I was listening to my favorite radio station this morning, and they were talking about "MySpace.com", and whether it is dangerous for kids or not. One man called in and said that he doesn't think that legislating or policing the site is the ultimate answer, because kids are smarter than we are, and if they're going to do something, they're going to do it. So, the key is to TEACH your kids what is safe, what isn't, and why. Teach them why they shouldn't want to do something, like go meet people that they've only met online, because it might not be safe. Coincidentally, I just started a new book, called "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors". At this point in the story, she's not yet a woman, no longer a girl...meaning she's just started high school, and the pressure is enormous. The character in the book is feeling so much pressure from all directions, and the pressure is that everyone is trying to define her by her sexuality. And by define, I mean, is she a 'whore', or is she 'frigid'. Those are the only choices. There is no winning in this situation. And she's so young to be having this thrust upon her. The teachers, the other students, all trying to grope her and find out if she is game for that kind of thing. It makes her bitter and tough....much tougher than she has any real desire to be.
I don't know what it's like growing up in working class Ireland, which is where the story takes place, but I do know what it's like growing up in not-quite-working class Stockton, which is where I lived when I went to High School. And I couldn't walk to 7-11 to get a Pepsi without some guy snooping around, trying to pick me up. "Are you a model?" they'd ask (trying to appeal to my vanity, I suppose, but come on...pretty obvious line). Like a model would live in that neighborhood, where 1/2 of the people were on welfare, there were bars on the windows, and you might have your house 'tagged' at any time. Right. So if I talked to them, they thought I was 'interested', meaning, yeah, you know. If I ignored them, I was a 'bitch', and 'frigid'. So I know a little bit of what this character is talking about, and I'll bet my 3 or 4 female readers do as well. At least my teachers and fellow students never tried to grope me.
But the whole MySpace thing got me to thinking about the judgement of teenagers...like when I was 17, and my brother and I cut school to see "Return of the Jedi" on opening day...I had to go to work at Mr. Steak for a couple of hours, so he stayed at the theater and held our place in line. While I was walking to the old Steak house, a guy pulled over and told me that he just HAD to get my phone number because of how I looked in my blue and white striped shorts. I talked to him. I flirted a bit. Such a feeling of power, to have a guy who is obviously 25 or older, talking to you, interested in you. It's crazy. I gave him my phone number. I left and went to Mr. Steak, then back to see the dumb ass movie. Well, the guy called. He called and called. He told me he'd like me to go on a date. He told me that I should bring my nightgown. He FREAKED ME OUT. Very scary. BUT...he was honest about what he wanted. He didn't pretend to be someone he wasn't, and when I eventually got up the guts to blow him off, he went away. I was 17 already, not a 14 or 15 year old...I had SOME judgement. But might I have gone to meet someone that I met online, if they seemed safe and secure and friendly? If I thought he was my age, or thought he was just a girl wanting to hang out and get coffee? I don't know. Not if my mom had taught me about the dangers involved. If she had talked to me about it and told me that there are dangerous people out there, who only want sex, or who want more than that, who want to hurt you. Of course, we didn't have the internet back in '83, so she didn't have to tell me any of this. But those of us with kids today, both boys and girls, we have to be much more careful, and teach our children to be open and honest with us, and to keep themselves safe.