It all started with a Washington Post's Kids Post on robots and the cool things robots can do--play soccer, solve Rubik's cube. When she was visiting her grandkids, Lee read it over with them and discussed with them their ideas about what they would want a robot to do if they had one. The Post asked readers to send in their ideas and the grandmother and her grandchildren complied. Lee thought the Post would compile the answers and let its readers know that X number of children wanted a robot to cook for them and X wanted them to play chess, etc. But Post editors picked out a dozen answers that they found engaging and printed them--with the names and home town of the children who made the suggestions. Lee's grandkids made the list.
That's when Lee ran into a boatload of trouble. Although her grown son had been present for the discussion, her daughter-in-law hadn't. When Lee showed her daughter-in-law the contest results in the newspaper, her daughter-in-law became enraged: yelling, screaming, angry at Lee. She had not been consulted about sending the information in, but more important, she never, never, never allows her children's names to be published online or anywhere. Ever.
Lee was stunned. She explained, she discussed and then she apologized. Several times. She cried all the way home, she says. The apology was finally accepted the next day when Lee agreed to call the Post and have her grandchildren's names removed from the online version.
Lee tells this story at lunch with two friends who are also grandparents, and our small group is shocked by the daughter-in-law's reaction. Except that we shouldn't have been. Many young parents today see the Internet as a dangerous place for their children to be--to wander through without supervision, of course, but also as a place where their names or, worse, their photos could appear. They see predators lurking everywhere on the Internet. This is a big issue on Facebook. Parents are very careful with privacy settings when it comes to family news and photos. I asked my daughter--mother of an 8-year-old Grand--her reaction to Lee's story. She says she wouldn't have been angry, but she did understand the concern about letting your child's identity get out of your control.
I also repeated Lee's story to a couple--Elliot and Ann--we were having dinner with that evening. Just as I got to the part where Lee showed the newspaper to her daughter in law, Elliot interrupted with a shout: "She was furious! She didn't want her children's names in the newspaper!" Turns out, his kids are the same way. Ann added that she had been invited by friends at work to open a Facebook group page so they could swap personal information and chit chat. When her daughter-in-law got wind of this, she objected and asked Ann not to do it. Why? What else would the women talk about but their grandchildren--and post photos of them as well, and she didn't want her children's names or photos online. Ann, who says she doesn't understand Facebook anyway, didn't join the group.
As our grown children make their way through the perilous child rearing years, we stand ready with advice from the wisdom of our experience. We are there to guide them around the shoals of childhood and teenager-dom--as we remember them. But here is something with which we have no prior experience--and little understanding of the fear behind it. It's a whole new world out there.