Category Archives: Teen

Social Media and Teenage Stupidity

 

MGM/UA Entertainment

 

As sympathetic as I try to be towards the tribulations of other parents, I have no problem admitting to a preference that  my “teachable moments” originate from consequences suffered by other people’s children.

This past week offered just such an opportunity, a conversation with the teenager initiated by the news that Harvard had rescinded offers to at least ten potential new students for the crime of sharing memes that the Admissions Committee deemed too offensive. They had been posted in a private Facebook group called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” The university cited its right to withdraw offers “if an admitted student engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, morality, or moral character.”

I won’t share the memes here, but if you want to find them it’s not difficult. They’re pretty bad.

They’re pretty bad but to be honest, I’ve seen worse. They’re jokes. Horribly offensive ones that aren’t particularly funny, meant to shock and push back against political correctness.  They are purposefully cringe worthy, competitions  common where people vote on which are the most “dank”. I’m sure that it never crossed any of these kid’s minds that these actions could be considered bad enough to lose the right to attend a school that only accepted 5.2 % of applicants to the class of 2021.

It’s an important lesson, online presence something that more and more employers and universities are paying attention to. Whether fair or not, opinions about a person are being formed by what they post and share on social media. I asked the teenager who she would be more willing to hire if two applicants had similar qualifications, the one that posts pictures of her dog on Instagram or the one tweeting about how wasted they got the night before?

As important as it is for teens to use a little more common sense before hitting the “send’ button,  it’s equally important for those doing the judging to use it. Teenagers can be incredibly stupid and naive. It was true when I was one, when you were one, and when my youngest gets to be that age I have no doubt that she will have me shaking my head in consternation often.  What the people at Harvard missed was that these memes were being shared precisely because they were considered offensive. This is evidence of poor judgement but also shows that they are not indicative of the true feelings of the posters.

It’s a hard balance to find, as with all aspects of raising teenagers. Accountability must be taught but they also need to be allowed to make mistakes, to learn from them. Very few of us get to be be responsible adults without first spending time as stupid kids, doing stupid things.

Things become even more problematic when stupid adults try and legislate stupid teen behavior. With the intention of fighting child pornography, a laudable idea, the US House of Representatives has voted to mandate a fifteen year mandatory minimum sentence for anybody who shares sexually explicit photos of a minor.

Besides being against the idea of mandatory sentencing in general, I’m also unable to comprehend how it never occurred to any of these brilliant lawmakers that the law as currently written doesn’t exclude minors, the very people it is intended to protect.

That means a young girl who sends a picture of her boobs to her high school boyfriend could go to jail for fifteen years. If that boyfriend asks for a picture that is solicitation, fifteen years. If one of the boyfriend’s buddies told him to ask for the picture that’s conspiracy, fifteen years in federal jail.

Teenagers need to be talked to, constantly. They need to realize the consequences of their online actions and be taught to use as much common sense as we can instill. We need to use a little sometimes too.

 

 

 

 

Parents, Trying to Understand

 

I think that most people with teenage children will agree that they can be difficult to communicate with and I’ve found that sometimes, it’s hard to blame them for that reluctance.  We’re stupid, out of touch and think we know it all, while actually knowing next to nothing.  It’s been 28 years ( yes, you read that right ) since DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince ( whatever happened to that guy? ) released “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and it’s as true today as it was then.

 

parents just dont understand
Jive Records

 

We know nothing, at least not nearly as much as their friends do, the only ones that really understand them and what they are going through.  Other than to ask for rides, money, and food, there really is next to no benefit whatsoever to engaging us in conversation.  If told that their day was “good”, what other information do we really need? Their day was good.  They’ll be gone in another year or so anyway.

It would be easy to believe this.  To simply let them hide out in their filthy rooms, tapping away at little screens, living their lives as we live ours.  To trust that we’ve given them a strong enough foundation to handle themselves, that our relationship is strong enough for them to have no hesitation in asking for help if needed. To believe that they are “good.”

Easy, but in my opinion, in my experience, a mistake. I’ve stated many times that this isn’t a place where I give advice or where anybody in their right mind would come for parental guidance. There are things that I have learned however, and one of them is that for all the sarcasm at the beginning of this post, there really is a lot that we don’t know, that we don’t understand. Things that we won’t learn by texting upstairs when dinner is ready, that one day make us wonder how such obvious signs of trouble were missed.

It’s hard.  It’s hard to find the time, hard to fight through the shields they seem to automatically raise.  Hard to find some common interest that can be used as a wedge in the door they seem determined to keep closed.  A shared fandom of a sports team or musical act.  A television or book series to share. Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Boston Red Sox.  If they are more enthusiastic than you are, fake it.

 

bonding over buffalo
ready to eat

 

For us it’s been wings.  Weekend trips to different restaurants and eateries replacing the cinema as a more productive means of stimulating conversation.  Various sauces and flavors sampled as I try to establish this as a new tradition. A few hours away from home, her attention stealing little sister and the temptations of electronics.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start.  I still don’t know nearly as much as I would like to about what’s going on in her life, going on in her head. A parent still trying to understand.

