Illustration by James Callahan
Buddy, it's time to put the tablet away."
"One second," says The Boy, distractedly clicking the link for the next website he wants to visit. My neck whips around, and I fix him with the "oh-no-you-didn't" glare, but I feel more sympathy than anger because "one more click" is my personal mantra. I'm not surprised that my son has inherited my tendencies.
I knew this about him already, which is why I was hesitant about Santa bringing the tablet in the first place. After a lot of back and forth, Tad and I decided that it was a necessary evil. Our home computer is so ancient that it may have small birds inside, pecking on a slate. The Boy needed touch-screen technology and up-to-date apps. It would be educational! He'd be empowered!
There is, unfortunately, such a thing as too much power for a small boy. He hunches over the screen like a little old granny at a slot machine, clicking and dragging, saving and watching. If we let him, he would stare and click all day long. So I do my best to limit The Boy's online time — but it's awfully hard not feel like a hypocrite when I have to look up from Facebook to do it.
The Boy had the bug pre-tablet. He has numerous creations uploaded to the Lego.com fan galleries. He made his first YouTube appearance, singing the Transformers song, at age 2, and he keeps careful track of how many views his videos get. That bugs me, but again, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a little bit invested in my page views, too. It's like a pat on the back from the world at large. And who doesn't want that?
I assure myself he's far from the only kid with an online presence. Most of the videos he watches on YouTube star boys his age showing off their Legos and battling with Nerf Guns for their devoted viewers.
And then there's Lohanthony.
Lohanthony, real name Anthony Quintal, is a New England teen who has become a poster-child for underage vloggers. He is obsessed with celebrity gossip, fashion and his own burgeoning diva-tude. He hates school, complains about his parents and loves to "twerk" to pop music alone in his bedroom, and he has more than 300,000 followers on Twitter — including many of the celebrities he idolizes. Tad thinks he needs to have his Internet privileges revoked, and, while I am impressed with his sarcastic humor and marketing savvy (he sells Lohanthony rubber bracelets at six bucks a pop), when he gyrates for the camera in short shorts and a rolled-up tank top, I throw my hands over my eyes and consider moving the family to Amish country.
Fortunately, The Boy's online pursuits are more wholesome — so far. And I'd like to think that our lines of communication with him are open enough that we can skip the talk about why we don't want him twerking on YouTube when he's Lohanthony's age. But kids can surprise you. Last week, one of my friends discovered that her 12-year-old had been tweeting for over a year. She didn't think he knew what Twitter was. She barely knew herself, and asked me to find his account for her. Internet nerd to the rescue! I typed his name into the search bar.
"I don't see him … hold on … oh, OK, there he is. I didn't recognize him at first, because his picture isn't him."
"Is it a cartoon character?"
"No, it's Charlie Sheen."
There was a long silence. It was the sound of a mother digesting the information that her 12-year-old identifies as Charlie Sheen.
I look at The Boy, one-more-clicking his way through an interactive Cat in the Hat book, and I wonder how long he'll be content to splash in the shallow end of the Internet. And when he does decide to dip a toe into deeper waters, how will I keep the sharks away? Amish country is looking better all the time.
But only if they let me bring my laptop. I promise not to twerk