Parenting in the Digital Age. The Dangers of Mobile Phone Uploads and “Selfies.” A plea for teenage girls and their parents to become more aware of what’s going on out there in cyber space.

This is just one example of the phenomenon known as a “Selfie” ( a photo taken of oneself by oneself) that is beginning to flood the pages of Face Book, Instagram, YouTube and other various forms of social media.

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What’s disturbing about this photo, amongst oh so many other things, is that the girl in it is obviously quite young.

Young enough to not be posing for pictures like this in her underwear, (even if she is the one taking the photo of herself), and certainly not yet old enough to realize the dangers inherent in posting photos like this on the world-wide web, where anyone can download them and do whatever they want with them.

As a parent, I have to admit that I am shocked to see this kind of photo being posted regularly via links to my own daughter’s Facebook page.

As a mother, whenever I see these images, I wonder whether or not the girl’s parents are aware of what their daughters are posting on-line?

This is a very different response to the one I would have had less than a year ago, when I would have automatically condemned the girl’s parents for “letting their daughter’s take such photos”.

Now with the benefit of hindsight and a rapid education in the modality of our modern social media, (thanks in large part to my own children’s use of social networking), I am beginning to understand that such photos can be taken without a parent even so much as being aware that their children are doing anything more than playing with their iPod’s, iPad’s or mobile phones all within the safety and the privacy of their own bedrooms.

And of course, therein lies the rub.

We think that as parents, our children are safe when they are in the privacy of our houses or in the safety of their own rooms.

But the truth is….. Sometimes they’re not.

Sometimes, especially for teenage girls, privacy when combined with the ability of mobile phones, iPod’s or I pad’s to take photos and upload them instantly onto the internet, along side the peer pressure they face to  be cool, can  become nothing short of a recipe for disaster.

A disaster that anyone can download, copy and redistribute to as many different web sites, as many times as they like.

As if that isn’t a creepy enough thought already, my major concern in all of this is for my own daughter.

What happens if these kinds of photos appear often enough on her links that they become viewed as common place and no big deal at all?

Will she then, in time, begin to believe that it’s acceptable to post up similar images of herself? As if it is no ‘biggie’ to expose her face and her body in such a way to the world at large?

That if enough of her friends start doing it then eventually it won’t matter to her how many times I tell her that it’s wrong……. and that it is a big deal…..

And then maybe…..

Just maybe…..

The first time I’ll know anything about it will be once it’s already too late to take it back.

And perhaps the scariest part of this line of thinking is that when it comes to questions like this……

How do I know that she hasn’t already snapped a shot of herself like that within the privacy of her own bedroom?

With the phone I brought her to keep her safe while she’s out and about in case of emergencies.

The answer is….. I don’t know. And if even I have to admit that I don’t know, then there must be other parents out there who may also have to admit that they don’t know either.

So I think the days of believing that we as parents can control what our children do, show and say have well and truly been taken away by the digital age.

So we’d best get on with the job of understanding this and start looking at finding new ways of safe guarding our children’s best interests.

In the meantime here’s a simple truth for every teenager out there………

Once a picture has been posted on the internet you can never really get it back.

It is there to stay.

Yes sure, you may be able to delete the original copy that you put up……… but can you track down and trace however many people have downloaded it in the meantime?

Can you prevent them from sharing it?

Can you prevent complete strangers from downloading your photos?

You may think that you can….. But you can’t……

Unfortunately the photo at the top of the page is proof that anyone, and I mean anyone, can download your personal pictures from any unprotected social media sites……

Scared yet?????????

Because I know I certainly am.

The photo used in this post is the least offensive “selfie” shot of its variety that I could find. Believe it or not, this young girl is actually wearing more clothes than most of the others. Disgusting I know.

The Stark Reality of Christmas For Children of Divorce….”No dad…. You don’t understand what giving something to someone actually means….”

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Christmas for children of divorced parents can be a really difficult time of year  for them.

