You've heard the phrase "teachable moment"--when you're just drifting along in the middle of an otherwise inconsequential conversation, or a daily activity, and suddenly up pops an opportunity for a Life Lesson? In my experience, so many of these occur on the playground. ("See, isn't it nice when everyone has a turn on the slide? What do we say when we knock over our little friend, even if it was an accident? And my personal favorite: Mulch is NOT edible!") Others can spring upon you in the midst of everyday routines--"No, Derek, neon lime green shorts paired with a traffic-cone orange shirt is more migraine-inducing than 'awesome' as a wardrobe choice...with which to visually assault your teachers and friends."
Then there are those conversation starters that meander into your room and announce themselves with no warning whatsoever, such as the one recently presented by Riley. Actually, he peeked his head around my doorway to make sure I was there, then solemnly asked, "You know what I'm concerned about?" Alarm bells instantly began to chime as I gazed at his serious face, wondering what the heck could possibly be coming next. Fortunately I was spared from engaging in a guessing game, as he answered his own question: "Computer privileges." Of course, sweetie...wait, I'm sorry, what? Are we talking about not being afforded enough playing time, or not having access to iTunes...'cuz that's it, that's all I've got. Again, he saved me by continuing, "My friend at school was telling me he goes online with his DS and sees some players whose Usernames have bad words in them." (Here he dropped his voice conspiratorially, as though merely the suggestion of profanity was too offensive to mention out loud.)
Ohhhhh! Now I understand. And clearly it's time for our next Big Talk...about Internet security. So, in as gentle and non-upsetting terms as possible, I warned him about guarding his personal information. (And also spelled out very specifically all the details that should be considered "private"...which encompasses pretty much everything except maybe your first name...) I reminded him of the Golden Rule (well, at least the Cyber Golden Rule): never share passwords with anyone. Since he's not actually an online gamer, this was quite probably waaaaayyyy overkill at this point, but I figured it couldn't hurt. And yet, as a person who was born before the World Wide Web was invented, I mourn the fact that I feel the need and responsibility to have this discussion with my nine year old at all.
In fact, when I was growing up, the only way you could communicate with another human being was by calling them on the (rotary dial) phone. (Lucky for us, I would imagine it's pretty difficult and unrewarding for predators to target kids this way--"reach out and touch someone" company slogan notwithstanding--so it was basically a non-issue.) Life in my rural-ish neighborhood was so laid-back, my parents locked the doors and windows only when we left for a family vacation. And no one seemed to mind the young hooligans (yes, that would be would be me and my pals) who roamed free all day long when not in school, stopping home for meals...or when darkness fell. And our Moms and Dads didn't worry. There was really no cause for distress--unless maybe one of us scraped a knee and required a hug and a band-aid.
Nowadays, I periodically review the procedures for handling such possibly tricky events as: a ringing doorbell (unless you can glimpse one of your friends standing on the porch, do not open it, period); a delivery (leave it until a parent is available to retrieve the package); or a phone call (if you recognize the number on Caller ID, pick it up; all others, ignore). Then there are the circumstances that come with real potential for peril, such as walking to a buddy's house. Riley still tends to remain close to home, but nevertheless always makes sure to tell me exactly whose yard he'll be visiting down the street. Derek wanders a bit farther afield these days, but now has the ever-important cell phone for tracking purposes. And after our rocky beginning, he has mastered the crucial skills of "obtaining permission before travelng" and the related "texting Mom when you begin your return journey". However, a recent incident involving some kids from his school--who were approached by a car on their way home--forced us to go over how to handle that situation as well.
Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not pining for the 70s to come back (so I could revel in all my plaid polyester clothing and shag haircut glory days--shudder), but I do feel a bit nostalgic for the smaller...safer....more innocent world we enjoyed. Since I can't shelter my children inside our (locked) house, sequestered from all electronic temptation, listening to Disco music and reminiscing about when life was simpler (I don't know which of us would be more nauseated by this, frankly...) I hope I'm teaching them how to feel protected...without scaring the bejeebers out of them in the process. If it all gets too overwhelming, perhaps I'll just schedule a nice day of tie-dying, Atari games, and capture-the-flag...to a Donna Summer soundtrack (mwah hah hah...)