Are you trying to be your child's "best friend forever"? Or are you a friend to your child? All kinds of strings are attached to BFFs, but a true friend should involve no strings whatsoever. Maybe it's the qualities of a BFF parent that make us think that friendship should not enter the parent/child relationship.
All the "experts" say you shouldn't be your child's friend. Why not? I have a hard time understanding that point of view. Is it because we want to be able to punish, reprimand, and control our children? Is it because we want more power over them than a friend would have? I want to examine this friendship idea.
What is a friend? Someone you can count on; someone who is loyal, honest, and trustworthy; someone you really like and even love; someone you want in your life for a very long time; someone you empathize with who can empathize with you; someone who gives you a shoulder to cry on, listens, and understands your problems without fixing them or giving unwanted advice; someone who doesn't talk about you behind your back but instead has your back; someone you really like being with because you can be yourself. Wouldn't you like to be that for your child?
Are you afraid that being your child's friend means not being able to hold him accountable because your authority would be undermined? Don't you hold your friends accountable for their behavior? Good friendships are lost over less. When we can't say no to our friends, hold them accountable for certain behavior, or speak honestly, it indicates poor boundaries – not a great foundation for friendship.
I see no reason we cannot be friends with our children. But there is a difference between being friends and being a BFF parent.
The BFF Parent:
– Alters own needs to suit child's demands
– Does anything to avoid child's upset
– Is dishonest to protect child from the "big, bad world"
– Avoids loneliness by sharing inappropriate information
– Demands loyalty and companionship through attached strings
– Tries to fix child's problems to gain love and appreciation
– Asks child to keep secrets
– Uses child as confidante for own problems
– Holds back feelings to be nice, yet can blow-up in a rage
– Insists that child has similar tastes, values, and opinions
The Parent who is also a friend:
– Enjoys spending time, hanging out with, and just being with the child
– Shares ideas, opinions, stories and encourages the same
– Learns what activities child enjoys and becomes familiar with them
– Listens and acknowledges feelings but does not take responsibility for child's problems, upsets, or disappointments
– Shows respect and consideration in all communication and never speaks disrespectfully, hurtfully, or abusively
– Laughs a lot and tells jokes
– Encourages child to find own way, follow own path, develop own values and opinions
– Is willing to speak honestly, trusting the relationship will remain strong
– Behaves in way that does not betray trust
– Expresses anger and deals with child's anger
– Argues and negotiates
– Is also the authority figure – someone the child looks up to, learns from, and emulates because of the preceding attributes
I wonder if the qualities of friendship restrict parents too much from speaking disrespectfully and doling out whatever critical, labeling, or punitive reactions arise in the heat of the moment. I wonder if being a friend to your child requires accountability that most parents don't want to be held to. Are we afraid that our children won't respect us if we are their friends? Don't you respect your friends?
In the parent-child relationship, we are more than friends. We are teachers and guides; we provide for them and are responsible for their care and upbringing, but this does not preclude friendship as well. Problems arise when we try to be "best friends forever". Or when we are not their friends.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.
A new study about teenagers and sexting, which focused on a single high school, found that “nearly 20 percent reported they had ever sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cell phone, while almost twice as many reported that they had ever received a sexually explicit picture via cell phone and, of these, over 25 percent indicated that they had forwarded such a picture to others.” The authors, researchers at the University of Utah, reported on the study in a recent article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Any percentage is too high, but I hope parents who read reports like this remember that the vast majority of young people are smart about digital media sharing.
With the permission of school officials and the students’ parents, the authors surveyed 606 students representing 98 percent of the available student body at a private high school in the southwest United States. They wrote that “less than 1% of parents declined to have their child participate, and all but two students whose parents permitted their participation did so.”
Here’s an important takeaway in the article for parents, educators, and law enforcement: Knowing about serious legal and psychological repercussions is not a deterrent for some young people. “Of those reporting having sent a sexually explicit cell phone picture, over a third did so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other consequences attached to the behavior.”
Clearly some social norms need to develop around sexting – including an understanding of the betrayal and violation of trust that forwarding intimate photos of someone else can represent. And educating young people about sharing photos of themselves needs to include discussion about what constitutes self-respect where digital media are concerned. No question this will take time, but the discussions need to get going.
