When my son, who is now 15, was in 7th grade, I became appalled by the amount of time he and his friends spent online. None of them had Facebook pages. All the timesink occurred via gateway drugs like Google Buzz and iChatting and other communication vehicles I had never heard of.
I was also alarmed by their public “conversations” and the idiotic things they wrote. They were all nice, smart kids. But from reading their chats, one could logically presume they were homicidal, racist, sexist thugs.
So it seemed wise to forbid my kids from having Facebook pages – which after all had been designed for college students to use – until they reached some form of mental maturity, which I arbitrarily set as their 16th birthdays.
This policy went down like cod liver oil with the two oldest children, who were 12 and 13 at the time. The youngest, at 8, was preternaturally focused on getting a cell phone, the first bastion in the parents vs. kids communication battleground, so the advanced delights of Facebook eluded her. But my older children campaigned for Facebook on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. They trotted out all the wonderful people Facebook would help them stay in touch with. Camp friends! Cousins! Their grandmother! Me!
My husband and I held firm.
Then my son entered 9th grade. At first, the Facebook ban seemed a stroke of parenting genius. His grades held steady, despite the grim warnings of teachers about the increased workload and IQ demands of high school.
Then, gradually, it began to dawn on me that the entire human race had migrated to Facebook. I was forcing my son to live in a bleak, morning-after type of societal desolation. My capitulation was simply a matter of time.
First came my son’s social isolation. Popularity had always come effortlessly to him in the small fishpond of elementary and middle school, with friends mobbing our house after school and on weekends, and a glorious stream of birthday and Bar Mitzvah and trips-to-the-beach invitations from classmates and acquaintances of both genders. But as ninth grade progressed I began to notice that the kid never went anywhere anymore. No sleepovers, no movie get-togethers, no parties. For months.
I gingerly inquired. Had his friends all suddenly turned into drug addicts or bullies, to be avoided on Friday and Saturday nights at all costs?
“No, Mom,” My son explained, resignedly, as if asking a favor of Hitler, that every single party, flirtation, and movie outing now occurred via Facebook. His friends wanted him to come, but he never found out about anything until the following Monday morning at school.
This was bearable. Selfishly, I liked having him at home. We watched a lot of Prison Break and NBA basketball together. He babysat his younger sisters. But as he slowly sank into a quasi-depression, I began to worry. The kid needed some friends his own age.
Then he started missing study groups, sports practices, and notices about school trips and pop quizzes. I inquired again. It turned out that even coaches and teachers were using Facebook as an organizational tool.
My fears had been correct, it turned out. The whole world – at least the one 15-year-olds live in today – had crossed some kind of invisible land bridge to the big blue house.
So last Sunday, on my son’s 15th birthday, my husband and I broke down. The last present he opened was a suspiciously light shoebox. I had wrapped it extravagantly in black and white polka dot paper and shiny silver bows. I wrote on the outside “We love you. We trust you. Happy Birthday.”
Inside was a slick white piece of paper with eight blue letters printed on it.
My son, in ubercool 15-year-old fashion, nearly died of happiness. I could tell because he raised his eyebrows. A few seconds later, he made a beeline for his laptop.
Two hours later, he had over 200 friends.
Five days later, the number had plateaued around 500.
The afternoon of his fifth day on Facebook, I happened to come into some gossipy dirt about him in a decidedly old fashioned way. Two cute girls from another school, whom he’d never met, happened to walk by the boys’ tennis practice. A few moments later, at Starbucks, they told a mom, who understood the self-esteem of a 9th grade male. She immediately called me on my cell phone to report the girls thought my son was “hot.” She asked me not to reveal my source.
When I picked him up after practice – all sweaty and starving — I told my son without explaining how I’d gotten this tidbit. He was pleased. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d brought him such a juicy compliment. Then his brain started whirring. How had these girls seen him? Who were they? Where did they go to school? How on earth they had figured out his name just from seeing him hit a serve? How had I intercepted the communiqué?
He thought, he squinted, he nodded at the windshield a few times. Then he turned to me confidently with a one-word answer. He spoke as if God himself had revealed his magical methods.