Tools for Online Pursuits

As a mom, I feel it is my job to make sure my children know everything they need to know when I send them out into the world, but there are two problems with that. First, how could I possibly know all that they will need to know? And second, I can’t keep up with the ever-changing world to make sure my children are fully protected with an armor of knowledge. I can only give them tools they will need to build their own armor and change it as necessary. And the tools they will need are constantly evolving.

Take the recent situation of one of my students as an example. She did everything as she thought she should, yet she still got stuck in a situation that seemed a bit sketchy. Thankfully, she recognized enough signs of danger to seek advice.

I entered the situation as she was negotiating feelings of mounting unease around a potential job opportunity. She had responded to an interesting job posting she found on a professor’s course site, a seemingly legit opportunity because of where she found it. She applied, and—through communication completely via text message—was asked to attend an interview, which she did. But the interview situation was a bit off. First, the student was greeted by the father of a client (here is where age and experience are beneficial—those of us who have been in the real world for any amount of time know that a professional organization would never have a client greet a potential worker in the first interview.)

When the interviewer finally did show up, she was dressed in leggings and a t-shirt and made excuses about the work not being conducive to business attire. Both of these things caught my student off guard, and made her more attentive to her feelings about this job.

It wasn’t until the following week that she dug in her heels. The woman texted my student that she had scheduled an orientation session before the second interview—in fact, it was before she had officially been offered a job—and it would be that afternoon. The student was given an address and a time and told to bring her identification documents.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, and this is where I started asking questions: What is the name of the company? Where are they located? What will you be doing? When she could answer none of these questions, we sat down and did some research. We looked up the address that she had been given for her “orientation.” Google maps gave us a nondescript office building on which there was no company name. We Googled any and all information the student had, but we came up with no more answers than when we started. At that point, I advised her to forgo this particular job and look for something more certain.

A few days later, she and I sat with the Career Planning director to figure out where the job posting had originated and how best to deal with it. The director had the same advice that I had already given the student. Even if this was a legitimate job offer, the company was so unprofessional that she didn’t want to work there, anyway.

In truth, there is no way of knowing what might have happened if my student ignored her instincts and went to the orientation session. However, this situation got me to thinking about how best to guide my children as they navigate the tangled web of the “business” aspects of the online environment.

Teach your children—and any young people you are in contact with—to be aware of fraud and scams such as this may have been. Teach them to look for inconsistencies, to be alert to potential problems, and help them to determine when something is legitimate and when it is not. The fact that there was no searchable company information on this job posting was the first of many red flags.

Let your kids know that the rules of safety in social situations also apply to any other situation that is unknown—professional opportunities, buying/selling items off Internet sites, meet-up groups, etc. Bring a buddy, let others know where you are, check in, and meet in a neutral and public location.

If things don’t seem to add up, don’t pretend they do or dismiss any warning signs. It is easy to excuse one issue. Okay, the interviewer is dressed for comfort because the company works with children. However, when there are two things that don’t add up, three, or four, pay attention. The pieces don’t fit together because the situation may not be what it seems to be.

Encourage your teens/young adults to listen to their instincts. That “bad feeling” you have? It’s there to warn you. Too often, we encourage ourselves to deny our gut reactions to situations. Animals are equipped with instinct to protect them from harm. We, too, are animals, and if we pay attention to our instincts, they will help to guide and protect us.

Teach them to ask for help when they need it. If young people need advice about a situation, or they are feeling threatened, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek help—even if that means making some noise. And likewise, if you see a young person who seems to be struggling or needs some advice, step in and offer to help them out. So many young people are left to figure out the subtleties of life, of growing up, on their own, and they may welcome the guidance an older, more experienced adult.

Talk-to-Text

Writing 101, Day 7: Let social media inspire you. In this case, texting rather than tweeting.

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On Friday night, my boyfriend discovered the talk-to-text feature on my phone. He was texting my daughter who had just finished her evening performance of “Our Town,” and I needed to let her know we were on our way to pick her up. “Oh look, I can say something!” he announced as he pushed the microphone button and recorded his message. Because he had been privy to J’s iMessage voice recordings to her step-sister on her iPad, he thought he was familiar with this feature. I believe he thought it would send a recorded message that J could listen to.

Instead, it translated his recording into a text message, one that made little sense. He read the first to me. “Hello just seen we are on our way the by.” I glanced over just as he hit “send.”

“Did you just send that message?” I asked, watching his reaction while trying to keep my eye on the road ahead. He looked at me sheepishly and nodded.

