Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What's the Harm in Those Facebook Privacy Disclaimers?

I admit it, I do it every couple years.

I scold people for posting those stupid Facebook privacy disclaimers. I post replies with links to Snopes. I mock their lame "Better safe than sorry" prefaces. Nope. No. Not better safe than sorry, you're just posting that because you're too wishy-washy to admit that you're falling for it. I HATE when people post this dumb crap. I hate that it keeps resurfacing long after I'm sure that not only should everyone I know already understand that it's total BS, but so should everyone who has even heard of Facebook. I hate it.

But why? Why does it bother us so much. I'm certainly not alone in this. Just look at the hundreds of articles that are written and shared about it. Look at all the mocking posts that are written in response. People love to HAAAAAAAATE these stupid notices.

But WHY? Why do the articles have headlines like, "Watch out for these Facebook privacy hoaxes," and "Don't fall for the Facebook privacy notice hoax?" Why not fall for it? These headlines make it seem way more ominous than it is. It's even listed on a site called Scam Detector. It's not a malicious thing this hoax. It's certainly not a "scam." A scam implies that falling for it will do you some sort of harm, typically financial harm. But this bout of silliness doesn't actually harm anyone. So why do we care?

I couldn't really figure out the answer. I thought about it, even as I typed up witty yet gentle put downs on my friend's posts. Why did I care? Then I saw this and it explained everything:
I would totally credit this, but I can't find the source. If you know please tell me.
Bingo. I'm a smart guy. (Really.) I pretty much believe that I associate with smart savvy people. How could I not? I'm writing a dissertation on cognition and I may not even be the smartest person in my house. I am friends with a ton of really really smart people. And yet.

And yet I still get this crap popping up in my feed, and it kills me. It kills me, and I think the reason it inspires such ire in many of us is because it shows that all these people we respect can be kinda dumb. Not just, "I turned on the wrong burner and super heated a non-stick pan" dumb, but really really dumb. Like, "I just sent my personal info, and yours, to a Nigerian Prince" dumb. It's even worse when it's our parents or mentors, people we look to for guidance and wisdom. Like, am I really supposed to take your advice on parenting or investing, or whatever when you're re-posting this nonsense? And your stupid "Better safe than sorry" only makes it worse because you're just screaming that even though you know you should know you're doing it anyway. How can I ever look at you and trust your judgement or your instincts ever again? HOW???

OK, yes I'm being hyperbolic. But I do think that the reason this otherwise harmless hoax vexes us so deeply is because it causes us to see the clay feet of people we respect. It's akin to that moment when you realize your parents don't actually know everything. There's a feeling of loss, of finding out about something we'd just rather not know. In short (too late), it's a bummer.

I won't go into how Facebook is really just a big thing that uses your profile to make money, but not from using your photos, or how it's actually this great tool that you get use for free. There's plenty of that out there. I will close with two statuses mocking this whole phenomenon that rang true to me today. First, there's this one from a friend of mine. It sums up nicely why these disclaimers are completely unnecessary:

"As of September 29, 2015, I hereby ban you all from posting stupid bullshit on your Facebook pages. This notice of prohibition of stupid bullshit is legally binding due to Q.E.D 123-456-789, and extends not only to stupid bullshit claims that Facebook is going to begin charging you money for a service that already generates a $5 billion annual operating profit through converting the stupid bullshit you post everyday into demographic information for marketers to further refine their stupid bullshit, but also the stupid bullshit claim that you can create a legal contract between yourself and a company with a valuation of $230 billion by posting some stupid bullshit words on a web site."
 The second comes from the Facebook page for the blog Modern Father Online. It's a rallying cry for us bloggers big and small.

THIS IS NOT A HOAX...As of September 30th, 2015 at AEST 8:00am UTC/GMT +10 hours, I DO give Facebook or any entities...
Posted by Modern Father Online on Tuesday, September 29, 2015

So remember folks, sharing is caring. Facebook is a great tool for all of us to stay in touch and see pics of each other's kids. For us aspiring bloggers it's a good medium to find readers. So if you've enjoyed reading IDL please give our articles a share, or like our Facebook page.

Thanks, and remember, research before you re-post. The respect you save could be your own.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Economic Theory and Bad Parenting

The buckets are not actual buckets.

