Thursday, December 6, 2012

Two things caught my eyes this evening on Facebook.

One was the news that Gina Davis' foundation just got a great grant from Google to study gender roles in the media. Read the Wired article here.

The other was a syllabus from a new online poetry course from Yale University.

Ok -- first off, I think both of these things are terrific.

Girls in the media -- it's overwhelming sometimes how little things change -- how the images are still shockingly damaging, and the roles incredibly narrow still...

And the open classroom thing -- fabulous! Some of the best universities in the country -- probably the world -- opening their virtual doors to anyone who has the inclination. Education for education's sake -- purely -- from both directions.

But each -- and both within the span of the five minute news feed -- lead me to crystalize a few other thoughts I've been having.

There are a lot of amazing things for girls on the web -- social media seems full of them. I post a lot of them on the Facebook page. Girls are doing great things, and using the internet to broadcast their brilliance. As a former girl -- and a graduate of a women's college, ta boot -- I understand that this is a new access granted our daughters. It's stunning and world opening and exciting.

As the mother of both a boy and girl, I wonder where are the chances for my son. While I do not have any doubt that society will take care of my privileged, white boy creature -- I'm not sure where the growth and the excitement and the enthusiasm will come from. I want him to do some of the things I seem my daughter embracing -- thinking about the whole world, and changing it through social media and his own actions!

And then they Yale poetry course:
Plus two white women and one black man.

I honestly believe that until we change the way we teach boys to view the world -- and teach the world to view boys -- nothing can change all that much...

Friday, October 26, 2012

I just watched a segment from Nightline "Porn Before Puberty".

Definitely food for thought this morning. I am constantly thinking and rethinking the boundaries in my own house... what strikes me after first watching this is that this child experienced sexual abuse perpetrated by the computer -- and that her response also seems in keeping with that... which is frightening and confusing...

I definitely need to spend some time writing about this... and talking to some professionals...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I Feel Pretty...

So here's what's on my mind today...

Last week I changed my profile picture -- for various reasons. Maybe sometimes it feels like cutting my hair or moving around the furniture... I like playing with the photos -- I like the big photos on timeline... I just did.

40 people liked it. I was really embarrassed. I mean -- very very sweet -- and friends from all different times and places in my life said all sorts of sweet things to me... always nice to hear. I felt very loved -- which in fact, I think I am. Very lucky to have the good sense to surround myself -- inner and wider circles with people I admire, who I know support me in life... I hope my children will find that warmth. Thank you, friends.

But the truth of the picture is -- I don't feel pretty. I took it on my computer -- because someone said I needed a not professional picture (I am also lucky enough to have professional photographers in my life...) -- but it's close, and appleish -- and I think I look like I feel -- which is kind of middle aged and tired. A little darkly circled. A little forced -- how on earth do you smile for yourself. When I take photos I make people laugh really -- I take 10 rolls of film until they forget I am there -- and my favorites are slightly blurred from the movement of the laughter in contrast to the stillness of my hands.


Today I am writing for the book about social media. So I went on a teenage friends page to check out what she's been up to lately. She is one of the sweet sweet girls I know -- a natural beauty with an innocence within. She is also "beautiful" -- with long legs and long blonde hair -- high cheek bones and a warm smile. On her page, over the last week, about 10 different people -- from many different times and places in her life -- told her how pretty she was.

And I wondered what effect this will have.

On her. I wonder if it makes her feel pretty. I wonder if it gives her real confidence. I wonder if she had a bad day, if she felt like a fraud. I wonder if a week passed and no one told her she was pretty if it would upset her... because she is 13. And that is what it feels like then...

And on her friends -- who are not so pretty.

Of course there are always pretty girls and not pretty girls...
but I do wonder how all of this plays out for them on line...

For myself, I don't think there's anything to be done, really... except remember, again, to notice for my daughter and my friends who are girls, not to comment on their clothes or on their looks -- but to ask them about their school work and their successes - their politics or their interest in language or math...

to share with them as much as I possibly can about love and kindness and the beauty of the world...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

 I also just shared this with my daughter on social media.
It's an article about yoga and transforming fear. My daughter has a phobia she has been really struggling with and we have been talking a lot about what to do about it.