See also my post about a study published last December in the medical journal Pediatrics which surveyed a broader age range – 10-to-17-year-olds – and, possibly because of the younger ages included, got much lower numbers. The study, from researchers at the University of New Hampshire, looked at a nationally representative sample and found that 2.5 percent of 10-to-17-year-olds had created or sent “sexts” in the past year, but only half of those were sexually explicit.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
Eliot came back to ranch country from the Big Apple all manscaped, right down to the blue fingernails. The chic teenager Esme had painted hers, and Eliot, who is five, did his own, carefully and with purpose. This dyed-in-the-wool Wyoming cowboy had LOVED New York like a child should – pizza everywhere, kids everywhere, and the taxis. He got a toy E Train and couldn't wait to get it on the tracks at home.
My New York friends remarked how well-behaved he is, but I knew he was being spoiled to the point of toxicity. I suppose they did, too, awed in their knowing that his terrible twos – and threes and fours – were spent in tractors, semi trucks, fencing on the mountain, midnight haying on the plains, sleeping on a pillow in his father's lap (not so unlike a treasured dog in a Louis Vuitton carrier under the seat in Cloud Nine, but still, he's this precious little boy).
He is tough, for sure, tough enough to return to his kindergarten class at his country school with his blue nails. But when he came home he was scratching it off. I asked him if someone had teased him about it and he said no, "not weely," but this one boy had said it was "innapwopwiate."
"That kid?" I retorted, dabbing his fingers with nail-polish remover. That kid was Eliot's Mexican farmhand friend. He spoke no English when he and Eliot entered kindergarten; he was known by his Spanish name. The two boys spoke only the brrrs and vrooms of toy tractors and construction equipment.
"I'll take it off, " I said, "but you can always put it back on. You can flash those blue fingers in his face and say, 'How do you like me now?'"
Eliot liked that idea.
"But you'll have to duck, because he might hit you," I said.
Eliot wanted to practice ducking punches, and did so as I told him about bullying, about being different, about doing things you like to do, like wearing nail polish, and how cool it is to be a rootin' tootin' cowboy who knows how to take the E Train. And of course that boys, too, love nail polish, and how lucky we are that we now have perfectly appropriate colors like blue or John Deere green for boys to sport, and thanks to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, rodeo cowboys are tough enough to wear pink.
I told Eliot his fellow kindergartner was likely envious of the blue nails – after all, what five year old doesn't like nail polish? – but maybe he was too shy to paint his. I realize I was trying to bully-proof him without explaining the rules, and the rules are that young cowboys in country schools can expect to have their feelings hurt if they wear nail polish. Nail polish is for girls.
At least it still is in this ranch country.
My older son, who is nearly 15, does not want me to encourage Eliot to "sport" nail polish. He is worried Eliot will be teased, ridiculed, humiliated for any transgression of gender codes in the Intermountain West. Simon knows that children can be cruel to one another. So do I.
I know it's not about the nail polish; it's about being allowed to be yourself, about being considerate of one another and being kind. In this case it might be considerate of Eliot to avoid the unnecessary distraction his blue nails cause in the classroom. But I don't want him or anyone else pathologizing it, not in this world, and not at this time in the world. I also know I can't prevent bullying without passing on useless gender rules to a new generation – it's the explanation "nail polish is for girls," or "it makes other boys uncomfortable because they're not allowed to," that I worry would stick to his social psyche and keep him on the hurtful side of conformity, where shame lives.
I want him to be tough enough to wear pink, and ultimately to know how and why a cowboy wearing pink can help promote equality and goodwill in gender and sexuality. I want him to be that cowboy.
Ok, folks. I’m about to go on a bully rant here.
A district attorney’s office is investigating a mom’s complaints that teachers at her 6-year-old’s San Antonio elementary school publicly labeled her son a bully, and then told the rest of the class to line up and hit him to “teach him a lesson.” The 24 other kids then proceeded to wallop little Aiden Neely, whose mom says he had been simply cutting in line.
He wasn’t physically hurt, mom Amy Neely said, but he certainly suffered emotional damage.
“My heart stopped, my stomach was in knots, I was in shock, I really was,” she told the local television station. “I just couldn’t believe a teacher would do that.”
