I knew I had to be very careful when choosing a fake online identity with which to stalk my kids. It needed to be somebody that my children would want to be friends with, but not close friends, somebody who might plausibly notice them, but they might not notice being noticed by.
That’s how I ended up becoming Clara Lemlich. She was a leader of a massive strike of female shirtwaist workers in New York City more than a century ago. Logically, a modern Clara would be interested in clothes and young women, exactly what both my teenagers are interested in.
It’s well-known that only loser teenagers befriend people who don’t already have friends so I rounded out Clara’s profile by prefriending a whole bunch of people I knew my kids (a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy) would find cool. That noted labor organizer, Channing Tatum, for example.
Given Ms. Lemlich’s areas of expertise, it’s not weird or creepy or anything that my children might crop up on her radar. Well, perhaps it’s a little creepy. I mean, if I were their mother and I saw some random adult pretending to be a dead union activist looking at their photos on Instagram, I’d be alarmed. But I am their mother, so …..anyway, I digress.
My ruse made just enough sense that when Clara Lemlich started following my kids, she seemed both acceptable and ignorable; they took the bait. Online friends are after all, more desirable for their quantity than their quality. The only person my children do not want to add to their list of followers is me.
Surely, you’re saying, there’s some more upfront, reasonable, less sneaky way to do this. Experts recommend, for example, that you have all your children’s passwords and make sure that you have full access to all their social media sites. To which I say: bwahahahahaha. Good luck. You will never get ahead of your teenagers on nefarious uses of technology. I’ll wager young Rory Gates has already figured out at least one way to digitally outsmart his dad, Bill.
In the new movie Men, Women & Children, Jennifer Garner plays a mom trying to do exactly what those parenting gurus recommend. She has all her daughter’s passwords. She tracks her daughter on her iPhone. Her computer records every website the girl has visited, every text her phone receives and every person who texts her, just to make sure there are no predators. (Her daughter goes along with all of this, because her daughter is a completely fictional construct.)
I’m not worried about predators. I pity any poor perv who tries to get my kids off the couch. But like Garner’s character Patricia, I do worry that what the kids are posting might blow back on them later. As Patricia says: “our children will be the first generation whose lives have a searchable database.”
That’s why I felt I needed Clara Lemlich. The Internet is too vast and labyrinthine to be mapped. Parents can’t give their offspring a guidebook or a list of dangerous neighborhoods, even if they knew them. They can’t warn them ahead of time to avoid doing something that might later seem terrible. But this public vast world is also holdable in one hand; It’s as if their bus pass could allow them to time travel. And strip when they get there.
But once I had successfully Trojan horsed my way into my kids’s online lives, I found their cities somewhat lacking in drama. There were no fights to join. Their activities mostly consist of friends being excessively complimentary of each other and excessively unpleasant about strangers. It’s narcissistic but not dangerous. The biggest infraction my daughter seems to be guilty of is copyright infringement: she’s posting photos I took. Without attribution.
So I’m outing Clara Lemlich. Hi kids, it’s me. Isn’t this Instagram thing fun? Of course, they don’t follow me on social media, so they’ll never know.