Social Media Parenting Perils or How My Child Got Scolded on Facebook

I may have mentioned in the past that I live in a neighbourhood very unique to the big city. We had a community organization, do street parties and fund raisers, our children play together on the street, and many of us parents know each other. Some of my best friends are the ladies who live on my street. With all this community togetherness, however, comes a downside. I have come to think of it as the Facebook Group of Nosiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to having a community Facebook group. It’s great when you’re looking for a recommendation on a good contractor or selling off the toys your children have outgrown. My issue is how some people have begun to use the site to air their grievances and to just generally vent. It has led to some rather amusing posts mind you. Like the time somebody decided to go on a diabtribe about the number of outdoor cats wandering through her backyard. I checked to make sure it wasn’t my cat she had issue with, then promptly ignored it all but I have been told that the thread had well over 100 posts and turned rather ugly by the end.

This weekend, things got a bit personal though and it had me longing for the days when it wasn’t quite so easy to air your dirty laundry.

My little Monkey has recently turned 9 and has been enjoying all the freedoms of playing outside unsupervised with his friends for quite some time now. With over 60 kids on our street aged 16 and under, there is never a shortage of kids to play with and since Mini Me has become a surly tween, with all the sulking and Minecraft playing that accompanies it, I am glad that Monkey has so many kids who can occupy his time. He loves to be outside running around and never gets into trouble… until now.

Since spring has finally arrived, we have been letting Monkey go to the park which is up the street and around the corner, with his friends. I am insistent that there should always be an older kid going along, but this weekend I made a tactical error. He asked if he could go to the park with two other boys his age and one of the older kids to deliver some outdoor toys that the older boy wanted to leave up there for the neighbourhood kids to use. There’s a fair collection of old dump trucks, play kitchens, and riding toys that people have contributed in the past, so I was fine with it.

Imagine my surprise when I went onto Facebook later that evening to see a post by a parent I don’t know describing my son’s little posse and their reprehensible behavior. It would seem that the older kids were launching these big toys off the top of the climbing structure in the presence of the park’s toddlers. Great. She went on to describe their appearance and what they were wearing, and commented that she did say something to them, but then she felt the need to go on Facebook and describe the incident further, saying that she wasn’t sure where the kids lived but she hoped they would be taken to task.

And you know, I would have been fine if it had been left at that. It was the ensuing comment thread that had my hackles up. About 10 comments had come in already, tracking the boys’ progress home and identifying them as living on our street. There were also several comments from parents about how their children would never do such a thing, how disrespectful they were, and a call to post the photo of the boys that the parent had taken of them – in order to describe them better, she said.

Now I was pissed.

I spoke to Monkey right away because honestly, I have never seen or heard of him doing anything like that. As far as the 9 year old boys of my acquaintance go, he’s a pretty passive kid. Loud, energetic, and willful sure, but never destructive of his own property let alone anybody else’s. He also loves little kids and is very careful around them, so I found it very uncharacteristic that he would do anything that could potentially hurt a little one. He was puzzled when I asked him what happened at the park and didn’t seem to really understand when I pushed further and asked if people were throwing around toys. As it turned out, he was a witness to what his friends were doing but said he didn’t participate himself. Why didn’t he speak out? He just “wasn’t that kid” who could say those things to his friends. He quite rightly pointed out that any time he has spoken up he has been told bluntly “you tell me what to do.” Sigh.

What he did or didn’t do was really immaterial by this point. It was the online witch hunt that upset me. Monkey was mortified when I told him how I found out about it all and couldn’t understand why somebody had to post something like that on Facebook for the whole neighbourhood to see. It had me thinking the same thing. The kids had already been told off by the parent at the park and in fact, she mentioned that several parents were watching it all happen and never said a thing. I applaud her for telling them off. But why take it to social media? Why open up the incident for a huge group of people who could now judge my child and his friends? Why the need to track them down and determine where they live?

It made me long for the days when kids could do stupid things and be told face to face by an adult that it was not okay. Where an isolated incident remained isolated. Where a kid could be marched home and made to stand there and be held accountable for his actions by a concerned bystander who just wanted to make sure things were put right and deliver a face to face apology.

In the end, I posted to the thread that the incident had been addressed, grounding had happened and the witch hunt could be called off. I left the thread and never went back to see what became of it. I figured that if the same group could go on for hundreds of comments about stray cats, who knows what they could do with this one.

I’m going to use this incident as a learning moment for my kids. They are still young enough that they don’t use social media themselves and they don’t understand the power of it. I want them to understand that what you put on social media is out there for all to see and you can’t take it back. If you choose to vent, you had better think about the people you may be offending, or hurting, or embarrassing. You need to think of the impression you are presenting about yourself and about other people. These are powerful tools and even though my little run in this weekend is very minor, it has also made me mindful of what I put out there. Lesson learned.

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