“Never, ever make a video of your butt.” This is the first rule of digital citizenship.
“Why?” Declan asks. We’ve been home for some snow days. He’s using this time to make painfully long videos. He wants to be a YouTuber. He tells me he’s going to show his butt in the video, and he might even fart. I say no.
“That’s not allowed. Never watch or show private parts on the computer. Ever!” We have to teach these things young. I discovered there’s an actual age where cute naked baby pictures legally become porn. A photographer told me.
“You’ll want to get his portraits done now, because we can’t do nudes after next month.” That was when he was a baby. I never did get those pictures done. I have cameras and they’re free.
“Remember when we saw that mom in her underwear?” Declan giggles. It was a Hanes commercial popping up in the middle of cartoons. Thanks ad buyers. “Mom, you’ve got to see this!”
“It’s a bathing suit,” I said. We moved on. Sometimes I make errors in censorship like the time I was washing dishes and Dad failed to change the Dora videos manually. Declan did. Fake Dora shot fake Boots. Blood was everywhere. I made a quick recovery, “That is not nice for Dora to spill paint everywhere.” For months afterword, when we painted, we were never “messy like Dora.”
My son will never know a time without cool digital things, so I have to to prepare him for the responsibility. I remember the olden days before MTV and desktops. I remember my first email, 24 hour news and weather, Amazon and Google. Before that I waited for a ride to the library and wrote answers on index cards. It was tough to get in trouble writing notes on index cards.
If I train Declan to stay out of trouble, he’ll be able to conquer the world when it took me months to research simple things. He can find anything online. This is what makes him powerful or dangerous.
One day, I was swearing about greenhouse mold, trying to dispose of infected basil. Declan disappeared and returned. “I found the answer for you, Mommy.” He had spelled “green house mold” in his search window and selected an article for me. It was a very good article.
The world is Declan’s shopping cart. It’s his library, his production studio and his social network. Pencils are for old people, YouTube for the young. He hovers over his YouTube channel where one video rests, checking it for likes and views. When Declan wants something and I say no, he brings me to the Amazon page. “Get it.” I still say no. “Put it on your wish list in case you change your mind.”
He wants to be a YouTuber like the cool teens. “I can’t wait to be a teen so I can swear,” he says.
I tell him being a teen isn’t about swearing. It’s about becoming a good human being so you can get a job that doesn’t suck. Except I don’t say “suck” because that’s a swear. I tell him being a teen is also about doing nice things for your parents who pay your way through life and about not picking a college that will make everyone bankrupt.
“You have to be polite on your videos.” The point of the conversation was digital responsibility.
“I can’t be polite!” he says. “I need likes and views. How can I get likes and views if I’m polite?”
He’s got a point there. I don’t know if people would click on Louis CK helping old ladies cross the street.
I’m not sure if I’m sad or impressed that Declan’s seven and he’s already got the ratings game down. He knows nobody wants to view people behaving. They want to see outrageous, sensational, and negative. He’s seven and link baiting’s part of his DNA.
Well, it’s his brave new world. I tell him he can make all the videos he wants, as long as they’re Rated E for everyone, but we won’t put them up on YouTube until they’re edited and much shorter.
“Mom, you don’t know gamers! They like long videos.” It’s true. I don’t know gamers. He’s studying his market. I’m doubly impressed. Still, I can’t let him torture the world, so it’s time for me to learn to edit. If I’m not going to be the soccer mom, I’ll be the video nerd mom. It’ll be good for us both, and who knows, maybe there’s a career in this for him after all. I can certainly use the skills for my other jobs outside of “mom.”
Rest assured with me on the watch, there will be no swears and no pictures of butts. I hope.
Sometimes moms don’t pay attention. And that’s when kids make their play to rule the world.