Because... it’s crazy. (Even if I know a few teachers who wish they had thought of it first.)
Now, it would be easy for me to continue this post by writing about how bullying is bad, but how it’s also seriously misguided to teach kids that violence is the correct response to violence. Blah blah blah. (And that’s apparently the message Neely’s school is trying to send; it has apparently fired one of the teachers involved and put the other on administrative leave.)
But that conclusion only scratches the surface.
The deeper issue, I’d venture, is the “bully” phenomenon sweeping America.
And no, I don’t mean that bullying is sweeping America, invading the schoolyards and classrooms and cyber-lives of U.S. children. (Although that’s the sense you’d get if you follow, like we do, news about the social lives of kids.) I mean that the concept of the “bully,” as catch-all world to describe pint-sized boogeymen of every flavor, has gone viral.
It has gotten to the point, we’ve noticed, where any variety of childhood unkindness is labeled “bullying,” and stories about “bullies” are so common (and different from one another) that they have started to lose their meaning. Say “bully” and the word evokes emotion – omg, Mitt Romney might have been a bully in high school! Should he be president? – but few facts.
A month back, we ran a post by Paula Reed, an English teacher at Columbine High School, who suggested we might do well to explore the “shades” of bullying. Not all bullies are the same, she wrote. There are certainly cases of what she termed the “classic bully” – the mean predator who relentlessly and cruelly picks on the weakest kids in class. But there are also socially dominant kids who are popular and aggressive, she wrote, and “normal” kids who are trying to navigate the social land mines of growing up, and who sometimes act unkindly to their peers in a misguided attempt to protect themselves or increase their own popularity.
Is this nice? Nope. Is it bullying? Well... it certainly shouldn’t be treated the same as the relentless cruelty of the classic bully. Which is the problem with “no tolerance” anti-bullying policies being instituted in schools across the country.
This is also the problem with parents who label every act of meanness to their own children as bullying.
Bullying requires school, and potentially police, intervention. Other people need to do things to make it stop; parents and children give up the agency for mediation, resolution and simply learning how to deal with the reality that some people out there are jerks. Bullying, in its current cultural definition, has an innocent victim and a “bad” perpetrator. And, particularly troubling (and encouraged by pop culture interpretations and movies such as “Bully”), bullying often leads to victims either committing suicide or killing their classmates.
This is not a helpful message, people.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that adults are more concerned about the way children treat each other. For too long we’ve had a “boys will be boys,” “girls will be girls” attitude about children’s meanness. Adults should take seriously their role to teach – and, more importantly, model – kindness.
But to get back to our Texas story: It’s crazy to be talking about a 6-year-old, no matter how obnoxious he may be, with the same labels as those used for Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers student who used a web camera to spy on his gay roommate, or the students who mercilessly picked on Massachusetts student Phoebe Prince, who hung herself after weeks of abuse.
Because it's this blending of terms, this obliteration of meaning behind the words, that makes vigilante justice on an elementary school student seem acceptable.
Earlier this week, Grande asked for a Facebook account. No way. (Personally? I think the “recommended age” of 13 is even too young!) He’s also been asking me about culinary schools (he wants to be a baker, like the Cake Boss) and has been car shopping online. He’s 10.
Grande: Mom. There’s this car and it’s only *$20,000. Since it’s not that expensive, I’ll get that one when I can drive.
Me: Ha! Start saving now, Bud. Also, give it six to seven years. It’ll come down in price.
Grande: Oh, like it’ll go on sale?
Me: More like it will be used and it won’t be new, so it will cost less.
Grande: Oh, I do NOT want a used car!
Me: Hello? Our van was used when we got it! And if you have to choose between a used car or no car, you’ll probably think differently. WHY ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT THIS???
Grande: I am planning for the future.
I like that he has an idea of what he wants to be when he grows up. He loves helping in the kitchen, with baking and cooking, and I am happy to help nurture that. I’m even looking into cake decorating classes in our area. I’m answering his questions about culinary schools, how long it will take, the different programs, etc. But car shopping? He’s 10! What’s next, apartment hunting?
Take it down a notch, kid.