But I know more than I did. There are several dozen more places that I have mapped out for us to try and with any luck I’ll continue to  pry that door open even further. If i have to make a few new holes in my belt to get this accomplished, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

 

bonding over buffallo
Bonding over Buffalo

 

 

Getting Closer to “When I Grow Up”

 

Like most people, My plans for what I wanted to be “when I grow up” changed many times over the years.  I don’t remember policeman, astronaut or firefighter ever being on the list, but rock star and cowboy certainly were.  Bounty hunter or private detective remained aspirations until around 7th grade when I decided my future lay in soap opera acting.

Upon reaching high school my plans grew slightly more realistic.  I made preliminary inquiries into what was required to attend West Point, the United States Military Academy, until a weekend spent on campus talking to Cadets led me to evaluate my level of discipline and find it lacking.  Dissuaded from seeking a leadership position in an organization of over one million people, I naturally decided to instead apply to the University of Maine and live a life of isolation as a forest ranger. That didn’t last long either.

It will be interesting to hear the different career paths that the five year old considers over the years.  She seems to have given up the idea of “superhero ballerina”, but rock star is still a consideration. She remains determined to help people, which I love, and has recently added hairdresser and librarian to her list, as she feels “everyone loves a good haircut and having books given to them.”  It’s pretty solid logic.

For the teenager, however, “when I grow up” is a time that is fast approaching. It’s been a bumpy ride but  graduation from high school will be upon us soon. Decisions about what the next chapter in her life will be are going to have to be made soon.  Afraid that she may not realize this and growing frustrated with our communication lately being limited to text messages to her room when dinner was ready, I used my secret teenager trap to lure her out and force her to sit down and talk for a bit. I took her out for wings.

 

close to grown up
to capture a teen, hot wings make good bait

 

It seemed a productive chat.  She assures me that she is on pace to graduate and that she has a plan. She wants to be a veterinary technician, a nurse for animals.

It’s not the worst idea that she has ever had.   According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, our state is predicted to have  19% job growth in that profession between now and 2024. There is no state required professional credentialing, so further schooling wouldn’t necessarily be required, though it would greatly improve her hiring desirability . Entry level salary of $26,000, with a mean of 37,850, won’t make her rich but it would keep her fed.

She won’t qualify academically for either of the two in-state schools that offer certification programs, but there are on-line classes that she can take to start.  Some sort of employment will be mandatory and maybe something else will inspire her.  Something besides “rock star astronaut” hopefully.

 

 

 

We Know

 

We Know.

 

We know that it’s not your fault, not your choice. That you can’t just “get over it”, can’t just “try to be happy.”

We know that you wish this were true. That your soul aches for it to be true.

We know that these feelings, these words, these actions, aren’t intended to seek out our attention.

We know that you need our attention, our love, our support.  Our strength when you are feeling weak.  That you need more.

 

We don’t know how you feel, and we never will. Never know what it’s like to be inside your head, inside your heart.

We don’t know how to stop blaming ourselves. How to stop wondering what we did wrong, what we could have done different, done better.

We don’t know how to stop feeling angry, confused, helpless. How to carry the burden of our helplessness without adding to your own.

We don’t know how to help. We don’t know, and we’re sorry.

 

Know that we will never stop trying.  That there is nothing that we wouldn’t do.

Know that we are sorry that this may not be enough sometimes. That this knowledge breaks our hearts.

Know that these failings are ours, and not yours.

Know that we love you. That we have never stopped, and that we never will.

 

 

 

woman-sitting

 

 

 

picture labeled for reuse via PublicDomainPictures.net

Off to Work She Goes

 

My first exposure to the working world came when I was in the sixth grade. Our small town had a Summer Recreation program where older kids could make a few bucks supervising dodge ball games and other activities designed to keep everybody busy and active during the summer break. I have no idea how much money we actually made, or how this didn’t violate child labor laws, but it was an actual paycheck for not doing much more than hanging out with my buddies, dishing out ice cream, and putting band aids on skinned knees.

From that point on I was pretty much always working. I spent a lot of time shoveling manure and stacking hay bales at my friend’s farm, did lawn maintenance at the town baseball fields, and spent a summer painting houses. I spent two years at a plant nursery making $4.25 an hour, two  months at an Ames department store as a cashier, and two weeks in the housewares department at Caldor trying to figure out the difference between valance and regular curtains.

While working at Tri Town grocery store I made more lifelong friends and have fonder memories than I do of my entire four years of high school.

 

tri-town

 

The teenager now has her first job, a moment that I feel is just as memorable as first car, first kiss, or first apartment. I’m discounting the time she spent at a country store because she only got paid based on the store’s performance on that particular day. The only thing she ever seemed to come home with were some dubious right wing conspiracy theories and revisionist history books.  Apparently the US government was responsible for the cancellation of the  post apocalyptic television show Jericho, a shame because I really liked it.

She’s now the newest hostess at a local restaurant, working the dinner and evening shifts every Friday and Saturday night. These hours have the dual benefit of not interfering with her school work and also renewing the interest of all parties in the procurement of her driver’s license, her next big life milestone.

I have no idea how long she’ll stay there or how she will one day look back on her time at this job.  So far she seems to like the people and the money that she is earning. Its much more lucrative than collecting our empty bottles and cans. She’s learning responsibility, going in on a night when she wasn’t feeling well, and financial strategy, giving us half of her earnings to save.

She’s proud of herself and we are proud of her. Welcome to the work force, honey. Only forty eight more years until retirement.

 

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