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Parenting during the Social media era: Reflections

Parenting during the Social media era: Reflections

Last week I started working on a blog post, on chores for kids and why we need them. I’d just found the images for the post and as I settled down to write the piece, my husband signalled that I should check my e-mail. Raising an eyebrow, I complied and as I clicked on the new mail icon, my heart leaped in joy.

There, in a beautiful folder on our private, shared account was a photo album of Gy. It contained photos of my daughter captured over the last 10 years! Right from the moment she was born till earlier this year, when I captured a recent image of her, there they all were.

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Respond or React: What’s your instinct?

Respond or React: What’s your instinct?

Ever watched a match catch fire? That instant when the sparks ignite, and the entire head of the matchstick bursts into flame in a fiery ball and then burns steadily for a few seconds, is probably one of the most fascinating things ever invented by man.

As compelling as it is to watch this, the same cannot be said for the human instinct to react to a stimulus with uncontrolled, fierce outbursts.

Imagine a scenario now. A person says or does something provocative: How do you answer? React in anger or slow down and respond with care? My worst feature, if I were asked to stand up and say it aloud in a room full of people, would be my temper. People close to me know it and my family has seen the worst of it. Correction: They still see it on some days.

This has come as a surprise to many people who have known me in passing or who have chanced upon me online, on the blog or on social media and they always ask, ‘You? Lose your temper? Really?’

Welcome to the inside of my head. Fortunately or otherwise, I have a very strong sense of right and wrong. It’s something that’s been an integral part of my upbringing as well as my own evolution as a woman, daughter, wife, mother and now writer too.

What happens here is that the second I see something which goes against my moral compass, I react. It’s almost primal and reflexive. My blood boils, all the wrong buttons get pushed and before I know it, I’ve exploded and said things I would regret ten minutes later.

Here’s the interesting dichotomy though: I am rather reactive offline( among close friends and family) but consciously responsive online. How, you ask? Because online, I try to weigh my words before putting them down for posterity. Offline, I have the advantage of verbal and visual cues to help with my apology after an outburst. Online, I lack that trump card so I play my hand with care.

You may assume that this is ridiculously impossible or bordering on split personality but think about it. Have you ever said something in anger only to go back and realise that it made little sense? How often have you managed to douse that fire?

Why I bring this up is two-fold. As a parent to a tween,  I notice that she is going through what can best be described as the ‘I defy everything’ phase. It can be something as simple as a meal I’ve made for her to asking her to get dressed for an event. If she’s not in the right mood (and at the moment that seems like every hour), she will react, almost without provocation. She calms down soon and apologises but the fact is, she does react.

I’ve been working hard on minimising my own reaction to situations and increasing my conscious response instead, in the hope that she will begin to mirror that behaviour but it’s a long, hard road. A leopard can’t completely change its spots, you see. Maybe it can learn to blend with the background though.

The second reason I touch upon this topic today is a strain of behaviour I see online a little too often. There’s a tendency to pull other people down. Social media gives us so much license to react that responding with care is a rarity.

Criticism is never something people can take well, I notice and the one thing they seem to thrive doing is react in anger with generic posts/tweets about ungrateful people. It’s not too hard to figure out who is the target of these posts either among mutual friends and it often leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth. Add to that the removal of people from friend lists and things get murkier.

My question to these people is simple: Do you actually feel better after ranting and venting your anger online? Does it help you heal, forgive, forget and move on? Does the validation of a few ‘likes’ or some retweets soothe your bruised ego?  Instead, if you were to weigh your words and respond instead of reacting, would it not help you in the long run?

Today, I ask that you conduct a simple test. Take a topic/ person that angers you and instead of reacting to the stimulus, I ask that you respond with a private note in your own diary. Say everything you want to say, but let it be for your eyes only. Read it back to yourself. Would you be okay if you heard this from someone else?

There lies your answer.

Reaction and response are both like fire.Fire, by itself, isn’t bad. It can be life-giving, provide warmth, help us feed ourselves and offer light. But a burst of it with no direction can easily burn everything we hold dear, into a pile of ashes. 