*For those wondering, he built and configured a Volkswagen Jetta SE with convenience package.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.
Justin Bieber punched a paparazzi; Chris Brown and Drake’s nightclub brawl resulted in innocent bystanders getting injured; Miley Cyrus is engaged but pictures of her close "friendships” with other males keep popping up; Lindsay Lohan crashed a car and paramedics were called to her room when it was thought that she was unconscious.
What’s next? Will One Direction go in the wrong direction or perhaps get lost? What kind of messages are modeling when the fact that a very pregnant Snooki has put away her platforms and opted for flats so that she won’t topple over is considered big celebrity news? I mean does anyone actually care about her footwear fancies? They must or it wouldn’t be making such big news on the top celeb websites.
What are we telling our teens (our future leaders) when we emphasize the foolish frenzies and faux pas of pop culture’s elite?
Gone are Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda. Sure Liz Taylor always seemed to be in the headlines, but would news of a fifth (or sixth) marriage or a wanton affair really make big news these days? Such hype pales in comparison to secret celebrity sex tapes, which seem to go viral in an instant. Would our knowledge and understanding of these "Hollywood Heroes" be different if the instant gratification of the Internet had detailed their every move and misstep? Perhaps. However, maybe it was the clothes they donned or mood of the times that things seemed less provocative then and less shocking and seedy.
One doesn’t even need to flash back that far to notice the stark differences. Remember the days of David Cassidy devotion, or the heyday of boy bands such as 'N Sync and New Kids on the Block? Back then Madonna’s concert costumes made big news. In retrospect, Madonna’s frocks now seem less shocking in comparison to Lady Gaga’s see-thru sheaths. How many times has she been cited for indecent exposure? Freedom and creativity are important, but please, put on some clothes.
Perhaps all the instant gratification of getting the news and the gossip in real time has changed our role as parents. To try and keep up with all the information seems at times impossible. And while teen idols of today may be sassier, sexier, and more seductive than role models of yore, in reality, as parents we represent the most important role models in our teen’s lives. They turn to us for their values and understanding about the world around them. Our job is to provide support and understanding through caring and communication.
Most importantly, we must practice what we preach. They are always watching and learning from us. In the end, it doesn’t matter if a pregnant Snooki opts for flats over wedges, or whether Miley Cyrus even makes it to the alter. When we model the right road for our teens they are sure to take the best path with a few bumps in the road of course for good measure. Can you remember some of the detours off the path you took when you were their age? I know I can.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.
Now for the good news in the youth part of Ottawa-based MediaSmarts’s report “Talking to Youth and Parents about Life Online." (I previously highlighted the parents' section.) Well, mostly good news. It sounds as if “Internet safety education” has made the youngest among the 11-to-17-year-olds that MediaSmarts talked with pretty paranoid: “From (11- and 12-year-olds') perspective, the Internet is a very dangerous place. They told us that sharing any information put them at risk of being kidnapped, assaulted by a stranger, and stalked.” (This misinformation is called education?)
And how sad, because – even though “they demonstrated strong resilience when it came to dealing with both offensive content and unwanted conversations with strangers … clicked out of offensive sites, (and) knew not to talk to strangers” – they had been taught all this was necessary because “people were not trustworthy,” they told MediaSmarts.
So here’s a mere sampler of the good news MediaSmarts turned up in a series of 12 in-depth conversations with 66 young people:
- General state of their safety: They showed “strong resilience about dealing with ‘creeps’” and “almost universally limit online interactions” to people they know offline. “Chat rooms were universally seen as dangerous.”
- Friendship expressed online (intelligently): Young people have “a clearly defined set of rules about what friends post – and do not post – about friends. Personal attacks were generally forbidden and a sign that a friendship was at an end…. Pictures were highly regulated by all of our participants…. An unrealistic number of online ‘friends’ was seen as inauthentic and a sign of desperation [Note that a protective social norm is developing here.]…. ‘Spam statuses’ were an indicator that someone was seeking an inappropriate amount of attention and was therefore not a desirable friend."
- They see the need to disconnect, too: “Although a few of our participants told us that losing access to the online world, even for a week, would be catastrophic, many of them talked about the need to retreat in order to re‐establish a sense of privacy.” (So many adult "pundits" seem so proud of having thought of this – books have been written about it, even.)