Now -- we all know she's going to tear up at the Katy Perry one, and who knows if she'll make it through the first paragraph of this -- but I wanted to share for a minute what it is that I mean when I say that I like social -- that I like that my kids are on it (yes, the plurality happened this week...) and that I think there is benefit. Even as all of my like minded friends are appalled...
I just shared this with my daughter on social media. (I e-mailed it to her, too.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

I wrote a different kind of parenting article -- because sometimes our children dictate what we need to do...
It's about boys and emotional intelligence... the best thing about being a journalist is you get to call up amazing people and ask them exactly what you want to know!

Boys Are From Mars, Parents Are From A Different Solar System.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Clothes/girls/and conflict for casual Friday.

Casual Friday

Today is my first casual Friday post. My plan is that on Fridays I will let the guard down a little and talk about things that are on my mind that may be slightly off track from the usual media consumed messages. That said, I'm not sure anything is really unattached from the messages of the media... but I may be biased. sigh.

Anyway -- yesterday, September 14, the NYTimes Motherlode posted an entry about an issue I think (and fight) a lot about these days -- teen clothes. As it is so near and dear to my heart, I commented...

My just pre-teen daughter and I battle constantly about shorts... We have had the discussion about appropriate clothes for places and how others view them, but that's not the issue for us.

The shorts my daughter had looked sweet in at 11, suddenly looked sexy -- her legs sprawled up to her nose over night. On two separate occasions grown men, who I knew and who I trust implicitly, commented on those legs as they would a woman. 

I feel this is a safety issue -- the leers of a construction worker, ok -- but we all know that being the object of desire of a man can have far more serious consequences. 

In what could only seem like a Saturday Night Live skit, I found myself in therapy with my daughter discussing, for two weeks in a row, the length of her shorts. Finally she asked why it was that a school would have length limits. I said for respect -- and then I said that it was also so as not to distract the boys. That when they were preoccupied with girls' legs they were less able to concentrate on school.

She got very embarrassed and said she really didn't want to think about boys thinking that way.

Yes, responsibility and freedom and respect all come in to play here. But much of the conversation also has to do with sex -- what are kids are exposed to, how early (what ages grown ups are exposed to as sex objects) and what they are developmentally ready for. 

Control is only one part -- education, guidance and monitoring are still our jobs as parents.

I was likened to those who would ask women to wear veils. Well, I thought about the veiling argument for a long time. What I finally settled on was something to the dawning realization that we live in a male dominated society... Unfortunately I answered again.

Girls/women should be able to wear whatever they want. Abuse comes from the abuser. But the problem is two fold -- one that they don't always know (as in the case of my daughter) what they are putting out there -- but more than that, the consequences are hers. I used distraction to help her see out of herself -- but am more concerned with what will happen to her. Getting herself into sexually charged situations is something I feel strongly I need to help her to prevent. As always, of course, this is a personal parenting choice, stemming largely from my own knowledge of the world I would prefer not to have.

After a while, and another 10 continuing arguments, I wanted to talk a little more...

I've been thinking about this veiling argument all morning -- I think the problem is that by hurling it around that way it feels bullying. Of course I don't want to live in a society that shames women about their body. Everyone has a body -- bodies are beautiful. But I don't think that my teaching my daughter the real possibility of assault is something I can avoid.

Societally, I do think the issues are related, though. Girls are always taught to behave according to men's sexual impulses -- at least in the realm of this strain of conversation. The lack of clothes in our society is just as much a badge of that fact -- not a freedom based on health and well being.

This all sits horribly. On the one hand -- I am seriously thinking about all of this. I DO know that I come at it all from a position of fear -- and I would very much like to protect my daughter in any way that I can. I do know that if she is ever assaulted it will be nobody's fault but her assailant.

I also think we can't escape the sexualization of girls that takes place in the media -- in fashion -- in the world. I don't think it is harmful to teach are girls that there are different types of clothing.

I'm very unsettled by the idea that I am teaching fear. I already knew this -- but I wish it wasn't true. Still -- I can only teach from my own perspective.

What even most upsets me is that, again, we as a group of people, are so quick to attack each other over all of this. I have never known such judgement as I have as a parent. I really don't think we can talk about anything when all comments are leveled as bullying arguments and accusations.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on these matters.

For the record, I marched at Take Back the Night marches on Smith College campuses... sigh...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Correcting and Self-Correcting

Last week I posted an article from The Guardian which claimed that students on spring break seemed to be behaving better because of the prevalence of the big brother of the fellow party goer with a smart phone.

"Knowing that any outrageous exploits will probably end up on Facebook or Twitter means today's partygoing teens are cleaning up their act, says Rachelle Thompson." 

