Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Raising your kids in the public eye is really hard. But there's one compensation: You have a rock-solid excuse to keep them off Facebook.
That's the tactic Michelle Obama takes when it comes to her kids and the digital age.
"We do talk about Facebook and cameras, and I think what they are more acutely aware of is that they are more — I don’t want to say vulnerable, but people have cameras everywhere," she said Tuesday during a roundtable discussion. "And that’s very different. I think they’re one of the first kids in the White House growing up where everybody’s got a cell phone."
Former first kids have felt the public spotlight's harsh glare before, of course, but in 2012, that glare can be broadcast publicly — and on a permanent record.
"Everybody’s watching," she said. "We just have to have real conversations even now, that’s like, you can’t go off on somebody, you can’t act bratty, because you may be having a moment, but somebody could use that moment and try to define you forever. So you want to be cognizant of that, and I think all kids are in that position now. Understanding that what you put on the internet, what you say now can be a part of your life forever. It lives forever. And again it’s not different from what we need to be talking to all our kids about, but I do let them know that there’s a little extra burden."
Mrs. Obama was very serious when talking about teaching her kids how to speak and act in public, and her pride showed when she related how Malia, now 14, has started to seek out character-building experiences (those are Malia's words) in order to understand the hardship of others.
But as any mom with the world's greatest safety net would be, Mrs. Obama was a little gleeful when talking about depriving her children of the opportunity to mouth off on social media. "So there you go, Malia. There’s your hardship," she laughed. "You’re not going to have Facebook for a loooong time.”
Being the president's daughters could make for a tough adolescence these days: Not only do you have to worry about your every move showing up online in one way or another, but how do you also live up to White House-sized expectations?
Like every parent, Mrs. Obama says she wants her girls (Sasha, growing up before our eyes, is now 11) to know they can and should do anything they want in life.
"I always encourage them, think about your passion," she said. "Think about your gifts. Don't think about what dad does, or what somebody else wants you to do." Cause, you know, no pressure there.
"If it's politics, or serving in the military, if it's being a stay-at-home mom, I just want them to have confidence in whatever choice they make. ... The one thing that I'm really an advocate for these days is making sure that my girls and girls in general know, that they have a broader definition of who they can be. If you find that person that you love, and you want to get married and you want to have kids, great, if you don't, I don't want you to be that person who spends a lifetime with someone that they don't love, because they think they should.
"You've got to embrace whoever you're going to be."
Just don't embrace it on Facebook.
Read more from our conversation with the first lady:
Michelle Obama: Sasha and Malia 'don't care' about the election
First lady: Women will 'fight tooth and nail' to preserve rights