- Cyberbullying, resilience and good strategies: Youth find online meanness easier to deal with than the offline kind, MediaSmarts found. That’s because the visibility of online interaction “leaves a digital trail … [and] lets them challenge bullies publicly and hold them to account.” They “demonstrated a strong resiliency when it came to cyberbullying” and “clear strategies: first, ignore it and de‐friend or block the person (typically a very successful strategy); if it continues, then confront the bully face‐to‐face because it is easier to call someone to account in person; and if that does not work or you are not comfortable talking to the person directly, call in your parents and they will help you resolve the conflict.”
- Big caveat about school intervention, though: “Almost all … were disdainful of school anti‐bullying programs; they felt that, in general, teachers and principals did not understand the kinds of problems they might face and only made things worse when they intervened."
- Surveillance nation (more noteworthy than good news): Young people feel “the Internet is now a fully monitored space where parents, teachers and corporations keep them under constant surveillance,” so they see “parental monitoring” as “the price of admission” for being able to use connected devices. But, unsurprisingly, they’re forgiving too: “In spite of their frustration with parental monitoring, almost all our participants felt their parents were acting out of good intentions,” MediaSmarts found.
- About parental monitoring: “The teenagers who did share the details of their lives with their parents were the ones who were not routinely monitored. Trust in this case was mutual,” indicating that “monitoring alone may work against open family dialogue.”
Practices by age levels
- Tweens’ interest in exploration and pranks: “The Internet was particularly useful when [11- and 12-year-olds] wanted to learn more about things they would encounter in the future, like places they were going to visit on family vacations, high school and jobs. This kind of exploration provided them with a safe way to ‘rehearse’ things and become more comfortable with teenage and adult roles.” They’re also into “‘pranks and ‘trolls,’ where someone would fool you and misdirect you to the wrong site on purpose.” While this may be seen as a risk, it also teaches critical thinking: “Pranks helped them learn how not to be fooled.”
- Early teens (13- and 14-year-olds): MediaSmarts noted how much this age group “enjoyed online humour and sites that allowed them to post anecdotes and read silly things that other people had done. They enjoyed laughing at and laughing with others who did things that were foolish or silly, and found comfort in the fact they were not the only ones who were likely to do something 'stupid.'” Some engaged in social action, but “the main uses of networked technologies were for connecting with friends and self‐expression.” While 11- and 12-year-olds found social networking “boring,” 13- and 14-year-olds find social media use an “important way to communicate their feelings, so they could better understand themselves and their social interactions” – though feeling under constant surveillance by adults, as all the age levels did, “made it difficult for them to express themselves for fear of reprisal.”
- Older teens use social media “to talk to friends, organize events and gatherings, follow celebrity gossip … access YouTube videos to learn how to do things like dance" … "keep in touch with friends,” and access “the outside world.” Because they feel so closely monitored by the adults in their lives, “anonymous online self‐expression [such as blogging under a pseudonym] … played an important role in helping older teens make sense of the social world and their place in it.” (It may also help explain why Twitter use by this age group is now growing fast).
So note the confidence in young people this conclusion from MediaSmarts shows: “In spite of widespread concerns on the part of adults, the young people we spoke with were aware of online risks, largely self‐regulated their own behaviours to avoid and manage those risks, and consistently demonstrated resiliency and competence in their responses to those risks.”
Based on this research and so many other inputs, isn’t it time to shift the focus of “Internet safety education” from avoidance to literacy – the digital, media, and social literacy that supports their current efforts to turn digital media into tools for effective work, play, communication, and activism in social digital-media environments (as well as offline ones, of course)?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
“We’re beyond excited,” Today Entertainment quotes Bill as saying.
Which got us thinking... how many parents find out the sex of their baby before it is born?
This is a hotly contested topic, of course. And as with pretty much everything about pregnancy, childbirth, and the “right” way to welcome new life into this world, people seem to feel perfectly entitled to offer their opinion about what others should do.
(Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the mass scrutiny of the pregnant Jersey Shore star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi's footwear. The when-will-she-stop-wearing-platforms debate has raged for months now.)
