In middle school, the rules all seem to change.
When my son came home from his first day of 5th grade, I asked him what the biggest difference was from last year. He paused and said, “Well, this year, everyone wants to know who likes who. Sam likes Jessica. All the boys have a crush on Emmie. And Kayley likes most of the cool boys in our class.”
That’s the other big new development. My son and his friends are very aware of who’s in the “cool group” at school. He is not in the cool group, he says, and I’m okay with that, because I know that more peer pressure is often part of the deal. Not that our son will be exempt from that — no kid is.
This is part of why I’m against him having a Facebook account at the tender age of ten. I mean, does he need to worry about FOMO already? And what about kids who are harassed, teased and bullied online…do we really want to open him up to that possibility? And will Facebook be a “gateway site” to all the other sites and apps like Askfm, Kik and Snapchat?
I don’t say these things out loud. Instead, I say, “We’ve talked about this already. Not until you’re at least thirteen.”
Of course, this makes him even more eager to create an account and amass “friends.” His reasoning is the classic, “But lots of kids are already doing it!” which he usually follows up with, “Their moms are nice — they aren’t making them wait!” He also insists that he can’t live without a smart phone: “C’mon, Mom. Most of the kids in my class have one already!” (Not true, as it turns out, but it did make me want to ask, “And if all the kids in your class jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” This is what my mom used to say to me at moments like this when I was a kid. I bit my tongue because, let’s face it, that line never works.)
So I just stick to the rules: “You know that in our house, the rule for Facebook is that you have to be 13 to have an account.”
He sighs as only a ten-year-old can do — as if the weight of the entire unfair world is resting on his bony little chicken wing shoulders.
But when he came home and asked me again the other day, I had an epiphany. In a rare moment of great calm and clarity, I realized that there was something I could say that would work for both of us:
“Tell your friends that your parents are mean and that’s why you can’t do it.”
He looked at me, his eyes wide. “Can I really say that?! I won’t get in trouble and you won’t get mad?”
“Yes,” I said, “You can really say it, and you won’t get in trouble. I’m absolutely okay with that.”
He ran off to his room with a huge smile on his face and hasn’t asked since.
To me, this is a win-win situation: we get what we want as parents because he’s following the rules we set, and he saves face with his friends.
I don’t want to jinx myself, but sometimes I actually feel like there are days when I just might be getting this parenting thing right.
(Stay tuned to see if this comes back and bites me in the butt.)
Elisabeth Wilkins is the mother of one son and the Editor of Empowering Parents. She and her family live in Maine.