Especially when one parent has a vastly greater degree of wealth than the other and uses Christmas as a time to try to control or manipulate their child’s loyalties.

Today my daughter rang her dad to ask whether or not he was getting her the much promised I-Pod for Christmas that he’d been dangling over her head all year.

Her dad replied by telling  her that if he were to give her an I-Pod, she’d only be allowed to use it at his house.

Considering that my daughter lives with me and only see’s her dad every second weekend, the idea of being given a gift that she could not actually use when ever she wanted too, really stunned her.

She told him over the phone;

” No dad….

You obviously don’t understand what giving something to someone at Christmas actually means…..

Because it means that you are giving it to them….. 

And if you are giving it to them, then  they should be able to do whatever they want to with it.

If you give someone a present then you are giving it to them for all of the time.

Not just when it suits you.”

Her dad then began yelling at her and telling her that she was an ungrateful child who didn’t deserve anything.

My daughter then said …. “

So what you’re saying basically, is that if I come and live with you,  I’ll get an IPod  that I can use all the time, but if I stay with mum, I won’t get one?’

That’s bribery dad and it’s not fair.

You’ve got way more money than mum and it’s not my fault. 

You are the one whose ungrateful.

Why are you doing this to me?.”

In response her father continued yelling at her until eventually she hung up on him.

She stayed in her room for the next 15 minutes after that and when she came downstairs I could see that she’d been crying. So I hugged her and she said to me……

“So mum, how long do you think it will take me to save up for an iPod?

I’ll do  extra around the house for you if you’ll help me save for one.”

I told her  I would help her as much as I could and that maybe, if we saved hard, we might be able to afford one in time for her birthday in March.

She though about this  for a few minutes and then said as casually as she could….

” I don’t think I want to go to dad’s for Christmas, I want to stay with you instead.”

Pretending that I hadn’t over heard the conversation she’d had with her dad on the phone, I asked her ‘why’s that honey?’

She looked down and the floor and quietly said,

“I just don’t think dad understands the idea of Christmas so I’d rather be with you.”

Sometimes as a parent it’s so hard to stand back and observe your children dealing with issues that really, they shouldn’t have to be dealing with at all.

For me, at that moment in time, the urge to jump  in and offer her  a solution, or to take up my ongoing role of  peace keeper between my daughter and her father, was simply overwhelming.

But I’m glad that instead of doing any of those things, I gave her the time and the space that she needed to make up her own mind about her father’s words and actions.

It seems such a curious thing to me, that as I watch my daughter grow and take in the world around her as best she can, I am continuously filled with both a sense of  sadness at the troubles  she’s had to face and an absolute sense of amazement at the level of grace and courage that is beginning to shine through her in the way that she handles such tough situations.

 

Holding our children’s hands

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This morning I brought you new shoes,

To go with your lovely new dress,

This afternoon I spent hours with you,

Curling your hair and doing your make up,

This evening I walked so proudly beside you,

As we entered your Leaver’s Dinner,

I let go of your hand at the door way,

And as I watched you form a distance,

Making your way through a throng of faces,

I realized that this is how as mother’s,

We all begin,

Ever so slowly,

To understand the changing shapes,

Of our children hands,

Tonight was one of those times,

I knew I’d been blessed to have been able,

To stand back,

To look and to recognize,

That your hands have indeed grown,

As has your heart,

As has your soul,

And at the end of the night,

When it came time to collect you,

I found that I struggled at first to pick you out,

From amidst the sea of teenagers surrounding you,

But then I saw the child within your face,

And in that moment I knew,

You,

And no matter how much you had grown,

When we made our way out to the car park,

It was still my hand,

That you chose to hold.

So I know now,

That no matter how big you grow,

You will never let go.

As I write this poem my thoughts and my heart go out to all the parents who will never be able to hold their children’s hands again or to watch on with love and pride as those children grow into lively teenagers along the way to becoming lovely young adults.  Tonight I know how truly fortunate I am to have had this moment in time with my daughter.