A quick Google search on the “should you find out the gender of your baby” question reveals scores of forums, chat groups and blog posts with impassioned “do” and “don’t” missives.
The reasons against range from “when else will you ever have this big a surprise?” to “don’t let yourself be biased by gender.” The pro camp tends to say that the birth is a big enough surprise as it is, thanks, and that some extra planning info is much appreciated. Besides, it’s easier to pick names, refer to the child as something other than “it,” and start laying down the law to excited grandparents about Disney Princesses and Power Rangers when you know the sex.
And as it turns out, people in the United States are divided about this question. It’s not just the crazy World Wide Web. In 2007, a Gallup Panel poll found that 51 percent of Americans say they would wait until the baby is born to find out the sex, while 47 percent said they would want to know before hand. (The rest had no opinion.)
The preference shifted within some groups. More than 6 in 10 Americans 18 to 34 years old, for instance, said they would like to find out ahead of time, as did the majority of parents with young children. Meanwhile, older Americans, Americans who frequently attend religious services and Catholics were more likely to wait.
The Rancics, then, are in pretty wide company. (And our opinion here at Modern Parenthood, for the record, is that people should do whatever they want with this one.)
Baby boy Rancic is due at the end of the summer; given the way celebrity news works, we’ll sure hear more about the little mister before then.
Nothing like the power of the press, and a few photographs of coronation chicken.
This week, British primary school student Martha Payne, whose uber-popular blog “NeverSeconds” documents her tasty (and not-so-tasty) school meals, was thrust into the international news spotlight when her local government ordered her to cease and desist her pesky photographing.
Yes, the Council of Argyll and Bute decided that the 9-year-old was a threat to school staff wellbeing. The school meals crew, it said, was often in tears from the international attention to offerings such as “vegetable soup and sausages with roast potatoes,” which Payne rates by a 1 to 10 “Food-o-meter” scale, as well as by “mouthfuls,” “price,” “health,” and “pieces of hair.” (This particular item had one of the latter, under a cucumber.)
“Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs,” the Council said in a statement.
(A statement, I must add, that has received criticism in the British press not only for its censoring inclinations, but for the misuse of “refute.” Gotta love the Brits.)
Now, for folks on this side of the Atlantic (or those who have just blocked out school mealtime memories), Payne started her NeverSeconds blog earlier this spring, using her dad’s camera to shoot pics of the meals served at her primary school in western Scotland.
The first entries show sad little portions of mass produced pizza, scatterings of corn kernels and lone croquettes. (“The pizza in the first pic was alright but I’d have enjoyed more than 1 croquet,” Payne wrote. “I’m a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I cant do it on 1 croquette ... The good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home.”)
She signed the posts VEG, noting that her dad said she should call herself “Veritas Ex Gusto,” or “truth from tasting” in Latin.
“But who knows Latin?” she asked. “You can call me Veg.”
Within weeks, millions were following the 9-year-old’s culinary adventures. She started raising money through a Justgiving page for Mary’s Meals, a Scottish organization that provides school meals to children in the developing world, and collected thousands of pounds. Students around the world started sending her photos of their school lunches. Scottish celebrity chef Nick Nairn took interest in her work, and joined Payne for a cooking demo.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the meals started to improve.
But eventually, the Argyll and Bute Council had enough. (It was apparently a newspaper photo of Payne with Nairn, under the headline “Time to Fire the Dinner Ladies,” that was the last straw for local government.) Payne’s photographs, it said, only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils. The blog was spreading “misinformation.” Catering staff were in tears from the negative publicity. They told Payne’s school that officials there needed to ban the 9-year-old from taking any more photos.
Yesterday, Payne posted this message on NeverSeconds, under the heading “Goodbye.”
“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today. I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos.”
And that, it seemed, would be that.
But then comes the power of social media. And the old fashioned press.
“This is craziness!!” wrote one commenter.
“This is horrible,” wrote another.
Others started change.org petitions to bring back the blog. Someone submitted her story to TechDirt, an internet site that addresses issues of online censorship by businesses and government. Still others questioned whether the censorship was a violation of human rights. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted his encouragement, and asked his millions of followers to retweet their support. British newspapers also got into the action, with minute by minute coverage and columnists penning their disbelief.
