I'm staring at my son's Facebook page, horrified. At 12, he has joined groups expressing an appreciation for chesty females and what it's like to be a guy who is well-endowed. What's my next move? Lecture? Shut down his page? Laugh? Cry?
With Mother's Day around the corner, I am reminded of the challenges of being a mom in the year 2010. We moms must be fit and look young. We must contribute to or earn the household income. We must keep a tidy home and supervise schoolwork all while molding the next generation.
I find myself balancing work and family while navigating the same parenting issues that mothers have always faced: teaching our teens how to confront drugs, alcohol, sex, and responsible driving.
But now there's this new element in the mix: Monitoring what our kids post and text when they have no clue of the consequences of blasting images and words into cyberspace.
Mothers today must contemplate the sickening reality of Internet sexual predators, or a teenager who allegedly beats a girl into a coma because of a text message she sent that threw him into a rage.
We know that colleges and employers monitor these sites without our kids' awareness. I find myself wondering if I have enough hours in my day to keep my kids out of trouble in these new online social venues.
Like other moms, I'm trying to find the line between snooping and safety, between communicating with my kids and keeping them on an electronic leash.
At book clubs and PTA meetings, around office water coolers and conference tables, regardless of ethnicity or income, mothers of tweens and teens inevitably find themselves discussing how technology is forcing our parenting skills to evolve: 73 percent of wired American teens now use social-networking websites and three-quarters of teens have cellphones.
At a recent event, I found myself seated next to WPLG Channel 10 news anchor Kristi Krueger, mother of two teens. Like most mothers, Krueger finds monitoring her teens' social-media behavior is time consuming and unavoidable.
"When some girl sends a picture of herself in a thong to my teenage son, I have to ask myself, 'what do I do? Do I call her mother?' '' Krueger says she talks directly to her kids and their friends, making them aware what they text or post can be seen by EVERYONE.
She finds she needs to do does this often because high-school kids have no idea that a photo of themselves with a beer could get them kicked off the school soccer team. But she has come to realize there's a limit to how much she can hover: "I try to instill right and wrong in my kids. I have to rely on them to use good judgment.''
One mother I spoke to for this article was reeling from a recent incident where her daughter was embarrassed online. Someone had created a Facebook page titled "Olivia is a Major Slut.''
This mom told me she left work early and went to the home of the girl who created the page and confronted her parents.
The page was deleted and the girl apologized. The same mom also told me that she has banned her daughter from posting on Facebook or YouTube for a month because she had posted photos of herself in a bathing suit.
Now, she monitors daily to make sure her daughter sticks to the punishment. "It is so mentally time consuming,'' she told me.
Allyson Tomchin, a South Florida licensed psychologist and family mediator, recognizes the daunting task of monitoring social media and urges parents to open a dialogue with their kids about online habits. She advocates teaching them to pause before texting, posting a video, or updating their status.
"Tell them once you press send, it is no longer private.''
Tomchin also believes it is a parent's responsibility to have all passwords to their kids' social-networking sites. She advises parents to pick their battles. "If you get mad about everything they do online, they will find a way to keep what they are doing from you.''
Some mothers opt for the "it takes a village'' approach, encouraging friends or family to intervene when they see something inappropriate.
Theresa de la Rosa has three children and works as a nurse. Her 13-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son have laptops and cellphones. De la Rosa does spot checks on their Facebook pages but says it was her sister who made her aware that her daughter was having inappropriate online conversations with a boy.
"We are each other's support group.''
De la Rosa says she also checks her teens' text messages, asks questions, and even has blocked certain numbers on her daughter's phone. "They know the rules and repercussions. One day not having access is enough to change behavior.''
I'm not thrilled that my son chooses to text rather than talk to his friends or that he lacks the maturity and life experience to grasp why joining certain fan groups is inappropriate.
However there's a comfort that washes over me as a mom when I receive a text that my child has made it to a party safely. I have to balance the pros and cons of being a mom in 2010 and evolve. Isn't that what mothers always have done?