“It’s fine,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the road, shaking my head. “She doesn’t know you’re with me, so she won’t know why I am texting,” I said. The thought was meant for him, but it was pretty clear I was speaking to myself. In my peripheral vision, I could see him playing with the microphone button, holding the phone near his mouth again.

He was like a kid with a new toy. He recorded a long message, then read it back. “Is a new place not called our house call to you or town whilst turn it I am actually talking English probably my accent I’m not sure goodbye a deal spot lab what’s in.” And as soon as he finished reading, he hit send again.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I laughed. I wanted to take my phone back, but I was actually somewhat amused. By this point, I knew that J would realize it wasn’t me texting, so I was exonerated of all responsibility. He recorded another message and sent it, then another. “Are those messages even making any sense?” I asked. He had stopped reading them to me before he sent them.

“Not much. She’ll figure it out.” Yeah… I doubt anyone would figure out those messages!

When we pulled up in front of the high school, the last few drama students were out in front waiting for their rides. It was a beautiful night, unseasonably warm. I rolled down my window. J was holding her phone. “Guess who discovered talk-to text?” I asked, and we all burst out laughing.

The Dog

The expiration of the dog has come full circle.

Ever since my daughter went away to camp for the first time, and the paperwork said not to send mail that contained sad news (i.e. an announcement that the dog died), our non-existent dog has died each year while the kids are at camp. At some point during their week away, I send a letter announcing that the dog has died, and the kids are amused (although sometimes their bunk mates are horrified!). The expiration of the dog has been an ongoing joke for five years now.

This year, in a strange twist of events, I was the one who went away from home. J and I traveled out of state for an athletic competition. The boys were busy with their own activities back at home, so my boyfriend stayed with them, and kept them company.

When the kids go away, it has been my pattern to wait until a few days have gone by before I deliver any news about the dog. When I left, however, C couldn’t wait to tell me about the dog. Apparently, he felt the need to get it out of his system right away. Perhaps he thought he might forget as the week went by.

I had barely landed and settled in my hotel room halfway across the country when the message came. And it was a doozy of a message! Just in case you thought we’d be all right, Mom, here are some of the things you feared could go wrong. Oh, and the dog died.

Interestingly, when I got to the part about the dog, I knew that everything was under control, and I could relax. This trip was the first time that I had left home for more than a brief while, and I was on edge, concerned about what would go on in my absence. I had voiced my anxiety to the boys in the days leading up to my trip.

As it turned out, I had little to fear. The boys are older; my boyfriend is competent; and just maybe my neighbors were doing a little “neighborhood watch” in my absence….

But I’m glad ‘the dog died’ early in the week. That message relieved me of my worries!

Feast or famine

“There’s some Danish there you can have for breakfast,” I told the first child to the kitchen this morning.

“I saw it, but that’s not what I want. I’m going to have cereal,” my youngest said as he reached into the cabinet for a bowl. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out the milk.

“More than likely, no one will want the Danish. Your brother’s been looking for breakfast food all week. Now that we actually have something other than cereal, he’ll choose something else.” W smiled, knowing this was a real possibility. In fact, what my oldest has been seeking are the 26 muffins I didn’t buy him last week after our text exchange.

The text exchange went like this: I asked a simple question—a question about breakfast, asked via text because kids communicate via text anyway. I would have asked in person if I had been there. I would have waited to ask. But the fact was, I was at work and planned to stop at the grocery store on my way home. So I asked a reasonable question.

The answer was one of those moments when the true personality of the child emerged, unedited and unrestricted.

“If I go to the store on my way home, what do you want for breakfast?” was the question.

A few minutes later, the answer came: “A few cinnamon chip muffins (and by a few, I mean like a bunch because most likely I will eat one tomorrow and then try to consume multiple both weekend days and then I would want some for the following week and then also taking into account that other people would wish to consume some as well so maybe like 30 muffins).”

This response caught me off guard, but it shouldn’t have. I laughed out loud at the uncut version of a teenage super-appetite. I went home with eight muffins: four cinnamon chip, and four for my other teens to share.

Of course, the muffins were gone in seconds. Food doesn’t last when teenagers are around. Unless they are sick of it. Then it lasts too long. And they usually get sick of it just when I have purchased extra because it’s on sale. Cereal, chips, cookies… it doesn’t matter. The pattern is always the same. If we have enough to last more than a day, they realize they are sick of it. I believe this is where the saying “feast or famine” originated—from parents not only trying to keep enough food in the house, but food that their teenagers would actually eat.

In the end, C ate the Danish for his breakfast, though I’m sure he would have preferred muffins. Then again, if I’d had muffins, he would have preferred Danish.