Instagram Drama

I don’t understand Middleschoolers.

I mean, really I don’t. It’s not that they speak a foreign language. No, it’s more like they migrated from a different planet and stealthily replaced our children in the middle of the night while we slept.

I periodically stalk Jane’s Instagram account. I can’t make sense of most of what is said. They talk in bastardized English and too-small-to-discern emogis (pictures – think of the basic yellow-faced smileys on steroids plus tons of tiny cliparts of knives, fingers in peace signs, middle fingers up, hearts, stars, etc). Even when I successfully parse something (“Bish whet?” means “Bitch, what?!”), I don’t have the context (some viral Vines video) to fully appreciate it.

And there’s so much room for misinterpretation. It was explained to me last night that a series of smileys that appeared to have water gushing from both eyes meant “that’s so funny, you are making me cry” – but – this didn’t mean the person who put them there enjoyed the humor of the post. No, it meant they were laughing at a person. I’m not sure who gets to make the emogi interpretation rules nor how they all know they see them the same.

Last night, she was furious and angrily thrusting her iPod in my face so I could see the cause of her ire. She pulled up a DM (direct message – private messaging protocol on Instagram).

“See, look,” she said, “he posted this picture and then look at all these things people are saying. It’s so mean! He’s mocking her – they all are!”

I tried to scroll up to see the picture but the picture was actually just the bottom edge of a picture.

“I can’t see the picture,” I said.

“It’s right there! And see what they are all saying?!”

“But I can’t see the picture. I can just see the bottom edge.”

“That’s because that’s all that’s here! But he posted a screenshot of her profile and then look what they all said!”

“But he didn’t post a picture of her profile page. It’s just the bottom edge. I don’t see what’s wrong with it.”

She exhaled dramatically and took the iPod back, left that DM, scrolled down an impossibly long list of DMs, selected another one and said, “Here. Here’s the picture. See?! He’s mocking her!”

I didn’t see. I was, quite simply, confused. Were we talking about this DM or the other one? Jane wasn’t in the mood to wait for me to catch up though. She had just seen a new offensive comment from the lad and was trying to grab the iPod back. I resisted.

“Give it back! I need to comment!”

“No, no you don’t. Give me a minute.”

“Are you taking my iPod away?!”

“No. I’m just trying to figure this out and I don’t think you need to comment while you are this hot. What are you wanting to say?”

“I need to respond to what he said! It was… uggh! It was mean!”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t remember.” (Seriously, this happened).

Eventually, I put together that there is a relatively new girl at school that many people don’t like. Actually, neither she nor her sister are particularly popular. Jane has grown increasingly frustrated with people making fun of them and being mean. From what I’ve been able to gather, the two girls are not innocent. They apparently manage to hurl their own insults, although Jane seems to feel it’s defensive retaliation.

Anyway, one of her friends had found the girl’s Instagram profile and his request to follow her had been accepted. He then took a screen shot of the profile page, which included some pictures, and sent it in a DM to a large number of people saying, “I found {blank}’s profile.” Several people then started making fun of the girl. Someone took a screen shot of the bottom edge of his picture plus the first few comments and started a new DM with a smaller group of people. Jane called him out for sharing the picture and an argument ensued on whether he had been mocking the girl or whether only the people commenting had.

Eventually, one girl requested that they all stop arguing and I convinced Jane that she needed to lay off. I later suggested to her that continuing to insist he was mocking when he insisted he wasn’t was futile. “It would have been better to simply say, ‘Ok. It looked to me like you were mocking her’ and then let it go.”

Jane had just recently decided to improve herself. She cleaned her room, did laundry, worked out stuff with her teachers to raise her grades, hung out with people who didn’t make her doubt herself, and decided to be nice to people. She’s done this before and I suggested to her that when she decides to become a better person, she then tends to become very intolerant of and impatient with those who don’t make the leap with her.

She didn’t see it that way. For one – to my surprise – she still considered the people she had been vehemently arguing with to be her friends. When I suggested she show compassion and patience and not be so hard on those friends, she said she thought she was showing a lot of compassion – by standing up for people who were being talked about behind their backs.

Maybe she’s right. It all seems exhausting to me, though.

What To Teach Your Child

I have some more thoughts that have been percolating in my head over our little social media scandal.  The boy’s mom posted something on Facebook about the permanence of stuff on the internet and in the course of the ensuing discussion, remarked that she and her husband had failed as parents somewhere along the way.

I don’t think so.  How did they fail?  Did they fail because they hadn’t talked to their children about not posting mean pictures about other kids online?  How many other things that might be good to talk about have they not talked about?  Do those things make them failures too?  Do they make them failures even if the kid never stumbles over the non-knowledge?

How many things do we assume our children understand?  It never occurred to me that Jane needed to be told not to microwave her jacket.  How could I know I needed to talk about that?  “Well,” you might say, “there’s a big difference between microwaving a jacket and cyber-bullying.”

