I remember my very first video game. It was my toddler's first game too. His father and I debated (and angsted) and finally decided that it was time to let a Nintendo 64 into our lives. We presented the electronic grail to our birthday boy with great fanfare, plugged the thing in, took charge of the controller -- he was way too young! He had to be taught! He might BREAK it! -- and watched Super Mario run round and round and round and round in circles.
You know what happened next. Some version of it has happened to you. Evan took charge and led Mario through doors and into worlds that Bruce and I had no idea existed.
I thought of our journey with Mario when I read my colleague Carolyn Gregoire's deeply distressing piece The Hunger Blogs this morning. It is a meticulously researched article about a world of young women who spur each other to starvation in the name of beauty. Anorexia and bulimia are not new, of course, but their latest gathering spot is. They find each other on Tumblr, which, the reporters at HuffPost High School tell us, is the destination of choice for teens who are looking for "a parent-free environment (now that Facebook has become family friendly.)" Tumblr has exploded in the past year, with "roughly 15 billion pageviews and attracted 120 million unique visitors each month," Gregoire writes.
And I bet you don't know how to navigate it.
I don't. I wander over periodically, and look around, but while Facebook and Twitter and email and texting and IMs have become (with practice) intuitive parts of my life, this one I just don't get. I go round in circles while those darn kids just charge in.
New York Times columnist David Pogue wrote last week that it's time to get over the fact that "a child is more comfortable with some technology than his parents." That has been true for so long, he said, that parents have to stop being impressed and amused and amazed.
We also have to stop being intimidated.
Yes, it is their job to run ahead. But it is our job to give chase. How closely is a separate debate. Do you spy on them? Monitor from a distance? Trust until given reason not to? All of the above, depending on the circumstances? Whatever your parenting choice, you can only implement it if you know the terrain and speak the language.
If you are reading this in the first place, you are hardly new to the internet. But, surveys show, each year since you left high school makes you that much more likely to see the "latest" technological thing as a bit of a mystery that you leave, with a resigned smile, to the next group in line. So your assignment today is to immerse yourself in something that doesn't seem like something you would "get" -- Tumblr, perhaps, or Instagram, Foursquare, Quora, Path or Formspring.
Don't do this because you have specific fears that your daughter has fallen down the Tumblr rabbit hole looking for "thinspiration." Do it so that if you ever have those fears you won't dismiss them because you don't know where to begin to look. Parenting is about leading and teaching them, yes, But sometimes we help them most when we learn, and follow.