Since the beginning of time, parents have lived by the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do.” I was recently challenged to think about that contradiction in one specific aspect of my life.
I attended my first blogging conference last month, and on the first night there was a pep rally-themed social event. Pom-poms were given out, a photo booth was set up and bartenders served beer and wine, which we sipped while listening to the winning essays from a contest held exclusively for attendees. The event was, oddly enough, hosted by Responsibility.org, an organization that educates families on ways to combat drunk driving and underage drinking.
After everyone had imbibed a little, the Responsibility.org representative stood up to thank us for attending. Then she showed us this video and talked about the kind of alcohol-based humor we bloggers frequently use on social media, and how many young eyes and minds might be seeing and internalizing those messages.
It was kind of a buzzkill.
She challenged us to join the #RefreshYourFunny campaign by refraining from posting any alcohol-based humor over the next month, and to write a post on our blogs with our honest reactions to the campaign.
As I stood there, swirling what was left in my wine glass and guiltily wishing I had one more drink ticket, I scanned the crowd for reactions to her presentation. They were, by and large, not very good. It seemed like some assumed the Responsibility.org rep was asking them to put down their wine glasses right then and there, and to drink less around their children, if at all. Certainly to be a censored version of themselves online, for the sake of their kids and others.
“That’s not really what she’s saying,” I thought. In fact she told us more than once to have a great time and enjoy the bar. “Or was it?” I wondered, swigging the last of my wine.
One obvious difference between our lives and our parents’ lives is that ours have become publicly posted scrapbooks. We have carefully constructed, tightly edited versions of ourselves put out there for public consumption. People’s feathers were ruffled that night over the very idea of self-censorship, but can anyone honestly say they’re not already doing that in some fashion? I certainly am.
I don’t air my dirty laundry on Facebook, or share every fear and failure (or, for that matter, success) on Twitter. I don’t post a selfie of my angry mom face after I’ve told my boys 17 times to Pick. Up. The family room! or Stop. Touching. Each. Other!! Sometimes, but not all the time. I have a penchant for using foul language in my personal life, when my kids aren’t around, but I don’t swear in front of them and I keep the f*cks off Facebook because they’ll see that, eventually. (And my mother will see it now. Sorry, Mom. Also, you’re welcome?)
I censor my life online all the time, and I bet most everyone else does too. So what’s the big deal about easing off the wine memes? Perhaps I’m down with the idea since it seems like it’s become a tired joke anyway, bordering on a cliché – the frustrated mom pacing in her kitchen, waiting for 5 o’clock so she can use some of the wine in her house to soften the edges from all the whine in her house.
Trust me, I do that too. Sometimes a glass of wine at the end of a very, very long day feels like the best kind of reward. But do I have to share that glass, or that sentiment, with the world, where my kids might eventually see it and wonder how they were so awful I had to self-medicate just to get through the day with them? If I need to share, can’t I instead opt to commiserate about my terrible day with a trusted girlfriend over the phone while I sip my wine, or have a riotously funny text exchange with a former college pal who enjoys the same beer I’m drinking?
Social media has tricked us into believing that if we don’t share it with the crowd, if people don’t “like” something we’re doing, then we remain alone, unvalidated and unheard. It’s a tough line to toe for bloggers and writers like myself, who want to connect with others by sharing the parts of our lives that might resonate with you, there, also alone in your kitchen and frustrated as hell. *Clink!* But are we sure that what resonates today won’t ripple across tomorrow and beyond?
I don’t want to be all doomsday about social media in general, or adult beverages specifically. (Because yum…) Lord knows Facebook alone has given me a means to keep up with friends, connect with colleagues and get a much wider audience for my work. But sometimes it feels like the whole world is a social experiment. My boys know words and phrases that didn’t exist when I was a kid. They swipe and click and ask to see my phone all the time.
“Can I look at the pictures on your phone?”
“Can I check the weather?”
“Can I send a text message to Daddy?”
And I give them access to that technology – certainly not unfettered access, but access nonetheless. And they soak it all up, in ways we notice and in ways we don’t. Because there is so much about this brave new world that we simply don’t know. We don’t yet know how they’ll be affected by all this oversharing, by all these public stories and jokes, by how we make our lives — and sometimes them — a punchline. We don’t know what the result of all these selfies and memes and instant updates on their lives and our lives, their triumphs and our triumphs, their mistakes and our mistakes will be.
The other day I asked my kids if they knew what alcohol was. They didn’t.
“It’s a certain kind of drink that’s just for adults,” I explained. “Like beer and wine.”
“Ohhh, I don’t like that at all,” said Kostyn, who’s 8.
“How come?” I asked, genuinely surprised he had an opinion.
“Well, because Evan and I snuck some once, a long time ago, we tried it, and it tasted awful. Awful!”
Sure, the childhood sip of beer is practically a rite of passage. But the point is I had no idea they’d done it.
Even when we think we know, we sometimes don’t know what they’re seeing. What they’re thinking. What they’re tasting. And that’s a sobering thought.
This piece will be submitted for a writing contest sponsored by Responsibility.org, but I am not being compensated for the post, and all the opinions are my own.
[POSTSCRIPT: I won the contest! First place winner! Scored a $500 prize and a fancy graphic as proof. Look how very official I am in my first essay contest.]