This was, in fact, the second time I read about this last week. The other was an article about about parental monitoring software, which discussed how much parents should be involved in their teen's on-line presence in the Times. In that article, a teen reported a positive reaction to parental monitoring.

"The older daughter, Alexis, said that for now, at least, she does not mind the monitoring. She feels safer for it, she says, “like I’m being watched over.”
She also knows that it affects what she posts for public consumption. Recently, for example, she was tempted to rail on Facebook against a friend who had spread rumors about her, but she checked herself when she thought about what her mother might say. “Having your parents monitor makes you think twice about what you put,” Alexis said."

As is often the case for me, when things come together, there was a third element which lead to this post. A friend and I were talking this weekend about an uncle of hers (by marriage) that we knew as a child. He was a little inappropriate... (think sex drugs and rock and roll) "who let us around him?" I asked, off the cuff. After some thought, and an apology from me, she said, "well, I bet you were alone around him a lot more than I was. I was always around my family." This was an interesting thought -- followed by a reaction mocking my first "who left me alone all the time when I was a kid!" I was, in fact, very often left to fend for myself -- and often enough this put me in the proximity of the inappropriate... though I was a scared girl, and not inclined either to seeking difficulty or to acting out.

So -- all of these things are on my mind as I firm up the belief that we need to treat our parenting in the realm of the internet the same as we treat our parenting elsewhere -- and our kids will respond as they do everywhere else. Our kids want to be held -- the need to feel safe. Feeling that they are not entirely the masters of their own fate is the only way for them to feel that they have the room to stretch and test the boundaries...

I wonder all the time what it will be like for them as they grow up in a world where privacy is nothing like what it was like for their parents. What will become of them as they become grown ups. We already don't live in the same world that they do. We already don't understand what they are understanding about being watched. 

The reaction of the kids in these articles gives me a sense that society is already self-correcting, and that the rules of engagement can take on a new sense of responsibility and maturity even as our kids travel through the vulnerable decade between child and adult.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Should We Be Social Readers?

One of the things I've been watching and thinking about for a while is "Social Reading."

On the one hand -- I really enjoy the collaboration of curating that comes from social media. A lot of my FB friends come from my other hat -- as a published poet -- and very often I feel like all the best poets of our generation are culling through the NYTimes just for me! I'm interested in what people I'm interested in are interested in!

Lately though, this is turning up a notch. With social reader sites from most major newspapers connected to FB, I have been taking some times to process what the outcome of social media will be.

I see problems both from the outlet and from the consumer side.

From news outlets, I am concerned that this type of popularity contest is likely to further degrade news judgement -- to suggest that the things that go viral are desirable -- furthering the trend of editing to mass appeal rather than to editorial import.

But really, I've been thinking about this from a personal perspective. While I am interested in what people are reading, I also am concerned at my own judgement of what they read.

And also, as a logical leap, worry about who is going to see what I read...

At some point in high school I decided I needed to stop reading trash and start making my way through some sort of fiction cannon that my artsy private school somewhat avoided... I felt like it was my job to read those things, and I was proud of it.

Now I read the Times and The New Yorker -- I'm happy to have people notice how much I read about the wars -- about poetry -- mostly I read about the media...

But I have a horrible soft spot for crime drama. Once in while I read a pop culture article to see what people are really reading and writing about. Sometimes I'm really tired and feel like reading Oprah's latest positive affirmations... Sometimes I read things I have no intention of telling you what they are.

It's not just big brother or your mother -- it's your friends, your children, your co-workers.

Won't image trump curiosity?
I know there have been things I have not read in order to not be seen reading them...

And then I think about the kids.
We are interested in what they are sharing -- but will we remember to be interested in what they prevent each other from sharing?

When they get to the place where their social and their educational and their personal preferences/choices/leanings are all public, how will they be able to explore?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting out it front... getting it out of in front.

While I am have, as a strong intention, to not cloud my writings about kids and the media with doom and gloom, there are some issues which are dangerous that have to be looked at.

Texting and driving is one of those issues. 

On June 7, the CNN wire staff reported:
In a landmark case for the state, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty on charges of vehicular homicide, texting while driving and negligent operation of a motor vehicle in a 2011 crash that fatally injured Donald Bowley, 55, of Danville, New Hampshire, and seriously injured a passenger in Bowley's car.

