Being a parent of school aged children I find that my year revolves around the school calendar. The half term break has just begun so, for the next week, I will be sharing the house, full time, with my two teenagers. When they were younger the school holidays would be filled with activity; days out, sports and arranged play dates with friends. These days they sort out their own lives; I am consulted when plans involve friends needing to be fed or accommodated. I can see this holiday being largely filled with lie ins, TV and chilling out. It is probably as well that my husband will be at work. He dislikes such inactivity.
Although my children’s friends do appear at the house from time to time, much of their interaction, discussion and planning happens on line. When they do get together they will make arrangements to meet and then catch buses or trains to wherever they are going. Some of the older friends have cars which has added a new dimension to their independence. During term time we will still provide a parental taxi service; driving them too and from their regular, organised meetings and activities. With school and homework commitments they need the speed of direct transport to allow them to fit everything into their day. In the holidays, however, the time pressures are lifted and they are much more likely to be able to sort it all out themselves. Organisation issues seem only to arise when a friend is not a regular user of the various social media that they use to communicate. My children are very uncomfortable ringing someone up on the telephone. Surprisingly, given how much I used this device when I was a teenager (much to my mother’s annoyance), I too now use it as little as possible. I am much happier with the various text and messaging services available. They seem so much less intrusive.
Social networks are often given a bad press but I too get a lot of pleasure from using them. They have enabled me to reconnect with quite a number of old friends and to keep up to date with the lives of so many that I just wouldn’t have time to see regularly. Of course I am only aware of the parts of their lives that they are willing to share in cyber space, but with any relationship it is only possible to share a snapshot of a life. Even those we live with will have their secrets. One of the criticisms that is often made of social media is that it allows users to share their highlights; to make their life sound wonderful, which can make on line friends feel that their own lives are dull by comparison. I love to read about the fabulous things that my friends are doing; I hope that they are leading wonderful lives. I would not consider myself to be much of a friend if I did not want good things to be happening to them.
Whilst I feel better connected with those friends who are willing to use social networks regularly, I understand that not everyone is comfortable with sharing on line. Many keep accounts open to allow them to read other’s updates but rarely post anything themselves. I do not have a problem with this. If someone that I know is interested enough in my life to read about me then I am happy to share. I like to think that we are in touch even if not communicating directly; it feels to me like being at a party with someone we know, but not getting a chance to speak much.
Just as at a good social gathering the conversation can be a highlight, so some of my on line friends have generated interesting debates when they have posted a view on their wall. I love to read these as it gives me an insight into how those I do not know so well think and feel. I live a fairly sheltered life and generally only get to meet people who are similar to me so it is good to have exposure, however limited, to the points of view held by people who are outside the realms of my experience. I am fortunate that I have intelligent, compassionate and opinionated friends; the debates can be an education!
I started to use social media when my children first showed an interest as I wished to ensure that they were using it safely. As they have expanded their use, so have I; on many of the sites we use I follow my children and they follow me. On line interaction cannot replace face to face conversation but I do feel that I get a better understanding of the issues my teenagers must deal with than if I tried to rely on just home life. With each generation the world moves on. If we are to understand how our young people must live then we need to try to keep up.
I have no doubt that my children try to present to me the edited highlights of their lives. Just as some friends will feel uncomfortable sharing on line, so young people will feel uncomfortable sharing with those who seem so old to them. I have been quite heartened when my child has commented on something that I have shared with the world; when they have realised that I think and feel the way I do. As a parent I will try to be strong, supportive and positive; perhaps at times this has made me appear unreal. All relationships are complex. If parents and their children can get to know each other better as people it can only bring them closer. If the cyber world can help with that then I am a fan.