Friday, September 16, 2011

Turning 13

On the afternoon of Tim’s third birthday, I had to work, but my mother was happy to take Tim on a special birthday expedition. The two of them went raspberry-picking at a local farm. The preceding day, he’d received a cardboard crown at preschool, and he insisted on wearing it throughout that birthday, including to the farm. My mother regaled me with an account of how the only other berry-pickers that afternoon were a consortium of chefs from upscale Boston restaurants who were on some kind of group tour promoting local agriculture. As my mother told it, they made a big fuss over Tim at every turn throughout the raspberry patch, exclaiming, “Tim, you’re the birthday king!”

I thought of this story yesterday, exactly ten years later, as I waited for Tim to bike home from the bus stop. Buses, middle school, riding a bike, being outside by himself – all of these would have been unimaginable to me the day Tim went raspberry-picking as a 3-year-old, but all are commonplace matters in the life of a 13-year-old.

Contemporary American society doesn’t hold a lot of age-specific rites of passage for kids. In Carlisle, kids can leave campus on their own after dismissal as of fifth grade, and that tends to be a big deal to them; it means they can walk to the general store or the library by themselves or with friends. But after that, for a lot of kids there’s nothing specifically great about turning any particular age until they reach 16 and start learning to drive.

Happily, social media has changed that. By turning 13, Tim was officially old enough to open his own Facebook account, and he’s been looking forward to that for months.

Not every family upholds the 13-year-old rule for Facebook, since it’s essentially done on an honor system, and some parents don’t even know about the rule, as I discovered over the summer when I expressed surprise that a friend let her 12-year-old have a Facebook presence. But I felt pretty strongly about compliance. Partly it was that I believe it sets a good standard to assume rules exist for a reason, but I also liked the fact that here was an age-specific milestone at a time when those can be hard to come by. I was happy for the built-in opportunity to make something special about turning 13 for Tim.

Rick and I went over the ground rules during dinner: he had to friend both of us, so that we could keep an eye on what he was saying on line; and he couldn’t friend anyone who used inappropriate language. After dinner, Tim got to work setting up his account.

As promised, I was the first person he friended; then he found both his grandmothers and some cousins. Since he’s among the oldest of his friends, he didn’t find too many peers on Facebook, but in time he will. For now, he’s enjoying something special and new, granted to him because he reached teenagehood. It’s pleasing to find rites of passage where few exist. So far, Tim is taking it in stride – and joining Facebook was definitely less thrilling to him than other aspects of his birthday this year including his party last weekend in Maine and the apple crisp I made for his birthday dessert – but he’s having fun with it. And I’m happy in the knowledge that turning 13 does indeed come with some special privileges.

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