We know that teen drivers are easily distracted, swayed and often naive to the power and consequences of automobiles... and this is a whole new thing. I often think about the fact that, a few years ago, before texting was so prevalent, talking on the phone while driving was considered tantamount to driving drunk... that conversation has all but disappeared.  I remember one of my first times driving alone I was drinking a frappe -- I sneezed and the shake covered the windshield -- I couldn't see at all -- I had to pull over. Somehow, this never happens to me as a grown-up.

Now -- my kids are younger than this -- not anywhere near driving age. Phew! But that is a relief not only that they are not yet driving -- the relief is that I still have time to work on this issue.

I think one of the thing about so much of this media stuff is that we are being thrown into it without time to process -- having to make parenting decisions without really understanding what we are getting into...

The laws are all going to change. I honestly think lots of other issues about privacy and children... those are going to catch up with technology.

But texting in the car is something we all have to take care of immediately. And if we are lucky enough that our children are still young enough not to be driving yet -- now is especially the time.

We need to model the behavior for them.

Unfortunately we can't do this for everything... imagine saying, Look, sweetie, I'm not drinking before I drive -- so don't you do that either. Usually we are in the position only to model bad behavior.

But in this case, with phones so prevalent everywhere, we have the opportunity to show them how to put it away... 

I've been trying to zip my phone into my bag and put the bag on the floor lately. I admit it -- I check it sometimes. I do.

And the children help me work on it. They are concerned about it, and that will, hopefully, cause them to know that when they are in the car -- either as passenger or as driver.

Their pediatrician even told them a story once -- I assume she made it up, but she told us that she had been texting in the parking line to get out of the hospital one morning -- and that she hit the car in front of her. She said it was a situation where she wouldn't normally worry about it because everyone was going so slow...

We've always seen people doing crazy things in cars -- I remember seeing people read the newspaper in morning traffic. I remember how crazy that looked.

Look at THIS crazy picture that a Times photographer got because he was doing another story!! I will be keeping it in my head.

We need to model -- and we need to do it.

As with so many parts of the media equation, it is about balancing the capacity with the power of what we control. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm sexy and I don't' know what it means

This morning, "The Motherlode" -- the parenting blog for the NYTimes -- ran a blog about watching her seven-year-old sing "I'm Sexy and I Know it."
She Isn't Sexy She's 7
It's a nice piece -- and touches on a lot of things I've thought about... that song, in particular, is my son's favorite.

But the funny thing is, when he first started singing it in my car, it made me happy. She's right, it's a catchy dance song -- but it was more than that. My son had horrible self-esteem issues which plagued him last year. I used to a sort of therapy game with him at night where I would ask him to tell me three things about himself that he liked -- he could seldom come up with one. So, seeing him a year later strutting his little ten year old self -- well, it makes me relieved. I want him to know he's fabulous.

Of course, this is not her point. Last year my daughter thought it was very amusing that her initials were the same as a Rihanna song title -- "S&M." Suffice it to say hearing my 10 year old daughter, with the legs growing up to her nose, singing "sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me"made all the blood rush out of my face. We actually had a discussion about different types of love and sex, in the mildest possible terms, and then the song was promptly banned from the family air waves.

A bunch of different fragments come to mind...

I think a lot about Elvis -- about the uproar he caused. I think I understand it now.

When I was in college I taught at a girls and Boys and Girls club. I remember watching a dance number the girls were practicing -- and it looked just like sex. And it made me so worried for them. The thing is -- adolescence feels to me like a dangerous time to be a girl. They are beginning to look like women -- to feel like women -- but they have no idea what that means.

When my kids were little I actually thought about a Waldorf education. It was way too extreme for me, actually -- but I liked a lot of the things that they taught and their wholesomeness. One of the stipulations is that you have to sign something that says your child will not partake in the media -- I don't know when the ban is lifted, but it's like that in kindergarten, anyway. Grammar school. I couldn't understand that at the time -- but I do now, I have to say.

These issues come up all the time. Media, sexualization... if innocent enjoyment creates growing up too soon, surly taking that away from them doesn't correlate as an antidote.

Anyway -- today I am thinking about Keat's "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Thinking about the idea of innocence and purity of expectation and the very beginnings of love.

To some degree, whatever outrage we feel at what we understand, we have to remember that that is their experience...