My kids are a little bit obsessed with money. Not in a terrible way, but it does make me a little bit uncomfortable. (This past month they have been talking about wanting to live "in a big fancy house." It's been kind of a bummer.) Ever since they were little we have tried to introduce the concepts of budgeting and smart shopping with them. This usually related to how they would spend Christmas money that came in from various family members.

We've been doing allowance with Buddy since he turned six a few months back. It's been going pretty well. We've done the three bucket approach where we expect him to put some amount of his money into buckets for spending, saving, and donating. It's been great actually. The spending money has allowed him to buy things that we wouldn't normally buy for him. His first big buy came when we were at Target and he realized he had enough money to buy a LEGO set he'd been pining over in his catalog.  A few weeks later he treated himself and his sister to treats at a baseball game.

The other buckets have come to have their own purposes as well. The saving bucket has mostly been used to replace things he loses or breaks carelessly. For example he was at a friend's house and broke the kid's piggy bank. So he used his savings to help replace it. Kind of like what his parents (us) did with their roof. It's been a good lesson on why saving is important. He has decided to use the donation bucket to give money to our church, and also to donate to causes we read about or discuss.

Buddy always knows how much money he has, and how much he needs for whatever thing it is he's got his eye on. He's also started to identify the types of things he thinks we won't shell out for and often says, "It's OK, I can get that if I save my money." We've even had a discussion of how credit works when he doesn't have his wallet and wants to pay me back for something.

Lou is also becoming more interested in money and often wishes she had as much as her brother does. She sometimes laments that she does not also have three buckets, but just a piggy bank, which is low on clank after she decided that her coins were pretty and repeatedly took them out to play with them, resulting in her losing most of them.

The kids are also aware that we have reached the maximum "stuff" limit in our little home. Since we moved we have one fewer room than we had at the previous house. The result has been a purging of toys and clothes that really should have happened previously. The kids have heard several times over the last year that if we ant any new things we have to figure out what old things we can donate or let go of. This has come into sharper focus recently as the kids have gotten deep into LEGOs and want to expand their collection.

All of these ideas coalesced into one case of bad parenting last weekend. On Saturday our neighbors held a yard sale. They were doing all at once what we had been doing piece by piece, paring down and getting rid of things. The kids loved it. They hadn't known that you could get rid of old items by selling them in front of the house. We had always just donated things or given them away on Freecycle. They bought a few things from the neighbors. I had no idea what was coming.

Sunday was a lazy day for us. We came home after church and fell into our various activities. The kids played, T tended to the baby and likely did something productive, I sat down to enjoy the first week of the NFL. At some point I pulled the classic dad move and fell asleep in front of the TV. As I drifted through a semi-conscious state I remember hearing Buddy declare, "Hey Lou, let's have a yard sale." I thought, "That's cute, they're going to play a game."

I woke up some time later to the sound of a barking dog and Buddy saying, "OK, well we'll be here all day if you want to buy some toys." I wandered out to the living room and peered out the door. Sure enough, there were the kids with toys strewn about the lawn, Buddy doing a half carnival barker, half Fox-from-Pinocchio act gently tossing coins in his hand and enjoying the weight of them.

"Scarcho Man" was once Ryu's very favorite toy. 

It wasn't a game. "Good job dad," I thought, "sleeping on the job. Today it was a yard sale, next time it'll be cooking meth or playing with firearms." I felt a bit conflicted. On the one hand I admired their drive. I was also happy that they had chosen things that they felt they didn't need and could do with out. On the other hand I was sad to see that some old favorites had been out for sale. It seemed to mark a transition from a sentimental age where everything you own is precious, to one where things are just things and are not imbued with any intrinsic value. It was a loss of a certain kind of innocence, the kind that makes us love the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. I also had a nagging feeling that I should have been part of the process. Not to reject any of their decisions, just to be there and be involved. But I wasn't. I was asleep.

"Hey guys," I said as I sauntered out of the house in bare feet, "this is cool, but you can't sell the baby's toys." I scooped up a few things that Yo wasn't finished chewing on yet. I marveled a bit at my little capitalists. I'm still not sure what they sold, or how they determined their pricing. Based on what was left my guess is that their love of Hot Wheels is on the wane. I haven't seen an Lightning McQueens around lately.

