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An Open Letter to My Future Child Who Doesn’t Exist

Dear Johnny/Molly/Henry/Willamena Fredericka II/Bubba Adelbert,

My apologies for the multiple names.  You see, you’re still too far away to even be a twinkle in my eye, and in my Disney-youth I princess-dreamed all the names I’d have for my future kids, so I thought I’d start with those (p.s. the II to Willamena is because I already have a Willa-dog. I love her desperately, so don’t take the “second” title as an insult. On second thought, I’ll budget for therapy, just in case).

Anyway, I digress.  Dear future muppet-of-mine,

I’m writing you now, well in advance, about a few things that worry me about the current state of our youth online.  Seems like an odd topic, right?  Yes, well, I figure that about the time you’re old enough to start using digital tools (funny thought: zygote = z-iGote), I may have Wendy’ed myself right out of the nursery (Peter Pan reference), and (dare I say it) lost my knowledge of the younger generation (this may seem an impossible concept for most of the people around me, particularly your grandparents, who still don’t quite understand how I found a career that encourages my interests in cartoons and toys).

As you grow in the digital frontier, building new & amazing friendships, creating crazy-looking avatars (if it looks like Bratz doll, don’t be surprised if you’re grounded), and sharing your budding theories on life and girls/boys and friendships, there’s a few things I need to share – well before I know you personally – so don’t take offense, my wee one.  These are thoughts & requests based on the current state of kid-dom, and not based on your actions, so there’s no reason to get all emo on me QUITE yet.

  1. Duck lips: Don’t do it. Whatever the future version of “Instagram” is when you’re digitally active – avoid the duck lips at all costs, UNLESS you’re dressed like a duck.  It’s not cute, sweet heart, I don’t care what your friends do or say.
  2. Nudey pics: There’s a time and a place, and it’s when you’re a baby in the bathtub – and I promise, I won’t post those online (I’ll only show them to your future fian–oh god, I’m getting ahead of myself – where has the time gone? You’re not even born yet! *sob*).  We’ve all had our parents take those nudey bathtub pics, yes.  But that’s where it should end.  Don’t take nudey pics.
  3. Potty language: Just because your friends think its fun to curse and say rude things on Twitter doesn’t mean that it’s going to be fun for you when I see it.  And if you think you can hide a Twitter or Facebook account from me? Think again – you don’t know who your momma is…. I will stalk you until the ends of your days. Not a threat – a promise.
  4. Your behavior online is a reflection of me.  Straight up. Your actions online affect me, our family, my livelihood, and future meals on the table.  Not enough people explain this to their children – but it is the truth.  Even when you’re 40 years old, and I’m aging beautifully in my Squatter’s apartment on Main Street in Disney World (long story), your actions will reflect who I am, your aunt & uncle, your grandparents, your best friends, and our family name.  Have pride in us.
  5. Empathy & Understanding.  It’s hard growing up these days (or in the future days, which I don’t understand yet), particularly online where you can see inner thoughts of developing minds splashed across profiles and smart phone applications.  If you mess up, I will understand – as long as you help me understand. And that goes for your friends – if they mess up, forgive them and find a way to move forward.  There’s no such thing as “black & white” – ask for meaning and context, be curious and loving.  It’s the Muppet way.
  6. “Because I said so.” -> if I say this, I am sorry.  I’m tired or frustrated, and I need a moment.  Take a breath, maybe gimme a wee hug, and say “Momma, I don’t understand.” You will win a legit response every time.
  7. Getting into spats with peers / trolls / friends / siblings: They’re going to happen.  Remind me to tell you about Sweet Brown.  She has this lovely message that I’ve really taken to my heart.  Because, at the end of the day, getting hurt by someone else?  Yeah: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  We can discuss further over dinner.
  8. The exception: Bullies.  Bullies are bored, bothered, sad creatures who are missing a piece of themselves.  They strive to be cruel because they are not-whole.  If you’re being bullied, it’s because they see that you have that piece they are missing, and they’re jealous.  Bullies will always exist.  Bullies try to make you weak, and they’re difficult to vanquish, but when you do, you will gain 2x the strength, as long as you do it with respect and understanding.  I will help you.  I will help your friends.  Together we will be clever, strong, and we will remove the bully, or we will help the bully find his/her missing piece.
  9. Please remember how special you are.  It’s because you’re special that I ask you to keep parts of your “truth” private.  Privacy will always be an asset and always be a challenge.  The idea of a “stranger” online is still being defined.  The digital world allows for so many new interactions, and I never want to stifle your curiosity in other people, cultures, or ideals.  I just need you to understand that YOU have a responsibility of keeping yourself safe, and that entails quite a bit of cleverness on your part.  We must be like Clark Kent, and protect our identities in order to protect our families, friends, and our personal safety.  I will explain to you what “private information” is a thousand times, and you (via osmosis) will become an expert about safety and online behavior.  Sometimes, though, it will be easy to let your guard down and share with someone – talk to me if this happens.
  10. I’m sorry that I’m a horrible mom and won’t let you charge your smart phone in your room after lights-out.  I know I “suck” for not allowing a TV or a computer or a tablet or a laptop to exist as a feature in your bedroom.  It just ain’t gonna happen, dumpling.  Maybe when you’re 16 and can drive a (flying?) car, we’ll talk about it.  Until then: “Yes, I am a terrible mommola, and no, it’s not going to happen.”

Hmm. I feel like there’s a hundred more things I should probably say, and I feel like I’ve not gone deep enough into certain aspects of safety and privacy and digital-self-respect.  But then I have to remember: you will hear this from me forever. FOR. EVER. And hopefully, you’ll appreciate it, the way I appreciate all the knowledge I got from my dad about liability and responsibility and protection (remember, Gramps is an Insurance man… and the very best of men, you can always go to him for advice.  But be prepared for a rant.  I’m just like him. You won’t get a rant from Grandma – you’ll get hugs and love and a kind, listening ear. Solid choices, you wee lucky monkey).

Anyway, my future-non-existent-muppet, I love you.  Be silly.  Be smart.  Be safe.

Whoop whoop,

Izzy Neis
Director of Digital Strategy and Engagement

p.s. Dear Parents & Friends: No. I am not pregnant.  Sheesh.

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Digital Engagement, Offbeat, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

Talk Back

Posted on June 18, 2013

Dear Children of Mine Who Exist:

Before you post it online, make sure it passes the Mama Test. If you wouldn’t say it to me, or show me the pic, don’t post it! Ain’t nobody got eyes for that.

Posted on June 18, 2013

Love this!

Posted on June 17, 2013

Hahaha – I actually am considering writing a “How to date online” ala Austen’s Emma.

One of the edits i made was #9: Do not post your relationship status on Facebook until you’re thinking of rings & babies & car payments. Otherwise, I’m gonna be all up in your biznass, and so will your aunts/uncles/grandparents and anyone else I can bug to get information.


Laura Heagy
Posted on June 17, 2013

Fantastic letter, Izzy! I wish I had the experience you do when my kids were little. However, we really didn’t even let our kids get online when they were young. Not much good for them to be involved with like there is now. But, this is good practice for my future grand-children who don’t exist yet! 🙂

Paula A.
Posted on June 17, 2013

I wish this could be printed out and sent to all the parents out there in cyber land.

Posted on June 17, 2013

The only thing you’re missing is the dreaded *eye roll* and the “but I TRUST he is who he says he is” when having the privacy discussion with your 10 yr old son about on-line friendships. Then the parental decision to crush the innocence? So hard!

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