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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Of puberty and IM

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that I have not one but two children going through puberty simultaneously.

Seems a tad unfair given the two-year age difference between them. But them’s the facts. Interestingly, this puberty thing is manifesting itself in different ways in each kid.

For example, Ryan (at 13) has grown four inches in the past year and has recently developed this shadowy fuzz above his lip. I say recently, but what I really mean is that it erupted overnight. I threatened to apply my magic cream, but I fear damaging his so-far beautiful complexion.

Patrick is only 11, but let’s just say that on gym day or after basketball practice, he’s a bit odoriferous. Actually, he’s a LOT odiferous. This is different than that sweaty boy smell. It’s pungent and hormonal. But worse than that, my sweet little Patrick is developing something of an attitude.

Ryan’s attitude only flairs when he’s tired or hungry (my how that doesn’t change from the time they are babies). When he does snap at me, he quickly apologizes for being a jerk either out of love, guilt or some twisted combination thereof. Patrick snaps with what I can only describe as an F^&$-you attitude. There’s no guilt, it’s just out there.

Fortunately, he hasn’t yet wizened to the realization that mom granteth privileges and she taketh them away. Here's a case in point:

They’ve been on my case about getting screen names and having Instant Messenger. I’ve been pretty successful at dismissing the topic. But Patrick, when he really wants something, can be something of a pit bull.

After my mother-in-law’s funeral a few weeks ago, the entire Hoke clan was gathered at a local hotel. The 30 grandchildren (minus the one who is about to graduate from Loyola New Orleans) were having a ball hanging with each other. In the midst of catching up with in-laws and cousins from afar, Patrick wanted to discuss with me the issue of screen names.

I tried to put him off several times, gave him the hand and still got a, “Mom, Mom (because saying my name twice is better than once), Kevin can set it all up for me right here.”

“What? Patrick, we’re in a hotel. We’re having a party with your relatives. I can’t discuss this right now. DO NOT set anything up.”

The matter was going to quickly reach a head. I knew this, but felt relieved that perhaps I’d safely put it to rest for another day.

I say all this because last week, while getting over a bout of strep throat, I was lying on the sofa in the living room resting after the boys got home from school. Patrick walked very quietly up the steps and I heard him roll my office chair closer to the desk. (Walking quietly is not something my boys do well.)

As I was lying there I realized exactly what he was doing. I gave him a minute and then heaved myself from the sofa to go see what he was up to. When I turned the corner to walk into my office, I heard the slam of the laptop.

“Patrick! What are you doing?” I yelled in that wonderful, accusing way that we moms seem to master upon birth.

He had downloaded AOL Instant Messenger and was in the process of setting up his screen name. When I confronted him, he fired with one of those wonderful little brother comebacks:

“Ryan has one!” It seems he set one up as his cousin’s house as well.

“Downstairs. I want to talk to both of you.”

The sneaking around thing? That really frosts my goat. We’re getting a computer for our family room. (Like their father, they roll their eyes when I respond, “When I get paid” in answer to a question that begins, “When can we get…?”)

So I apologized to the boys for putting them off on the whole screen name conversation and then launched into my reasons for not wanting to discuss previously:

1) I don’t want them monopolizing the computer I use for work. Seemed pointless to discuss until the family computer was set up.
2) Also, my office is in the fourth bedroom of our house and is too secluded and not adequately monitored.
3) There are creeps on the Internet lurking about and many children don’t realize how much information they unintentionally give out. So that required a much more detailed conversation about pedophiles, etc.
4) I feel very strongly that young people today rely too heavily on technology to communicate. It’s important that my children learn the value of communicating in person through all range of emotions. I wanted to talk to them about the hazards of spreading gossip, writing hateful things, etc.
5) Both boys are excelling at school and I think that’s because their distractions are kept to a minimum. I find it interesting that aside from their cousins who live in Cincinnati and Rochester, the only ones requesting their screen names are girls. Surely you can understand my hesitancy to race down that path.
6) If they really feel the need to talk to someone, pick up the phone.

I told them I’d be willing to consider allowing IM once we have the family computer set up in a public location. But I also said that much like the Xbox, its use is a privilege and will be closely monitored.

“I want all buddies identified by name and screen name so I know who you’re talking to. And don’t write anything you wouldn’t want me to see,” I said.

Their punishment for now is having to wait for the computer (and hence their screen name). And they have to live with the constant threat that their online and IM activity will be monitored by Mom. IM activity will be restricted to times when homework is complete and will be monitored for time. Should any academic or athletic lapses occur, the privilege will be revoked. I told them that if they could live with those conditions, Dad and I would allow IM.

The boys seemed okay with that and they seemed to understand that I wasn’t being mean; I was simply a concerned parent. I asked them if they felt my reasons were unfair or illogical. They said no, but also stressed that I was worried about nothing. They only want to chat with their friends and cousins and no chat rooms are involved.

It saddens me that I had to have such a frank discussion about the exploitation of children and of IM gossiping run amok. But I’m glad I did and I think they have a greater understanding of the chain of consequences involved in online activity.

4 comments:

Jill said...

Well done, Wendy. I'm printing this out so I have a script ready. You should charge for this info!

I would also say that their pennance includes being written up in Mom's blog. :)

Wendy Hoke said...

Ah, yes, the threat of Mom publicing exposing them is a deterrent. But I let them "monitor" me as well. They do read my blog from time to time.

Scott Kovatch said...

Good for you! Reading this, I could see the public service announcement/commercial in my head, kind of like the ones we see now about 'talking to your kids about drugs' (not that I equate IMing with drugs...) This is what we need; not more 'myspace.com is a dangerous place.'

Wordsanctuary said...

As a mother of a son in the same age group, I get to re-experience the angst of my own adolescence (complete with gender reversal and the context of a difficult century). And I have re-discovered that parenting is never really figured out...rather, it's a creative process.