Okay, I’m gonna try to make this quick because I need to get to work. But I feel like I also need to talk about this somewhere.
So. I have this friend who’s about to turn 13. She’s my ex’s kid; I don’t make a habit of going around friending 13 year olds. (Not that there’s anything wrong with friending 13 year olds, but it’s not a common occurrence in our age-segregated society.)
Anyway. She’s the coolest. One of the most important things to me, when me and my ex broke up, was making sure I maintained a good relationship with her. I’ve been making a real effort to do that, and I think she and I have gotten closer since the split, given that we spent “family” time together before but not much time one-on-one. (She doesn’t live with my ex, so we mostly only got together at holidays and such.)
I still feel kinda awkward with her, ‘cause she’s a teenager and I’m a dorky old person and I don’t always know what to talk to her about. I don’t have kids of my own, and most of the other young people in my life are either 18+ or, like, five. This no-longer-a-little-kid-but-not-quite-exactly-a-grownup hinterland is new to me. Is she too old for coloring books? Is she too young for novels with sex in them? (Turns out the answer to both questions is “no”, depending on the specifics of the coloring book and the novel.) I try to remember what I was like and into at that age, but that doesn’t really help either because a) she’s had a harder life than I did and she’s way more mature than I was at 12, and b) I was 12 twenty years ago; the world was different back then, even kid world. But we figure it out. She’s a big reader, so we mostly talk about books and YouTube and go swimming and make cupcakes and stuff.
Here’s the thing: Most of the adults in her life are not very tech savvy. Certainly, they’re not on Tumblr or whatever. She has a Facebook page that she shares with family and posts the kind of innocuous stuff you post where your grandparents can see it. And another Facebook that’s mostly just friends her age, me, and one of her aunts, where she posts somewhat more ranty teenager-type memes about how people who don’t like her for who she is can find other friends, etc.
And then there’s another space online where she talks to her Internet friends. And, like you do, she uses that space to talk about suicidal thoughts, self-injury, depression, feeling abandoned by her family, considering anorexia, the support she gets from her online community, etc. I don’t think the other adults in her life know about this space. And I don’t think it occurs to her that any of them might read it. I only stumbled across it because I happen to be more Internet-savvy than her grandparents…and I haven’t mentioned it to her.
So. I guess this is where that ultimate question of the relationship between privacy and safety gets personal. Honestly, I’m grateful that I didn’t find this site until after my ex and I had split up, because otherwise I think I would’ve felt much more torn about whether I should show it to her Dad. Even when we were together, one of the common points of tension between my ex and I was that I wanted to advocate for the kiddo more, but was always trying to strike a balance between doing that in ways that didn’t make my ex feel like I was criticizing their parenting, thus putting a strain on their relationship with me. Now that we’re split, I’m in the advantageous position of knowing exactly where my priorities lie. I still care about my ex a lot. But their daughter and my relationship with her comes first.
People, especially young people, use the Internet to communicate about and find support around things they don’t feel safe sharing with the people they know in “real life.” That’s one thing I do remember from being a teenager — and from talking to my friends online about depression, self-injury, feeling suicidal, anorexia, being angry at my family, and the like. This is all stuff I went through when I was her age, too, and I turned out alright. But there’s always the possibility that I wouldn’t have. I dunno. All I know is that if someone had tipped my parents off to the stuff I was sharing online at the time, I would have experienced that as a major betrayal.
It’s important to me not to violate what feels to her right now like a safe space. It’s also important to me that she’s actually safe. I’m trying to think and feel through the complexities of how to balance both those things in a way that’s respectful towards her, that’s respectful towards her relationship with her Dad, and that acknowledges how much they care about her and what a really good and loving parent they are, even if I do think they are inattentive and distracted from her life sometimes, and that also pays attention to the complicated custody situation she’s in with the people she currently lives with (who are not people I trust to treat her respectfully the way I trust her Dad.)
I dunno. I don’t know that I’m exactly looking for advice, although I’m open to it. I think I just…am dealing with a tough thing that I’m not exactly sure how to talk about to people in my “real life” without compromising her privacy, and so I decided to talk to my Internet friends for support. Like you do. :P
Okay, I really gotta go to work now.