By this afternoon UK time, the Council had changed its position. According to the BBC, Scotland’s education secretary, Mike Russell, wrote to the council’s chief executive and called for the “daft” ban to be overturned.
Meanwhile, the pledges to Mary Meals through Payne’s site skyrocketed to £16,000.
And Payne, it appears, has been given the green light to continue her photo documentation.
So bring on the mac n' cheese. We'll be watching.
My father could hold a conversation with anyone. Some of my favorite recollections are of him doing just that. His print, radio, and television journalism career took him to myriad places and stories in 40 years of reporting. He earned a living starting conversations with unlikely people, in unlikely places.
In Chicago he won an award for covering ward politics. He traveled to the southern states at the height of the civil rights movement, and then years later to Ulster at the height of The Troubles. He had plenty of conversations with famous newsmakers, and with the man in the street and the common people behind the news. He put an intimate, familiar face on the big, seemingly remote stories of several reporting eras. [Editor's note: The author's father, Robert Colby Nelson, was a long-time correspondent and editor for The Christian Science Monitor.]
Through his art of conversation, his readers found the heart of a shared humanity. Dad could talk with white men, black men; Protestants, Catholics; the mighty and the downtrodden; rich and poor. Strangers became friends; the untrusting, trusting.
On any given casual outing, dad struck up conversation. He loved to talk with the London cabbies during our years in England, learning about The Knowledge of London driving routes, and the day’s politics or most recent trade union action.
But two particular conversations stand out to me: one of the earliest I remember from my youth, and one I know of only through a photograph.
Dad hated fishing. But when I was about nine, he took me fishing not far from his boyhood home in Buffalo. I think he felt a certain duty to indulge my interest, and so we set off with an old rod, hooks, and worms, to sit beside a creek. The fish weren’t biting, but the thin slate rocks on the creek bed were worthy of a few hours spent skipping stones while watching the bobber.
The more powerful memory is of dad’s conversation with the unemployed steelworker sitting on the bank nearby, also watching his bobber in the current.
The gist of their conversation never made any sense to me. But I see it now as my earliest recollection of dad’s professional voice.
I can remember the tone of the men talking, the feeling of the heavy summer air, and a certain slant of light filtering through the trees above. And as with many of dad’s subsequent conversations, I remember the earnest quality of the transaction. Dad was curious about the stranger’s story. The steelworker found someone who took a genuine interest in his lot, and he opened up. There was a bridge, and strangeness couldn’t persist.
It’s not that the journalist in my father was always seeking the story potential in anyone he met, but that he simply saw the truth in everyone’s story and wanted to hear it. There was always the possibility of arriving at the point where one could say, “I know you. I see you.” Familiarity.
The photo I cherish comes from the 1980s during one of dad’s trips to Russia. He was no doubt fulfilling a longstanding dream of interviewing poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Dad studied Russian in high school and college, then got a master's degree in Soviet studies, preparing himself for the big story of his era: the cold war, and Soviet-American relations.
In a later phase of his career, he was a journalist attached to the Kettering Foundation’s Dartmouth Conferences, and made numerous trips to Russia as a member of high-level discussions and exchanges. I love his photos of visits to St. Petersburg, the Hermitage, and his tales of life in the waning years of the Soviet Union.
But this photo is different. It’s a small story. The two men must be at a dacha. There is spring foliage. Dad stands beside Yevtushenko. The poet is holding an apple and obviously in mid-sentence. He is expounding. Dad has obviously set his camera on a tripod and used the self-timer, then dashed into the frame. He directs his gaze straight into the lens. His expression suggests he is thinking, “How cool is this. I’m standing next to Yevtushenko.”
He is mid-conversation – with the poet, with himself, with the audience for the photo… with me. And I know the tone of voice that characterized the afternoon of questions and answers, the sharing between the American journalist and the Russian poet, as their stories became real to one another. To dad, journalism itself was a conversation, and the big story could be as present in the tale of the steelworker as in the expounding of the great poet.
There is, of course, a third conversation to relate, and it’s ongoing: my own, with my father, in each opportunity to hear someone’s story. I too ask the cabbies, with immense curiosity, where they’re from. Thanks for the conversations, dad.