Here’s my dilemma.  Again it revolves around parenting.  Number two son has a Facebook account.  He chats with relatives and friends, puts up pictures and checks on people he knows.  He’s Facebook friends with a girl we’ll call Ellie.  Ellie is a couple years younger than my son.  She’s adorable.  She has long brown hair and big brown eyes, dark eyelashes and rosy cheeks.

She’s the kind of kids that when she runs up to a teacher or coach with a question, they smile at her as she’s approaching them.  People are grateful to her just for being in the room.  She gets a little extra slack in most situations because she is just so dang cute.  I think being cute has gotten her a pass on bad behavior in the past.

A while back she was cyber harassing my son Jasper on his Facebook page.  She was writing  insults and obscenities on his profile page.  He was getting upset about it, and so was I.  He had asked her to stop, and she didn’t, so I decided to send the girl an email to let her know that I could see what she had written,  and so could everyone else, and that I wanted her to stop doing it.  I didn’t want to get her into trouble, I just wanted to enlighten her.

I wrote a short email that said (more or less) “Ellie, you are a lovely girl, but when you write things like what you’ve been writing on  Jasper’s wall, it makes you seem ugly.  Please stop doing it.  Jasper’s grandmas and grandpas are on Facebook and they can see those things you wrote.  If you have some problem with Jasper and you can’t work it out, you can talk to a teacher or talk to me and I will try to help”

She sent me a nice email  apologizing and saying she felt really bad,  it wouldn’t happen again,  she’d apologize to Jasper in school.   I sent her one back saying not to worry, everyone makes mistakes, that she didn’t have to talk to Jasper because he didn’t know I was emailing her.  She sent me another one back saying she was really, really sorry and she was friends with Jasper and they were just messing around, but they’re all cool now.   I sent one back saying great, she didn’t have to keep apologizing about it.  She sent me another saying things were totally cool with her and Jasper…. I stopped returning the emails.

Now she’s telling him his mom is creepy and won’t stop emailing her.  She’s so sweet faced, and really well liked in school.  I doubt anyone knows about her ugly side, but I think mean is mean, even when it comes from a petite, pretty girl.  What should I have done differently?  I don’t want to let kids bully my kid, but I don’t want to make him look like a mama’s boy, either.

Let Me Tell You

I have a Blog, I have a Facebook page. I use Twitter.  I have a cell phone.  I like them.  I use them.  They don’t rule my life, they don’t keep me from associating with the people I love. On the contrary, they have brought me closer to people I already love, and caused me to love people I hardly knew.

A good friend of mine has made repeated reference to the fact that these things above are just examples of a narcissistic and exhibitionist culture.  He may be right, because there is a great amount of navel-gazing going on.  But it’s more than that.

When I’m using twitter or Facebook, I update a maybe 10 times a day.  Not because I think I have such profound things to say, or because I am doing something interesting.  I do it to take the place of (especially in the winter) accidental and incidental interactions with people I know well, and people I know casually.

I have family who live far away.  Email was great, but it lacked the random small talk upon which relationships often thrive.  Sure, if I have a problem or a joy, or an interesting tidbit, I can send it off to a group of email pals.  But chit-chat builds bonds. I can now get a feel for their moods, they can get a feel for mine.  I know who is sick, who is single, who is unemployed.

Not only do I know, but I can actually have a real world response to a real world issue, made possible by knowledge I never would have known without Facebook or Twitter.  When my brother-in-law was sick, I could send him a book and some snacks by way of Amazon.com.  When a college professor/ Facebook friend of mine was sick, I could actually hop in the car and bring him soup.  Without Facebook, I might not have even known these guys were under the weather.

Eavesdropping on the conversations people have with each other is another niche filled by Facebook.  I learn a lot from what I overhear.  This is true in the real world, like when I overhear my neighbors talking to their kids, or see them leave all dressed up to go out somewhere.  It would be stupid of them to call me and say, “Hey, we’re going out to eat at a fancy place!”  It doesn’t rise to the level of newsy, but I like to know.

The same for Facebook and Twitter.  My new semester doesn’t merit a full-on email, but it’s part of the little bit of knowledge people who care about me carry around in the back of their minds.  It brings us closer.

I ask myself  if I really have better relationships with real people just because of these cyber-commons?  I can say without reservation that I do.  You can call it narcissitic,  exhibitionistic or voyeuristic.  I’m comfortable with that.  I think it exaggerates the basic feeling I have about Facebook, et al, but doesn’t get it entirely wrong.  It is about enjoying listening, communicating, watching and liking each other.