 

Mother Lands

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Regardless of whether we inhabit a serene mothering landscape or a landscape perpetually filled with challenge after challenge, we are all walking the same Mother Lands and dodging the same societal landmines.

Though at times we could all be forgiven for undervaluing  our crucial interconnectedness.

With every debate that rages over breast-feeding versus bottle feeding or whether or not we should strive to be stay at home mum’s instead of working mother’s, there seems to be a gradual lessening of  common mothering ground to stand on.

It seems every aspect of motherhood these days is up for debate.

Yet always, within these debates, the role of men  remains safely tucked out of harms way.

There is no call to action against father’s who bottle feed their children.

Nor is there any debate surrounding whether or not father’s can adequately parent and work at the same time.

Mother’s it appears, are always the one side of the parenting equation, whose actions, beliefs and virtues are consistently being singled out for public scrutiny and divisive debate.

It was not so long ago that single mother‘s were being told they were to blame for the rise in teenage delinquency. That it’s  their fault that the lack of a male role model in a teenager’s life, leads to aggressive and insolent behaviors.

Even when the role of the father appears to be the sticking point, it is the mother who has her own lifestyle held up to ransom. Unfortunately there is nothing new in that.

In the 60’s and 70’s married stay at home mother‘s were being told that their own lack of ambition and levels of depression were to blame for their daughter’s outrageous sexual behaviors and overwhelming dissatisfaction with society.

Despite the fact that young men were also actively engaged in the same behaviors and exhibiting the same level of dissatisfaction with societies status quo.

In the 40’s and 50’s mother’s of children with special needs were being labeled  cold and uncaring,  ‘Refrigerator Mother‘s’, and told their detached mothering style was the to blame for their child‘s condition.

All of the above antiquated ideas are the same ideas that are now being successfully  inverted  to form the basis for the  latest wave of public  blame, crashing down  once again exclusively  on the backs of  mother’s.

Instead of being accused of creating maladaptive children through cold and detached parenting, mother’s are now being told that they fuss over their children too much.

That they hover like helicopters around their off spring  and in so doing prevent them from growing up into successful adults capable of taking responsibility for their own actions.

Mother’s who have staved off depression and found a sense of self-worth by showing personal ambition and engaging in the work force are now being blamed for creating confused young men, who are now said to be acting out in aggression due to the lack of clear gender roles that women’s participation in the workforce are said to have caused.

Yet on the flip side of the debate surrounding the supposed lack of gender lines,   mothers are now  being told that they are failing their daughter’s by letting them wear the latest, overtly feminized and sexualized, fashion trends.

Well who designs these fashion trends?  It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the multitude of male designers and male arbiters who have for centuries decided what women should wear…. could it?

It seems the only constant variable in this never-ending re-invention of mother’s as the root of all evil, is the continuing denigration of single mothers.

Whom, despite the mounting evidence from their successful adult off spring, find themselves time and time again rolled out as the whipping posts for all of societies ills.

The chances are, that what ever you life circumstances, or style of mothering may be, you will at some stage have to face an endless list of mothering prejudices along the way.

So I think sometimes we need to be reminded, that no matter what our individual circumstances may be, at the end of the day,  we are all, each and every one of us, doing out best to dodge the multiple landmines of  mothering blame, laid out before us.

We are all walking the same Mother Lands and none of us knows who the next target will be.

External Hearts

As parents of special needs children,

We  have to learn to stand back,

To let our lovely ones,

Learn to begin to climb their own walls.

Yet this is so much easier said,

Than it ever will be done.

For having a child with Autism,

Is like living a life,

With your heart,

Constantly beating,

Outside of the safety,

Of your chest.

We are always so emotionally exposed.

No matter how strong we think we are,

Just a few unkind words,

Uttered toward or about our child,

Can pierce us in all of our softest places,

In ways,

That others may never,

Understand.

Perhaps this is why every barb,

Whether intentional or otherwise,

Leaves it’s mark.

So please understand that it’s hard for us,

All of this stepping back,

And letting go,

For our children are not just,

 A part of us,

They are,

Our very,

Hearts.

