except for the one we chose to type them in.
Rule #1: Don’t bogart the pictures. OMG we are SO SICK of talking about the pictures! I mean, we barely even look at the pictures anymore! They are like, sooo four days ago! Or at least that’s what we go around telling everyone. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still stalking the camp website. We know this. And you know this. But if you tell anyone else, we will for real have to kill you.
Also? Please don’t steal the iPad when we leave the room and start looking at the pictures before we do. That’s, like, so uncool. Especially when you start making announcements like “None of him again, today!” or “Looks like they went bowling!” This is totally unacceptable behavior on par with ruining The Sixth Sense by telling everyone that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.
You know what else is unacceptable? Asking us to just put down the iPad and come have sex. Do not attempt this. Like, ever. Like, EVER, ever! No. Freaking. Exceptions. Because if we’re still holding the iPad, it means the pictures haven’t finished uploading.
And P to the S: The no bogarting rule also applies to camp phone calls — which are for us, not you — and to rushing the mailbox every day to check for letters. Getting the mail is, like, totally the highlight of our day. So just back the fuck away from the box, ok?
Rule #2: Just keep pouring. Ok. So we’re assuming you know by now what our favorite drink is. And if you don’t, you might as well just stop reading and go make sure the pre-nup is intact. Or maybe hit the wine store — it opens at 9 am, you know! — and buy us a few bottles of sauv blanc or chard.
And by bottles we mean cases.
What? You don’t think we’ve been drinking too much this past week, do you? This is a trick question so you may want to think about it for a minute before you answer. “Drinking? I didn’t notice any drinking,” is what you should say, even as you follow us around the house making sure our goblet never dips below the glass-half-empty level.
Do not even THINK about giving us a sideways glance or tossing off a snarky “Drink, much?” as we down our fifth glass of the night. Or when we spill our sixth. Or when we pass out with our seventh resting on our nightstand next to the ipad. Just quietly collect the glasses when you wake up in the morning, and then rinse them out and place them in the dishwasher like the whole thing never even happened.
Follow these instructions and no one gets hurt, capiche?
Rule #3: Do not call us crazy. Because we are not crazy. Not even a little. But you know what IS crazy? Sending your kids away to camp for seven weeks. But it’s also freaking awesome. And yes we know we just totally contradicted ourselves. You wanna make something of it? Didn’t think so. See, we LOVE our freedom. But we MISS our mini-me’s. It’s like having the worst case of PMS on the very best hair day. Or like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.
If none of this is making any sense it’s because we’re completely batshit. Even though we just totally said that we weren’t. But don’t even THINK about mentioning it to us. Not even when it’s 8:46 on a week night and we suddenly realize we forgot to buy a case of Silly String for Visiting Day and omigod the store is closing in like fourteen minutes so you better go out get it for us right now.
Just pretend it’s like, Y2K or whatever and you’re still totally obsessed with us. In which case you will not feel the need to sigh loudly or roll your eyes dramatically or ask us why the fuck we even need Silly String. You will simply hop in your car and just go freaking get it. Oh and could you stop and pick us up the new issue of Us Weekly while you’re at it? We want to find out who the best Karadashian is this week, even though we all know it’s always Kourtney because even when she’s preggers she’s totally the skinniest one.
And with that being said, those are the fucking rules.
Ignore them at your own risk.
But don’t come crying to us when someone goes all Brandi Glanville on your ass and slashes the tires on your Jeep.
And by someone, we mean us.
So 640 gorgeous family photos go up on the camp website Saturday night after Visiting Day.
Six hundred and forty.
And we are not in a single one of them.
Were we there?
Did we have an amazing day?
And did we even spot the camp photog strolling around down by the lake and make a mental note to gather the troops later and have her take a shot?
But it never happened.
Because we were too busy meeting the counselors and the bunk mates and hearing all their crazy stories and taking a row boat out for a spin and checking out the dance show and our daughter’s beam routine and making sure her Super Soaker was locked and loaded for the big post V-Day water fight.
In other words.
We were too busy living in the moment to stop and make sure someone snapped some proof of it.
Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself as I sit here stalking the camp website.
Because I was there.
This isn’t a green screen, you know!
At least I don’t think it is.
So it’s the last week of June.
Otherwise known as the time of year when parents across the country drive to various makeshift bus stops, hug their kids goodbye while hiding behind dark glasses, release them to make the climb up onto the air conditioned chartered buses that ironically advertise free wi-fi, then wave maniacally at their shadows — barely visible behind blackened windows — yelling “goodbye!” and “I love you!” and “you better freaking write!” until the very last bus has inched out onto the highway and disappeared from sight.
Only then will they be free to swipe away the stray tears, sigh at the anti-climactic-ness of it all, and then celebrate their long-awaited Summer! Of! Freedom! by running home to glue themselves to their computer screens and hit the refresh button every two seconds while guzzling glass after glass of wine.
If you have to ask why these parents are engaging in this type of behavior then you’ve clearly never sent your kid off to sleepway camp for seven weeks.
And if your jaw just dropped at the phrase “seven weeks,” then you are clearly not from the Northeast.
Because the reason they — ok, let’s be honest here… we — attach ourselves to our iPads and our laptops and any other freaking device that will let us log onto Bunk1 or CampMinder or whatever website our camp happens to be using this summer, is because we are all desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of our happy little campers — emphasis on the word happy — when each of our camps starts posting THE PICTURES.
And if there was ever a phrase worthy of utilizing the All Caps button it’s that one.
Because only when we see that first grainy image of our child smiling as they jump into the lake… or swing a bat… or kick a ball.. or get a piggyback ride from some random nineteen-year-old who they may or may not have just met two minutes ago…
Only then do we allow ourselves to breathe a collective sigh of relief, fork over the $1.69 to download the high-res image, and then finally just chill the eff out and relax.
At least for five seconds until we hit the refresh button again.
Anybody else here see the irony of confiscating your kids electronics and sending them off into a wi-fi free zone, only to spend the summer obsessed with electronics yourself?
Do you know how many mornings last summer I woke up to find an empty wine glass on my night table and an ipad on my pillow?
All of them.
But here’s the thing.
These are our children we are talking about here.
And these images we see on our computer screens are our only lifeline to them.
So — and stop me if any of this sounds familiar — we spend our entire summer waiting to see THE PICTURES.
Talking about THE PICTURES.
And — full disclosure — meticulously over-analyzing every single little detail about the freaking pictures.
Wait. Why isn’t my kid smiling? Is that a smile? And why is he standing all the way over there on the end? Why isn’t he in the middle like that kid there with all the freckles? Who is that kid with all the freckles anyway? I bet he’s mean. He looks mean. How come everyone in the bunk is holding hands and my daughter is holding a freaking water bottle? Does she not have any friends? Who’s bathing suit is she wearing? She looks skinny. Is she eating? She better be eating! And is that a sunburn?
Guilty as charged.
Last summer I made myself crazy studying the pictures.
Seriously freaking crazy.
You expected more from me.
Like, way more.
Sorry to disappoint.
I know it sounds insane.
Like, really insane.
And it so is.
But while I’m far from a helicopter parent in my everyday life, it’s really freaking hard not become just a little certifiable when you’re stuck at home sending one-way emails, and the only clue you have to child’s well-being is an image that’s left you feeling at best unsettled and at worst suicidal and why didn’t you just sneak that damn cell phone into you kid’s laundry bag when you had the chance?
Here’s the thing, though.
I learned the hard way that the pictures don’t always tell the whole story.
And sometimes the story you think you are watching unfold right before your very eyes all summer is not actually the real story at all.
The girl you thought looked mean turns out to be the bunk sweetheart. The boy with the hugest grin in every picture cried for an hour every night. The counselor who was always standing off to the side with a grimace turns out to be your kid’s favorite.
You get the idea.
But the most important thing to remember — and, catch 22, the hardest thing to remember — is that your kid can be having the craziest, most amazeballs summer at camp, YOLO-ing it up every minute, even if there isn’t a shred of photographic proof.
