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Nov 16 2011

Remember That Thing Called Privacy?

By at 3:13 pm

do not disturb sign on dooro“Um…what do you do at night…you know… when you want to be together?” asked my friend who was pushing her first child’s stroller as I pushed my fourth child in his.

She knew I left the door open at night, that the kids often came into bed with us, that as infants, they slept with me all night.

“I lock the door.”

“Oh, makes sense,” she replied, almost meekly.

I loved having my kids in bed with us but there were times, of course, that their parents needed to be alone together.

This concept is known as “privacy.”

In an era of TMI and oversharing, it might be a good policy to review.

Of course, I did not pee in private for about 15 years as I raised my kids. And now that I take care of my grandchildren frequently, there are times I am demonstrating to yet another generation what it means to use the toilet. But, in the immortal words of James Marshall’s hippos, George and Martha, “There is such a thing as PRIVACY, you know!”

We take for granted that we need to teach our kids to share – Elmo, Big Bird and friends talk about it all the time. And we do, too, especially when screaming and pulling are involved.

Learning to share is part of learning to be a friend, sibling, and ultimately, a functioning member of society. But we don’t seem to talk much about privacy with our kids, about the importance of discretion and good taste, about the distinction between sharing and oversharing, about what shouldn’t, or doesn’t, have to be shared.

As important as teaching your kids to share, it is also important to teach them that some things are just, well, private. Like touching their privates (that’s why they’re called privates.) Some things are meant for them alone, to do alone, to think about alone. To respect oneself often means to keep to oneself.

One definition of the Jewish concept of tz’ni’ut, ( literally “modesty,”) has been demonstrated on Kveller by Mayim’s efforts to choose clothes which are not revealing (by the way, lovely gown, Mayim.) Unfortunately, in the Jewish world today, tz’ni’ut seems to apply mostly to how women dress, rather than how people act. As a concept, though, it more generally applies to propriety, humility, valuing reticence, and an appropriate degree of inhibition in public.

Our in-your-face society conspires against the concept of privacy. Everything is “out there.” Not only do large posters reveal the female body in ways that can only be called exploitative, young girls at bar/bat mitzvahs often look like hookers (Where are their mothers? my appalled daughter asked me in shul the other week). Sex on screen turns us all into voyeurs.  Lenny Bruce and George Carlin (are these too ancient a reference?) are laughing in their graves at language which is now commonly heard, and unavoidable, in the streets and in our homes. Comments on social media often feel like punches to the stomach. That there are real people on each end seems to be forgotten as everyone says whatever they want – regardless of what it might reveal or who it might hurt. That’s not kosher, never mind not tz’ni’ut.

And another thing – what is on the web is out there for everyone, forever. Think ahead to your children’s adolescence and know that you will inevitably embarrass them, as your parents embarrassed you.  But now, with the web, you will embarrass your kids in ways unimaginable a generation ago. The past will always be the present.

So before you post, remember that one day, your little darling, and her friends, will google your name (or whatever equivalent they’ll be doing then).

You don’t want to hear a horrified screech—“Oh, Mom, how could you? Ewwwwwwwwww!”


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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