By Debby Shulman, 'teen expert' for GIRLilla Warfare
Every now and then I hear a story from a teen that stops me in my tracks – a tale of unbridled teenage angst, in which I immediately question my own quasi-normal behavior as a parent; this time reflecting on decisions I had made that might have inadvertently embarrassed my kids.
I’m not talking about the big, sloppy morning kiss goodbye from the front seat or the uncomfortable yet obligatory sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lecture or even repeating myself for the 1,000th time about Uber safety and pepper spray (“MOTHER WOULD YOU STOP!!”) This jaw-dropping conversation centered on a teen who had removed herself from social media (primarily Facebook) because she felt so embarrassed by her own mother’s posts.
Let me back up: I remind my students every year to watch what they post very carefully during the college application process – we know admissions officers have the ability to check the social media accounts of prospective applicants and do so with great regularity. Pictures of red plastic cups, parties and scantily-clad Lollapalooza attendees dressed in some version of what I distastefully call a ‘day bra’ send a message that might conflict or overshadow a heartfelt essay on overcoming a personal struggle or years of community service. I advise teens to keep all posts to a minimum (as in NONE) and if they must ... change their social media name to protect their hard work and reputation.
But never had I heard of a teen all but removing herself from Facebook because her mother over-posted.
She explained that she no longer wanted to be ‘tagged’ in Mom’s photos (even with family) because the rest of Mom’s pics, well, left discretion at the door. Mom’s frenetic, almost daily posts (Dinner! Girls Night Out! Dog! Selfie! Shots! Strippers! Working Out! Happy Hour!) certainly took on a needy tone; this young lady couldn’t muster the courage to de-friend her own mother, so she ultimately removed herself from Facebook.
And that ended her story. Sweet and smart, her parents obviously raised her well, but what she described left me way too curious. So I went trolling.
Come on, people. You all do it.
Repeated pictures of Mom doing shots of alcohol, out drinking with friends, chronic selfies, and assorted 'Girls Night Out' photos obviously left this poor teen feeling awkward and uncomfortable at the impression her own mother made OUT THERE.
A college essay topic? Not so much. But one that made me think long and hard about how, as parents, we choose to use social media to project OUR own image (personal or professional) and how that impacts our children and teens. Feeling a little freaked, I immediately went back through my own posts – had I put something out there that might have caused my adult children to roll their eyeballs? Feel embarrassed? Wish their friends didn’t see my posts? Aside from waxing political and promoting my own fabulously gay agenda, I thought I had a pretty ‘clean’ page, but it's naïve of me to believe I never caused a whopper of an eye roll.
Who could have imagined this ironic twist in our perverted obsession with FAKEbook and social media? I’ve always expressed concern when my kids had posted something sketchy or marginally appropriate – but what do you do when it’s YOUR MOTHER?
We return to the important chapter from the parenting book I never published called: “YOU ARE THEIR MOTHER, NOT THEIR FRIEND.”
Unique to our kids' generation, the ‘friend’ mom makes the mistake of wanting to befriend her daughter, relishing in the ‘bestie’ phenomenon, aka Amy Poehler’s character in “Mean Girls.”
And I’m using girls here as an example, because quite frankly, teenage boys literally grunt, shift their boxers and look past you the entire duration of their adolescent development.
Be the mother, not the friend. The mantra my own mother had laid out when my first-born entered junior high. Avoid the temptation to make your children your friends.We can experience beautiful, genuine and meaningful relationships with our children without befriending them during adolescence.
The Friend-Mom vs. the Mom-Mom plays out even more delicately on social media, creating internal conflict for our teens; they truly want the Real Mom and they want us to act like a Real Mom.
They don’t want Friend-Mom tagging them in embarrassing photos, or dressing like a Forever 21 wannabe; they don’t want Friend-Mom posting drunk and silly party pics, and they most certainly don’t want Friend-Mom constantly snapping pictures of herself all the time.
Our teens see right through this sad behavior – and deep down, it fosters anxiety and resentment. Our kids definitely view social media as their domain and whether you agree or not, if you choose to remain ‘friends’ on Facebook with your teen or her friends, what you post MATTERS. So, let’s keep the Don Julio under wraps.
With this young lady in mind, I resorted to the Roundtable of Professionals I fondly refer to as my Mom Tribe (made up exclusively of Mom-Moms) and we hatched an easy checklist to reflect upon before posting pictures of yourself hanging all over a tattooed birthday stripper wearing nothing but a banana sack.
1. Do NOT post pictures of alcohol when drinking with friends. Those tequila shots diminish any opportunity you have of reining in behavior you might need to address at some point as the Mom-Mom. How can we hold our own teens accountable when we behave in a way that hardly resembles practicing what we preach? Wasted Mom is out there for the world to see and real time parenting demands maintaining a sense of integrity your children admire and respect.
2. Ask permission to tag your child in a post. I don’t need to elaborate here, right? It shows respect and creates healthy cyberspace boundaries.
3. We all like looking pretty on Facebook but it’s super important to keep your clothes on. There isn’t a filter, flash, hue or Diane Sawyer soft lens I haven’t tried –but with teenagers in your house, even if you have that rockin' bod, honoring the Mom-Mom philosophy means saving those bikini pics for your own personal PRIVATE pic collage.
4. Think Before you post. The Roundtable all unanimously concurred. “Will this embarrass my teen” should prominently appear on our frontal lobe before responding to, “What’s on your mind?”
5. Quit calling your kids Out on Facebook. The Roundtable agreed: Affectionate puppies, dancing cats and Tasty recipes aside, tagging your teen represents just another mechanism for drawing all their friends to your yard ... ahhhh, the beauty of friends of friends. Don’t even get me started.
6. Maintain a social media presence that makes your children proud every day. Sounds backward? It’s not. Think carefully about what goes through your child’s mind when they open Facebook and see your posts. We offer our best selves to our teens when we operate under the assumption they hear and observe everything – continuing to demonstrate responsible social media behavior reinforces the Mom-Mom attitude.
When shit gets real in Parent Town (and oh, does it EVER) we get to say ‘NO’ and mean it without argument and without hesitation because we have guided by example.
We all try to demonstrate a host of important behaviors in our developing and impressionable teens; I believe we need to take a step back and evaluate the benefits and costs to what we choose to put into the stratosphere of social media. It’s awfully hard to warn Susie of the dangers of posting inappropriate photos when Mom repeatedly records every drink and sip with a commemorative pic.
Lisa Barr, editor and creator of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. In addition to serving as the teen expert for GIRLilla Warfare (www.girlillawarfare.com), she also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen Magazine (www.yourteenmag.com).