 

Finding A New Kind Of Normal

I write often about the experience of loving and parenting a son with Autism.

The reason for this is simple, I love my son and I want others to love him as well. I want to do away with all of the superstitious, illogical, fear mongering  nonsense that often goes along with parenting a special needs child.

Even more than that though, there’s something else I want others to understand and that is, that in the middle of it all, we are finding our own kind of normal.

We have our routines. We have our ways. We have our days of bliss and we have our days of hit and miss too, but to us now, this is normal.

I have a friend whose written a PhD on how parents of children who survive cancer strive to find a new form of normality in their lives after the crisis is over.

We’ve often discussed the similarities between his research and my own. Many parents within his research expressed their gratitude, that at the end of it all, their children recovered and although not all returned to their previous level of functioning, the majority did.

My friend asked me how I felt after he’d told me that a few of the parents he’d spoken too stated that they felt sorry for parents of children with disabilities because at the end of the day their crisis never truly goes away.  There is no remission. No all clear after 5 years.

I told him the truth, that when my son was first diagnosed with Autism, my instant reaction was, thank god it’s not life threatening.  Autism is something we I live and work with.

After drowning for  6 months in  the perpetual fear that my son may have had a degenerative mitochondrial condition, the diagnosis of Autism seemed somehow, like winning life’s lottery.

To this day I still wouldn’t swap Autism for the great unknowable  option of door  number 3.

So yes I did find it somewhat ironic, but more so heart warming,  that parents whose children had survived cancer could hold space in their hearts to grieve for those of us with special needs children.

Especially given that my greatest fear would have been losing my son.

After thinking about this for a long time, I’ve come the conclusion that, what ever the crisis you face as a parent, you do everything and anything you can think of  to do, to support your child in every way possible.

If that means facing a period of crisis, then you face that period of crisis with every ounce of strength you hold in your body, mind and soul. You worry your heart out through surgery after surgery,  until you get that much prayed for ‘all clear’.

If doing all that you can do as a parent to support your child, means living a life time of  wading knee-deep through the special needs jungle, then you pull on your boots and you teach yourself how to wade to the best of your ability.

Somewhere along the way, during all that wading, everything that you found so terrifyingly foreign in the beginning , works its way into your system. It quite literally becomes a second, if somewhat initially painful, way of being to you.

In short, parenting a special needs child can and does  become normal.

It’s just a new kind of normal.

A kind of normal that still holds hopes and dreams, happiness and laughter and achievement and success as well as the ordinary every day struggles of  life.

Hope doesn’t go away.  It simply finds a new way to stay.

The dreams I hold my son may be different to those of every other parent of a 16-year-old teenager, but they are still there. We strive everyday to maintain and enhance his skills.

He can write his own name.

He can state his birth date.

He can smile when he’s  happy, laugh, clap and flap.

But most importantly of all, he’s still here.

He may never drive a car. Get his first independent job or buy his own house but…..

He’s safe and secure.

He is happy.

He is loved and he is cared for.

He’s different and he is well.

Really, what more could I ask for?

Secrets Pass

 There are places in the soul for shame.

Small pockets,

Tightly sealed,

All sewn up with guilt’s thread,

Hidden deep inside,

Stealing space from love.

Most people would find it strange,

To know that I hold,

A place for shame,

In my heart,

But it’s there,

Shame writes out the knowledge,

That somewhere,

Somehow,

In the knitting together,

Of my son’s being,

My own body,

Failed to stave off

The passing down of a frailty,

A deletion on chromosome 19,

That has formed for him,

A very different kind of life.

I know I’m not the only one,

Who sometimes feels this shame,

I see it on the faces of other parents,

Who also confess to holding.

That same space,

And as we speak to each other,

Slowly,

Secrets  pass,

Between us,

Like bread.

Forming a communal loaf,

Of understanding,

From which,

We all must,

Do our best,

To break,

Off our own,

Small Piece,

Of Peace.