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Social media, cyber bullying and our kids: Are you aware enough?

Social media, cyber bullying and our kids: Are you aware enough?

I took a long time to write this post.

Every single time my fingers hovered over the keys, my mind would draw them back and I would think once again of the fate of Breck Bednar. The night that I read the article, I couldn’t sleep. My heart would twist and my stomach would churn when I pictured the victim and the helplessness of the mother who saw what was happening, did everything in her power to stop it and still couldn’t save her child from an online predator. Cyber bullying is real and it’s happening more often than we care to admit.

It’s ridiculous the way we have access to everything today at the swipe of a finger. I say ridiculous because although it’s a life-saving concept for someone who works from home, it keeps me ever mindful of the many dangers that abound in this world today, especially when I think of what my daughter or any child can be exposed to at the click of a button.

As I see it, there are two issues I have to face as a parent here: Addiction to social media and cyber bullying that can come as a result of it. Gy is a quiet child and was recently the victim of some bullying at school. Now as a parent, this made my blood boil but I refrained from interfering in the situation, hoping she would learn to stand up for herself. To her credit, she did and I am glad that she is learning that life isn’t always going to be a bed of roses.

Social media is addictive, no question about it. Grown adults and bloggers are drawn into its seductive coil so it’s natural that children are likely to be even easier bait.

What’s even worse is the fact that cyber bullying can demoralise the best of us, when we are attacked either directly or otherwise through vengeful posts and snide comments. While an adult can read up on positive reinforcement and learn to brush these things off, children aren’t that emotionally mature. They need guidance, counsel and a whole lot of support when they face cyber bullying or any sort of action that causes them to question their self-worth.

Where do we begin though? Perhaps these can help you.

Social Media Cyberbullying: Here are 3 ways to keep your kids safe online. Read now and stay updated on what matters. #Parenting #Kids #CyberSafety #Tips

1. Limiting gadgets for children under the age of 13:

I know of kids who use their parents’ phones and their Whatsapp accounts to create groups for children to chat with each other. Sorry to burst your bubble, kids, but you’re under 13. You don’t need a Whatsapp group. Pick up the land line and call your friends to talk to them. It worked when we were growing up and it works now too.

People are openly surprised when we tell them that Gy does not use gadgets, play on the iPad or on my phone. She uses the laptop at home to access school sites and learning applications under my watchful eye. We have enabled parental controls on all devices at home and have had an open discussion with her on the need for controlled time online as well as making her realise that the world wide web is a quicksand of mammoth proportions.

Are gadgets bad? No, they have their uses, but limiting them makes sense, in my opinion.What does she do to keep busy? She plays outdoors with her friends, reads a lot, plays board games, quills, crafts, draws, paints and uses even kitchen items and clothes from my wardrobe to keep herself engaged. Trust me, it works.

2. Monitoring social media usage

I get that you don’t want to be that parent who hovers over her child’s shoulder or keeps asking your child whether he/she is on a gaming site for longer than necessary. Children need their space but how much of that space is filled with innocent friends and how much of it is being trawled by predators is a murky call.

If your children do use social media, my suggestion is they do it in the open with you around. Let them make their way around but ask them to be wary of clicking on spurious links and friend requests from people that they know nothing of, outside of social media. Ask them to be wary of uploading pictures of themselves onto any social media network.

These are adolescents with changing values and variable hormones.Treading delicately makes sense but total relinquishing of control does not. Be the parent who is empathetic yet detached. Tricky, I know.

3. Keeping an open channel of communication

In my mind, this is the most important guideline of all. You know when your kids babble incessantly and drive you crazy with their talking? As maddening as it may be, learn to listen to them. It’s important. It’s the fact that you are open to their ideas now that will help them come back to you and talk about the things that really matter when they grow older- trouble with a friend, a suspicious touch at school, something uncomfortable that they read/heard- it could be just about anything.

It bears to keep in mind the following rule as well as pass it on to your kids at every opportunity: The world online is very scary and very different from the real world. People can hide behind a screen and be extremely vindictive or suspiciously nice, for their own motives. A part of me is saddened that I have to warn my child of predators everywhere these days: schools, malls, restaurants and even online, but there’s little else to be done.

