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Smelly Socks: Lack of privacy, lack of ownership

Dec. 19, 2013 at 6:19 a.m.

Jamison, 9, (left) and Austin, 13.

"Austin, just what does your teacher need to tell me?"

"Hmm," my now 13-year-old son responded. "Did she email you? Mom, I honestly think you are part of the NSA or something," he said, smiling, very pleased with himself. "Yes, before you ask, we discussed the National Security Agency in class today."

"I did get an email," I sighed, "and she said that she had 'a lot of information to share with me.'"

Panic spreads across Austin's face as his cheeks turn a vivid shade of red. I had a rather unusual feeling about being this much of a "well-informed mother." I immediately begin to feel guilty and wonder if this lack of their privacy is truly in my children's best interest.

I have information straight from the teacher with absolutely no waiting necessary. My fingers glide across the keyboard as I discuss things with her. Someone is fixing to give me insight into my child's day at school. This is new territory that parents in the past were not able to enter.

The school is a precious realm that is your child's first step in acting at an independent, mature level. Parents' peering eyes are not there protecting them and answering for them. School is where they get to interact with adults, prepare themselves and mature in preparation for the outside world.

I proceeded, "Jamison, I just saw what you made on your test. Care to explain that to me?"

Jamison, my mild-mannered 9-year-old responds with, "Gee, Mom, did you really just check the grades? Then you already know. You don't need me to tell you about it," he responds with a rather deflated smile.

Things have certainly changed since I was roaming the halls at school. My first day of high school, I just showed up and hopefully figured out where to get my schedule, my locker and find my way to the classroom. I was terrified, but in a few days, I had everything pretty well sorted out.

My principal had a phrase for it: the not exactly original phrase of "Initiation by fire." I am sure that my mother was at home praying for my sheer survival on that first day at a new school in a new town. I had previously gone to a very small private school, but now I was a ninth-grader at a public high school.

Although my high school was typically "small-townish," it was huge compared to my previous school. I was able to come home and pat myself on my back for figuring my way around an unfamiliar high school and not embarrassing myself too badly as far as a freshman goes.

Now incoming freshmen (ninth-graders) have "Fish Camp" during the summer. This is a few days that prepares them for the high school experience. New students are granted an introduction into their new environment, a "heads up" to where to go and what to do, a campus tour and their much anticipated class schedules. Students show up that first day displaying confidence as the newness of the different environment has worn off.

My 13-year-old Austin is two years away from entering the sacred world of high school. I am truly amazed that he has mastered middle school as well as he has. He is on a new campus, with new teachers and new classes, and he has truly flourished with the new freedoms that middle school allows him.

I am sure that he will handle high school just fine, but I am grateful that he will have "Fish Camp" - if not for his nerves, then definitely for mine. He will be walking into high school fully knowing what to expect and what is expected.

Most of the common questions he will not have to figure out on his own. Actually, now, students really don't have to do a thing on their own. Everything is explained to them and explained for them. I can see the positive and the negative of this.

Reflecting back at my school days, my parents had to call and schedule the sometimes dreaded parent-teacher conferences. My parents also had to patiently wait until I brought home my report card and awaited their signature. However, in today's tech savvy world, most conferences are handled via a short concise email to your child's teachers and their responses.

Most problems can be resolved and are discussed with a few emails back and forth. Closure is usually reached without me getting in my car for an in-person meeting or teachers having to use their conference time dealing with a million parent questions.

One of the strangest things about school today is that I can check on my children's school grades any time that I am on the computer - even at my rather remote location at the ranch. I simply type in a username and password and all of their class averages and individual assignments grades come up.

No waiting for report cards; everything is updated as soon as the teacher enters it in. My children will never have the illusion of hoping that a new day will bring them a possible higher grade, and no hoping to do something promised that "if your grades stay up" before your parents actually get your grades.

For a mother who doesn't like surprises, this is truly a wonderful thing, even if Austin and Jamison have very real concerns about it. They just know that I have a drone following them around.

In today's world, things happen at a break-neck pace, and information is readily at our fingertips. Patience is certainly a lost virtue. I must admit that I like to stay informed, and I relish being able to stay on top of things.

But, I am deeply concerned what this lack of privacy is doing to my children. Sometimes, your children need to figure things out for themselves and muddle through until they do. When they eventually do figure out a class or make a better grade, their sense of accomplishment and self-esteem will be so much greater and their reward so much sweeter.

Perhaps instead of me telling them their grade, they should tell me. Instead of them knowing that I know about a certain situation at school, they should own up to that situation and properly explain it to me.

Acceptance and ownership is a powerful thing, and I don't want to take that away from them. I want their integrity and work ethic to remain intact, and I wonder, with their lack of privacy and consequences, if that is possible.

Johanna is a proud seventh-generation Texan. She lives on her family's South Texas ranch with her husband and two lively boys. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at smellysocks@vicad.com.

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