As surprising as their little endeavor was I was more surprised by the plan they had for their profits. A short time later they declared the yard sale over and came inside. "Here dad." Buddy said holding out his hand. He plunked 85 cents in assorted coins into my hand. "What's this? I asked. "Well," he replied, "I wanted everyone in the family have some money. We made some good sales, but if you have money you should share it with people around you." So my little salesmen were actually socialists. I don't think I'm a socialist, I don't know what I am, but I was happy to see the kids being generous.

I feel like there's supposed to be some kind of lesson here, I just can't think of what it is. I definitely think I need to be able to shake myself a little better when I overhear the kids planning something. Waking up to the aftermath wasn't a great feeling. Or maybe it's that I got an early glimpse into the fact that even though it sometimes feels like we're just telling kids things, they actually are listening and will eventually find a way to put our words into action.

Yeah. I like that second one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What We Mean when We Say "Sorry."

This was not actually an attempt to get them to get along, it was just a chilly morning.

It seems there have been a lot of articles floating around the last year or so about whether and how much we should apologize or use the word "sorry." Some say we shouldn't force kids to apologize. Others claim to be able to teach us how to apologize correctly. There has also been renewed focus on how women sometimes use apologetic language in a way that is disempowering.

This got me to thinking about what an apology actually is. Sure, it's an expression of regret. It can be a way to show someone that you acknowledge that you've hurt them in some way. It can be an attempt at an easy out when you're trying to avoid the consequences of your actions. An apology can take many forms and have many shades of meaning to the speaker and the recipient.

But what is an apology really? What is the expectation that comes from an apology? Is there an implied promise inherent in the act of apologizing? I think that there is, and this is what I've been teaching my kids.

An apology is an illocutionary act, an utterance that has some force to it and is usually expected to lead to some sort of physical action. For example, the phrase "It's chilly in here" is often in fact a request or command that carries the expectation that someone will act to change the temperature of the room. Specifically, an apology is a commissive illocutionary act in that it binds the speaker to a course of action. In less flowery terms, it's a promise to change. It's a promise to take steps to avoid repeating whatever action led to the apology.

I wish I had come up with this all my own (and I'm sure there's another article out there somewhere that says proposes the same idea), but it came to me through a conversation with my son. I was frustrated with him, and with my kids as a whole, over what seemed to be increasingly empty apologies. During our discussion I asked him what he thinks he means by an apology. I asked him, if he finds himself apologizing for the same things again and again what is the apology for? Why should I care? He told me, "Dad, when I say sorry, what I mean is that I am going to try to change my behavior." Boom. He nailed it. It was the point I had been dancing around and trying to impart, but I hadn't been able to put it in those words.

Ever since then we've had a framework for what an apology is. We've had a touchstone to go back to when we need to decide whether an apology is warranted. As a result there aren't always apologies when I think there should be, and the ones that come may come slower than before, but I can live with that. The great thing is when I see the kids apologize to each other I know what they're doing. They are strengthening their relationship in small but meaningful ways. And it's working.

It also makes it easier for me to apologize to them, something that was hard for me to do for a long time. Now they know that when I tell them I'm sorry for losing my temper, or sorry for not hearing a request, that I am promising to do better for them in the future. It's helped them to feel better faster when I misstep. It's helped me to feel better about showing my kids that I can be vulnerable or wrong, which in turn has helped them do the same.

Understanding that words are actions opens up a greater understanding of how what we say affects the people around us. Framing an apology as a promise to change can help all of us, parents and kids, better understand what we're really saying when we say "I'm sorry."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Like Everyone

Buddy playing catch with a member of the opposing team after a match. Sometimes you feel like you're doing it right.

Sometimes I have those moments when I feel like a "good parent;" those moments when I feel like a modern day Ward Cleaver. Before my kids were born I had no idea what I would teach them in terms of being people in the world. I didn't have a "parenting philosophy." Sometimes people would actually ask me what my parenting approach was going to be. I think it's because of the popularity of self help books and parenting guides. I had no idea, and really I had no interest. My mom didn't have a parenting philosophy, she did fine. Now that I'm six years and three kids into this adventure I am finding that I do have certain points I try to emphasize with them.