Of course there is.  But if you never imagine your child doing something – if it never even occurs to you, is it really so different in practice?  As parents, what exactly are we expected to teach our children over the course of their lives?  Does anyone have a checklist?

Don’t throw your food.
Eat your vegetables.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, put yourself back to sleep.
Pee in the toilet.
Clean up the surrounding area if you miss.
Wipe your bottom.
Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
Use soap when you bathe.
Share your toys.
Don’t steal other children’s toys.
Don’t bite.
Apologize if you do bite. Or steal a toy. Or fail to share.
Tie your shoes. Like this.
Dress yourself. And promptly so we won’t be late.
Say please.
Say thank you.
Keep your room clean.
Don’t pull the dog’s tail. Or ears. Or leg.
Don’t touch a hot stove.
Check both ways before you cross the street.
Don’t rest your elbows on the table.
Chew with your mouth closed.
Wait until you’ve swallowed your food before speaking.
Don’t whine.
Control your volume.
Get someone’s attention before you speak to them.
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.
Pay attention in class.
Always do your homework.
Give us any papers your teacher sends home from school.
Don’t try to hide things from us.
Come to us if you are having a problem.
Participate fully in any activity you sign up for.
Follow through on your commitments.
Speak and write correctly. Here’s how.
Don’t put non-food stuff in the microwave.
Don’t put the cat in the dryer.
Don’t stick a fork in any outlets.
Don’t put small objects in your mouth.
Horseplay can be dangerous.
Keep your hands clear of closing doors.
Don’t climb up on the roof.
Respect your teachers. And your coaches. And all adults.
Except the bad ones. Run away from them.
Don’t let anyone touch you inappropriately.
Tell us if anyone tries to. Even if they tell you not to.
Don’t talk to strangers.
Unless you have an emergency. And then pick an officer. Or a woman. Or…
Here’s how to dial 911.
Never dial 911 unless it’s a true emergency.
Your parents not letting you have your way is not a 911 emergency.
Always, always wear your seatbelt.
Do not wear any inappropriate clothing. Like that. That is inappropriate.
Don’t listen to music too loud, especially when using earbuds.
Stand up for yourself.
But don’t be a bully.
Participate in conversations but don’t dominate.
Find what you are good at. What you love. Let us help.
Just because other parents allow it doesn’t mean we will.
Be a good friend if you want to have good friends.
Don’t make anyone feel excluded. Ever.
If you see something seriously wrong, tell someone.
Don’t cheat. On schoolwork. Or anything.
Don’t steal from anyone. For any reason.
Don’t vandalize property.
Even more than that, respect other people’s property.
Make church an important part of your life.
But think for yourself. Don’t just follow the crowd.
This is what will happen when you go through puberty.
This is what sex is all about.
And this is why you should wait.
And please don’t let anyone pressure you into it.
Or pressure you into anything you aren’t ready for.
And you aren’t ready for that.
Trust me.
Don’t break up with anyone via text message.
In fact, don’t have any serious conversations via text. Pick up the phone.
Call your grandparents.
Write thank you notes.
Take care of your chores before leisure time.
Don’t talk back to your parents.
When you grow up, don’t talk back to the boss.
Don’t do drugs.
Don’t drink alcohol. Unless you are with us.
But if you do, call us. Please don’t drive drunk.
Please, please don’t text and drive.
Don’t even answer the phone while driving.
Pull over instead.
Yes, I know you’ve seen me do it. I’m working on that.
Be home by midnight.
Participate in the community.
Help those less fortunate than you.
Let me show you how to cook.
Let me show you how to clean.
Let me show you how to set a table.
How to ride a bike.
How to roller skate.
How to fish.
How to swim.
How to make your bed.
How to mend your clothes.
How to iron.
How to style your hair.
How to apply make-up.
How to shave.
How to change a tire.
How to drive.
How to shop.
How to write a check.
How to talk on the phone.
Wear deodorant. Trust me – you stink.
Set aside some money for savings and tithe. Just get in the habit now.
Don’t allow yourself to go into credit card debt.
Keep a budget.
Here’s how you balance a checkbook.
Learn to do math in your head.
Don’t watch too much TV.
Don’t believe everything you see or hear.
Think before you speak.
Don’t post anything negative on social media.
Remember, once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.
Please remember the golden rule.
Don’t stay in an abusive relationship.
Respect yourself.
Love yourself.
Remember – we are always here for you.
Remember – we are always here for you.
Please. Remember. We are always here for you.

Is it any wonder that with a never-ending exhausting list, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we feel we have failed to teach our children something important?

We are going to fail.

We can’t possibly teach them everything they need to know before they need to know it. We can’t guarantee that they will absorb the lessons that we attempt to impart. All we can do is try. And try a little harder the next day. And pick ourselves back up and try again when we stumble. Or when they stumble.

No, our children’s one-off actions are not nearly as indicative of our parenting quality as is our response to those actions.