My children’s world is so much smaller then mine.
Last night by 13-year old son said very quietly, “She died.” His Poppy was in the kitchen and asked, “Who?”
My son replied, “Talia”. He used just her first name as if he would for one the friends that he has known for years. He was sad.
My husband asked again, “Who?”
“You don’t know Talia? From YouTube? Everyone knows Talia, Poppy. We are twitter friends. I followed her. She died of cancer at 11:20 today,” my son explained.
Talia Castelleno was a 13 year old who touched the lives of many. She was a social media phenomenon who captured the world with her beauty, her spunk and her courage.
A few things struck me at that moment. The first was that my son felt as if he had lost a friend. He’d never met her other then in the world of social media but to him, that interaction was friendship. He watched a courageous girl fight a horrible, horrible disease. The Tweets felt like conversation for him. He’d responded to her images, her videos and her words. I suddenly realized that the relationships that he would have in his lifetime would be very different then those that I had in mine. He would know and interact with people from every walk of life in cities and towns all over the world. His definition of friend would not be the same as mine.
Social Media, for a parent, can be both terrifying and enlightening. The exposure presents dangers. I can also see how the exposure presents gifts as well…the gift of knowing someone you will never meet. The gift of making friends with people beyond the people you meet in your everyday life. As a parent, I can also see a side of my child that I wouldn’t otherwise see thanks to the new world of social media.
In our house you earn the responsibility of being socially tuned in. Part of that responsibility is that I must be included in followers, likes, etc. I don’t poke and prod daily but I do it enough to let him know that I am watching. He willing hands over his phone and flops down on the couch next to me as I scroll. I’ve seen off-color jokes that made me raise my eyebrow. I’ve see text conversations that show me what kind of friend my son can be. I’ve read posts that were honest and heartfelt in a way that my guy couldn’t verbalize. I’ve see images being shared back and forth. Some of those require discussion—not punishment—I don’t want to set the wrong tone here—just discussions.
Last night I also understood that my son knows more about more then I knew at that age. I didn’t fully understand that children die when I was 13. I never knew of a child that died of cancer. Stories of bravery were of Laura Ingells Wilder journeying thru the Mid-West prairies—not of real life teens battling cancer or facing death or being a victim of terrorism. Seeing Sally Ride and the Challenger explosion was as close as I came to the horrors of reality. And even that, though tragic, didn’t feel personal. It was horrible and it was sad but from a distance.
The horrible realities my son faces aren’t from a distance. Talia’s death felt personal to him. He lost a friend. Terrorism isn’t something that happens in a far away place—he sees it unfold in places he’s been—New York, Boston and the like. Luckily the flip side to that is that he also gets to see courage and strength from less of a distance. He got to befriend a spunky, positive and beautiful person. He met someone who’s achieving great things with prosthetic limbs. He’s watched a child without a limb slip into a pool and race against their peers. He follows the progress of a little toddler from Winder who is fighting back from a catastrophic brain injury. All of this happens right on his screens, in his feeds and on his page.
While I hate that the exposure is so dangerous and invites so many unknowns into his life I am also thankful that that same exposure teaches him so much about how ordinary people do extraordinary things.