As I've aged I have found that my disposition towards people has changed. I used to hate everyone unless they gave me a reason not to. Through my 20s and 30s I've done almost a complete 180. Now I generally like everyone unless they give me a reason not to. This became important as I navigated corporate and academic politics. It's been a key to whatever success I've had, but until yesterday I had never made it an explicit part of my parenting philosophy. Sure, I had told the kids to "be nice." Last week, when Lou started pre-k there was a girl who was having a very hard time separating from her parents.  I encouraged Lou to sit with this girl and to be extra friendly towards her for the day. My worry was that Lou and other kids would shun this girl because she was melting down in a way that was kind of off putting, especially for a room of four-year-old strangers who were already nervous and in a new place. I was hoping this girl would see that there's at least one friendly face, and that Lou would learn about "loving everyone."

I grew up in Berkeley, California. I am also a member of a church. In both places I have often heard that you should love everyone. I have always felt that this is a tall order. How can I love everyone? Some people are terrible. As I've gotten older I've come to understand this idea more for what it's supposed to mean in terms of finding a way to reserve judgment of people until you know more about them. It's supposed to get you to empathize with strangers as you would with the people you really do love based on knowing them. But it's a hard concept to impart to a child. Especially when my daughter is so friendly she'll happily wander off the porch and down the block with anyone who stops to say hi. It's hard to say "Love everyone, but don't trust people you don't know." Learning to love new people is often bound up in trusting them. Love feels like too tall an order.

This weekend we took a family trip to the beach. We parked at a park and ride where you could get a shuttle to the shore. There was a typically diverse crowd waiting for the shuttle, people of all races, ages, and sizes. While we were waiting Buddy asked each of us about one thing we needed, and one thing we wanted but didn't need. I assume they're teaching this in school, and I'm very happy about that. Then somehow it got changed to naming one thing we loved, and one thing we liked but didn't love. Buddy said he loved everyone in his family, and liked his friends but didn't love all of them. I said I loved my family and that I liked everyone at the shuttle stop.

Buddy was shocked. "Wait, dad, you like everyone at this shuttle stop? How can you do that?" And that's where I felt like I was having one of those important parenting moments, the ones where you hope you're saying something that's going to stick with them and help shape the core of their being. I explained that I like everyone until they give me a specific reason not to. I told him that unless someone does something that hurts me or others I just assume that I like that person. I imparted that if you go into every new interaction assuming that you like the person in front of you and they like you the world opens up to you. As I said it I prayed that the kids were really listening, the way they do when you slip up and yell at a bone headed customer service rep on the phone. They always remember that.

It works (liking people, not yelling a customer service reps). I'd seen it long before I experienced it. I never realized it until recently, but my dad was really good at treating everyone as if he already liked them. I remember being out with him as a kid and he would talk to people many parents would tell their kids to avoid. He never had any problems with it. If he needed a light, or directions, he'd just ask whoever was at hand, and we used to inhabit some pretty rough areas of SF and the Bronx.

I've also seen it in a friend who did more to meet my neighbors in one walk to the store than I had in two years. I had assumed that my neighbors wouldn't like me. I was the male figure in what looks like a white family in a gentrifying area. I worried that my neighbors saw us as the tip of a young hipster professional spear that was going to take over their town and push them out. So I kept to myself, and so did they. Then my friend came to visit. We went for a walk and he said hello to every person who was sitting out on their porch, and they said hello back in a way that was warm and welcoming. I realized that I'd been missing out. I saw that he assumed that he liked them, and that they liked him, and it was true. After that I followed his example and I got to know my neighbors better and it was great.

I don't know what happened with that little girl in Lou's classroom. I know that as of Thursday she was still melting down at drop off. I hope Lou has continued to be kind and welcoming towards this girl. I don't love everyone, and I don't expect my kids to either. (In fact, I sometimes wish they'd love people a little less. They are very quick to show physical affection towards new people.) I do try to go through my days liking everyone though. It's been a positive force in my life and it's one of the few things I'd put into the box labeled "parenting philosophy." I hope my kids can learn to approach everyone with the assumption that they already like each other, then I'll feel like a "good parent."