You don’t believe me, do you?
Think back to your wedding video for a second.
Who are the people the videographer ambushed and shoved his microphone in front of?
Are they your awesome besties who were busy shredding up the dance floor?
Or are they the guests who were just sitting at the tables, hanging out on the periphery, watching the action from afar, and therefore the easiest to appraoch?
My guess is, it’s the latter.
And my point — because I know you must be wondering if I actually have one— is this:
Just because the videographer didn’t capture your closest friends on camera wishing you their slurred-yet-heartfelt congratulations, it doesn’t mean they weren’t there having the time of their lives.
A point I think this cartoon encapsulates just perfectly.
Which is why I wanted to share it.
And now that I have, it’s my turn to tell you a story.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
One day last summer about 50 pics went up on the camp website of my daughter’s bunk at the waterfront.
She was not in a single one of them.
So I start immediately freaking out.
Judge away but you know you’d do it too.
Here are all these girls smiling and laughing and jumping in the air holding hands.
And where the fuck is my kid?
So then a week later we’re up at camp for Visiting Day.
Which is a story in and of itself that you should remind me to tell you later.
So we’re at Visiting Day.
And we go on a family boat ride.
And my daughter starts to tell us a story.
About how there was this one day when her bunk went to the waterfront with another bunk in her division.
And how it was sooo cool because she got to go out in a canoe with two of the girls from the other bunk.
And omigod do you know what happened when they went out in that canoe?
They got stuck in the mud.
Like stuck stuck.
And someone from the waterfront had to come rescue them!
And it was awesome!
Like, soooo totally hilarious that the girls literally peed in their bathing suits.
I swear I’m not making this up.
So after visiting day I swallowed about a billion milligrams of Valium and then went home and pulled up that set of waterfront pics on the camp website again.
But this time I zoomed in on them on my iPad (great trick, btw… remember it).
And there she was — my kid, my heart, my home — way off in the background.
In a canoe.
Stuck in the mud.
With two other girls.
Laughing her freaking ass off.
Moral of the story?
You know what’s coming, don’t you?
Step away from the freaking computer.
Just step. The hell. Away.
At least until they upload the next batch of pictures.
8 am and the vacay mojo is already dissipating.
Much like the tans we spent a week carefully cultivating.
Back to reality, my babies!
Yes this shot is 100 percent posed.
Coming home from vacation totally sucks.
Especially when your first-day-back’s agenda includes items like chocolate chip pancakes, outdoor recess, library, rock climbing, after-school hip hop, tennis with your besties and pizza for dinner.
Because it’s Wednesday.
And on Wednesdays we have pizza.
Sometimes at night when I initial the nine-year-old’s homework binder, I pretend like I’m still a cool magazine editor sitting in front of my blueberry iMac in my sun-drenched office, signing off on Quark layouts.
Is Quark still a thing?
Or am I 100?
My office was never really sun-drenched.
And my iMac was the lame green one.
Shut up this is my confession and I can falsify information to make it better if I want to.
Her: Hey Mommy! Can I start a tumblr?
Her: Why not?
Me: Because you’re nine.
Her: So? You have one.
Me: Yeah, well, I’m a grown-up.
Her: What’s the big deal? All you do is post pictures of, like, a New Year’s Eve party or something and then write “Happy New Year!”
Me: Yeah. Pretty sure I would never do that.
Her: You’re right. You’d write “Happy New Year, Bitches!”
If this was a real job I would so be getting fired.
Mission for the first day of the new year:
Make cake pops.
So the first tray of cake balls we made fell off the top shelf of the refrigerator and crashed to the floor before we even had a chance to dip and coat them.
Then we added too much frosting to our second batch, making the cake too moist and nearly impossible to keep from sliding off the sticks.
Then we coated these bad boys in yellow melted candy and tried to turn them into bumblebees with chocolate sprinkles and icing.
Not so much.
But we did end up with an awesome sprinkled-covered floor.
So maybe I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.
(Shut up I know I don’t have a day job.)
They may look like crap.
But they taste freaking awesome.
Consider it on, 2012!