John Keats. 1795–1821
625. Ode on a Grecian Urn
THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness, 
  Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time, 
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape         5
  Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
  What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?  10
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
  Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave  15
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!  20
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
And, happy melodist, unweari├Ęd, 
  For ever piping songs for ever new; 
More happy love! more happy, happy love!  25
  For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, 
    For ever panting, and for ever young; 
All breathing human passion far above, 
  That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, 
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.  30
Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? 
What little town by river or sea-shore,  35
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn? 
And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
  Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell 
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.  40
O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede 
  Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought 
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!  45
  When old age shall this generation waste, 
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'  50

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another Brick in the Wall?

The year that twitter began, and FB first branched out beyond the Ivy League, I was teaching Media in Society at a small career college in Massachusetts. It was my first semester teaching, and I was teaching largely to senior sports majors and was way beyond my comfort zone... 
but it was all fascinating. We went on a media diet -- we kept a media journal -- we watched the ways that the ads that popped up in our e-mail accounts mimicked our own e-mail use and our internet use in general... 

Tonight, a friend was talking about how, on so many different forms of social media begin to appear. This is also recognized as collective consciousness; zeitgeist, mob mentality...

I am interest in when does what we notice intersect with what we create.

As an editor, I see the same thing. I edit a small independent literary magazine. In waves, poems all come in about a certain topic, or using a certain device. Three years ago I got a slew of film inspired poems -- I'm embarrassed to say there are three phobia poems in my forthcoming issue. 

There is some conjecture that this has to do with schools of creative writing -- but I read the bios -- I think it delves deeper than that -- into a true collective subconscious.

There is a way that this is very sweet, and very spiritual almost... where we all meet and co-mingle in the ether...
At the same time, 
I worry about this. 

Is it becoming harder for our children to be their own people?

I'll let you in on a little secret -- part of the reason I started all of this was because I used to watch a friend of mine's son on FB. He was the first kid I know to go on -- and he was exactly the age that I was when I met his father. The whole thing was fascinating to me. 

I watched him for a full year -- and the most striking thing I saw was a small bout of homophobic comments on his wall -- from friends... now, I happen to know this kid -- I know this kid's story. His grandfather is gay -- and did not have a terribly easy road of it all. So I watched to see what this would mean for my friend's child...

Well, it amounted to little. My friends' kid said nothing -- a friend came to a bit of a defense -- but mostly it went the way of the newspaper -- disappeared until de-archived... 

But I had to wonder...

Isn't the playground bigger? Isn't the voice of the common appeal louder? For those of us who were ashamed but want to keep our mouths' shut -- is that furthered when it plays out on our own walls? 

On the other hand, if we have a balcony seat to watch what is playing out for our kids, do we suddenly have recourse to talk to them -- to have the conversations and give them words and courage and safety?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What you never thought you wanted...

This morning the Times ran an article about Facebook and their new considerations of participants under the age of 13.

I would never have said this a month ago, but for me, this comes as a big relief.

A few weeks ago, my daughter begged me to let her go on Google+. Again, a few months ago I would have said absolutely not. But with the more research I've been doing -- and the more thinking I've been doing -- I had to rethink my position. For one thing, I really like the social and the media in social media. I think it can be good for kids. For another thing, a lot of her friends were already on it -- and i know a lot of those kids -- and I like them. Last year we moved towns and schools, and personally, I like the idea that my daughter can keep in touch with her old friends. I moved a lot when I was little -- and I lost people who I have just now refund thanks to Facebook... it's kind of great to imagine the differences for my kids... And finally, I still have some pull with my daughter; I would just assume she start social media now, while that is still true -- and while we are still on the not quite there end of the hormonal balance continuum. Really. In a lot of ways 11 feels like a much more stable age than 13.

The thing is, I wish it was Facebook.

First of all, as far as I can tell, you have to pay for privacy settings. And they seem to be on a per-post basis -- and I can't see what her settings are.

Second of all, I DO NOT trust Google. At all.

And I know Facebook -- I know my way around.

I am also sure that a lot of these kids are on Google+ because their parents have thought enough not to let them on FB, but don't really know what Google+ is to forbid...

Well, anyway -- we are on Google+ -- and I am learning about it. The coolest part of it was that she asked if she could make a Google+ acct for TTYN. Love that.

This is all changing so rapidly we simply don't know where it is all going. Isn't it strange how suddenly FB seems to me to be the old familiar...

I suppose there is some element simply of letting go of the idea that we are doing anything but riding down-stream. Riding the current and waiting to see where we land, or what the ride is like. Watch your feet for stones -- for branches!

The most important thing is to keep paying attention. I suppose even more than what are they doing -- how are they thinking? How are they feeling? Do they feel like they are drowning...