So, while I may be called a Dragon or Tiger Mom for limiting technology for my child or monitoring the time that she spends online, I’d prefer to play it safe than sorry. Knowing that despite doing everything I cannot protect my child 100%, I’m still going to give it my very best shot. It’s the least I can do.

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Suggested Further Reading:

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Who am I to Judge?

Who am I to Judge?

Welcome to Guest Tuesday
 
 Today, I am very happy to host a person who is very close to my heart. Aparna George is a blogger whom I met online back in 2011. At the time, I was hunting for schools for Gy and Aparna immediately offered all assistance possible. She is the first person with whom I made an electric connection online. Aparna’s warmth and smile shine through everything that she does, be it writing her blog, Life as a Mom, her passions which are terrace gardening and environmental awareness or her lending a willing shoulder for me to pour my heart out.  
Aparna and I share such similar thoughts and wavelengths that we keep telling each other that we must have been separated at birth 😉


Please welcome Aparna, who will tell you more about herself in her bio below. Thank you, Aparna, for agreeing to write this post for my blog.
 
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Author Bio:

 

Aparna George is a stay-at-home-mom who was a techie until 2005 when her daughter was born. She is now a freelance writer in the content and social media space. She is also an ardent kitchen gardener who is passionate about everything organic, and hopes to bring her terrace garden to self-sufficiency by the end of 2015.  She blogs on parenting, gardening, environmental awareness and Child Sexual Abuse Awareness over at Life as a Mom.
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A vivid memory that comes to mind of being judgmental in my pre-parent days, was when I traveled on a flight to Germany in my early twenties. As it is with most plane journeys, there were a couple of very young children on the plane, and one of them kept that entire section awake with some loud crying. The thought running through my mind was, “Oh my God! Can’t those parents DO something?!”.
 
Most of us who are parents would be familiar with the 2nd part of this story. Fast-forward about 6 years when I was on my first plane journey with a nearly-one-year old. Probably due to some ear discomfort, she was cranky and LOUD through a lot of the ride. I tried pacifying her, giving her something to drink to make her ears pop, in short everything I could think of. It did not make any difference whatsoever. What happened next? I tuned out any irritated faces around me, and forgot to feel embarrassed anymore.
 
This instance always comes to mind anytime I feel like I’m close to sitting in judgment, and is a reminder to stop myself. I feel that as parents, we need to be extra careful when we’re about to make a snap judgment or remark about anyone that we might see, even a stranger. It gives our children the impression that it’s okay to sit on a pedestal and remark on their peers, which is a terrible understanding to carry forward in life!

Embrace the world and it will embrace you
I think this extends to many instances in life. Here, let me put down a couple:
 
Physical appearance: The first time we saw someone who might have looked physically different for whatever reason – differently- abled, differently-coloured and so on – I remember telling my children to stop asking loud questions and that I would explain later when at home. I told them in short that the world is made up of all kinds of people, and it is never okay to point or make a remark about someone. If you want to share something, wait until later or do it at low volume, and even then it should never be anything hurtful. I think this also goes a long way to reassure children about their own physical appearance, and to not make a big deal out of it.
 
Other children when in public: I am guilty of making the occasional judgmental remark especially when I see children who are unrestrained to the level of hurting someone by their behavior. But in most cases, I manage to remind myself of the many similar situations each of us goes through as a parent. And this means, always giving the other person the benefit of doubt as we have no idea what they might be going through in life, and why a certain child or parent behaves in a particular way.
 
The famous SAHM/Working Mom argument: This is one area where everyone loves to have a view! I have one too and it’s “to each their own” ! I believe any parent, unless mentally imbalanced*, does the best he/she can under the circumstances.
 
And that’s that.
 
*Note: When I say mentally imbalanced, I am not name-calling but talking about the unfortunate many who need psychological help and counseling but nobody recognizes this issue until it’s too late. There is still a lot of stigma associated with mental illness in our country, which is a pity as there are many experienced counselors and doctors available.

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