Not My Kid

Not my kid. That’s what we as parents wish we could think on a continual basis. We see another child doing something outrageous, or we hear about it from a fellow parent and we naturally imagine our own children in the same situation, believing that our parenting skills have made enough of an impact so as to prevent them from doing anything stupid and embarrassing.

Hey, I’m no different… I’m no different until I overhear someone commenting on the kid plundering the bowl of mints offered in the church’s coffee cafĂ©, only to learn later that it was both my 11 year-old and my nine year-old sons who were grabbing fistfuls of peppermint candy like greedy pirates stuffing their pockets with gold doubloons.  I would’ve been none the wiser had it not been for the indiscriminate trail of cellophane wrappers laying in the hallway and the sibling who snitched on them. (With five kids it’s hard to get away with anything, especially when you don’t share the loot.)

Not only had the boys jacked the trove of candy, but they had also scarfed up enough cookies to wait out the apocalypse and still have plenty to spare. In hindsight, though, I probably should’ve been tipped off by their cumbersome sort of waddle as they crossed the church parking lot to leave.

“Yeah, those are not my kids.” (No really, I've never seen them before in my life.)

They were my kids (plural), and to say that I was mortified would be putting it mildly. A stern conversation about self-control and new rules for conducting ourselves like gentlemen—not little piggies—followed. (Sheesh! They acted like they’ve never had sweets before.)

Age, of course, is a big factor here. There’s an expectation we have of our child’s ability to reason as they progress in years. Often, though, we have to make judgment calls as to how much we can trust our kids with certain things. Sometimes they prove us right, and sometimes they go into sugar shock after OD’ing on free mint candies and chocolate chip cookies.

One of these moments of decision comes when determining whether your child is ready to mass communicate with the known outside world via social media and an electronic device. We all are well aware of how social media can turn a village idiot into a global one within a matter of minutes; plus, when it comes to our sons and daughters there’s also the concerns over privacy and potential for cyber-bullying. Bottom line: there’s a great deal of responsibility and maturity involved.

This was the message my wife conveyed to my 11 year-old stepdaughter, Allie, after she received a whatever-the-latest-model iPod Touch from her father. My wife drew up an ironclad contract governing Allie’s use of the gizmo along with corresponding consequences for any violations.

“No texting after lights out.”
“No posting personal information like your school or home address.”
“No stalking boys.” (We wouldn’t want this lady’s sons being tempted or anything)
“No more than two duck-face selfies per week.”

…And the list went on. Basically, my wife’s intent was to keep Allie from being “that” girl. With these parameters clearly outlined for Allie, it was easy for her mother and me to assume, “Not my kid,” which held true …for about a week.

At first things were fine. Allie was allowed an Instagram account and DM privileges, and early on it was all pics of the cat (she may have gone over the limit on the selfies, but no harm done), and goofy texts with friends.

“Yep, not my kid.”

Shortly thereafter things began to spiral, however. Apparently there’s a game you can play on Instagram with your friends where you each take a shot of yourself and then you solicit “likes” and the one with the most wins. It’s essentially a shallow popularity contest where someone’s feelings inevitably get hurt if they’re the low vote getter. (Allie often won and so she was quick to instigate new rounds daily.) Once we realized what was going on (she hasn’t yet figured out we can follow her profile), a heavy warning was issued with an explanation concerning the larger ramifications of potentially hurtful games. Allie said she understood, and we were back to, “Not my kid.”

Yeah, not so much.

The silliness on Instagram continued—playing more insensitive popularity games, posting her fall class schedule, asking boys over and over if they liked her, and worst of all, being downright bitchy and mean to other girls.

Say goodbye to the iPod.

There was so much wrong with the whole situation I don’t know where to begin, but it was addressed, I can assure you of that. What bothered us, though, is that despite all the teaching, all the guidance, all the rules, Allie still became “that” kid. Subsequently, her mother, her father, and I were both surprised and disappointed. 

As a parent you know in the back of your mind your child is going to screw up at some point in life, but it doesn’t stop you from believing the best in them. When this happens, though, it’s normal for us as parents to ask ourselves, “Where? Where did I go wrong?” as you visualize your adult child sucking on a crack pipe in the middle of some squalid trailer house.

But there’s a bright side. At least these events act as a barometer for gauging where a child’s heads is at. (Incidentally, Allie’s younger sister, Avery, now has the iPod and, thus far, she has proven to be rather responsible with it.) This in turn means teachable moments, and make no mistake, Allie is currently learning her lesson. If she wants to communicate with her friends, she can now go outside and bang two rocks together.    

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