“Dear girls,” wrote mother-of-four Kimberley Hall on her blog a few days ago. “I have some information that might interest you.” The irony is that Hall’s post seems to have been barely noticed by the female teenage friends of her sons to whom it was addressed – but it’s caused a massive furore among parents of adolescents the world over.
Usually, this Texan mummy blogger gets one or two comments: this post has gone viral, sparking a huge internet debate about the sexually provocative, in Hall’s opinion, “selfies” posted by young girls on her sons’ Facebook pages. The pictures she’s seen, says Hall, shows teenage girls in their pyjamas, not wearing their bras, or wearing just a towel. And “I can’t help but notice the red-carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout …”, she explains. She goes on – in that patronising teenspeak way kids really hate – “big bummer – we have to block your posts”. Because “once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it … you don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”
It’s easy to see why the post was so explosive. Some of the comments – mostly the ones from Hall’s fellow evangelical Christian mothers of boys – are supportive; the majority, unsurprisingly, especially from mothers of teenage girls like me, have been of outrage. Can Hall be serious? Does she really think shameless girls are corrupting her pure, unknowing boys? Does she genuinely believe her sons can’t be held responsible for “bad thoughts” that might result from seeing the pictures, while the girls should be hauled over the coals for them?
Hall’s naivety is illustrated by the fact that, festooned around her words of wisdom, she dotted pictures of her lads – in their swimming trunks. She’s now substituted fully clad images of them, following the torrent of cries of “double standard” – but it’s a lovely irony that she’s ended up looking a good deal more of an online fool than anyone she was trying to lampoon.
But what’s most naive in Hall’s patronising post is her assertion that she is going to block the posts of the brazen girls who have posted their selfies on her sons’ web pages. As if she has the final word on it. As I’ve argued before on Comment is free, once our kids are teenagers we’re fooling ourselves if we think we have power over their social media use. If they haven’t already done so, here’s betting the Hall boys will soon be setting up private Facebook pages, well hidden from their mother’s prying eyes.
I’d be lying if I told you, as the mother of four growing-up daughters, that there haven’t been moments that have stopped me in my tracks where my girls and their selfies are concerned. But what I try to remember is this: adolescence is all about shocking the adults around them. And adolescence is a lot about sex, too; one of the ways that sexual attraction is played out these days is on the internet. Teenagers of both sexes have always experimented with their sex appeal, and one of the big differences between our day and theirs is that this experimentation has other outlets in 2013. I’m not saying it’s good, and I’m not saying it’s bad – what I am saying is that it’s something we did too when we were young, just in a different way.
It’s always easy in parenting, as in life generally, to point the finger at what other people are doing wrong. Hall’s message, when you read it between the lines, is clearly aimed at mothers of girls like me, although it’s ostensibly directed at the girls themselves. Well, here’s my own suggestion, Mrs Hall: why not concentrate on the messages you’re giving your boys about self-respect and respect for others, and I’ll do the same with my girls. Let’s both give our kids the message that growing up comes with responsibilities, and for heaven’s sake, find something else to do with your evening rather than trawling through your boys’ Facebook accounts.
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