Parenting: Teens and Facebook
Have you ever caught your teen griping about you on Facebook? How did you react?

Hi, my name is Dawn, and I’m a mom of teens. Given the spacing of my children, I’ve been a mom of teens for a long time.  In fact some days it seems like an eternity.  I also have worked with the teens at church for…(wait for it) 16 years.  In other word, I’ve been immersed for a very long time in trying to figure out how to best get a human from the childhood to the adult phase of life with all the requisite skills of adulthood.  I’m here to tell you that it ain’t always easy.

Teens, some more than others, tend to be–oh, how shall I say this politely– myopic, thinking that the world revolves around them.  Case in point from my house last week:

Me: I need you to come home in between your activities this afternoon to take the roast out of the oven.

Teen:  I’ve got a lot to do and was going to hang out with friends in between.  Can’t you or Dad do it?

Me:  No, we are both tied up at work.

Teen:  Will you pay for my gas to come home?  I am the only one of my friends that has to pay for gas.

Me: {what I wished I had calmly said} No problem. I see you want to renegotiate the deal we agreed to where we pay for the car and the insurance and you pay for gas. I always thought we got the short end of that stick. I’ll let you know what that monthly total comes to.

Me: {what I actually not so calmly said}  Really? I mean REALLY???  I’ll pay for gas as soon as you pay for the car and the insurance.  Running errands is part of the package, my dear, of getting to drive. So no, I won’t pay for your gas, and for the record, I don’t believe I’m the only responsible (read: mean) mother amongst your friends.  Hey, and since you’re going to eat some of the roast, do you want to chip in for that too?

So, I was primed when I heard about this North Carolina dad who sees a Facebook posting by his 15 year old daughter griping with extremely foul language about her parents and their expectations.  She hides the post from her parents, but her dad sees it (I’ll tell you how he found out later), and makes a video of his response and posted it on her Facebook page.  This is the video.

Oh my! I’ll have to admit that when the dad was expressing his shock that she expected payment for her chores, I felt some kinship.  I think part of our job as parents is curbing our teen’s sense of entitlement.  This generation of American teens is given so much that it is very very easy for them to develop a sense that it is all owed to them, and that they need do nothing to earn it, or to give back, or to, at the very least, express gratitude.  In my view, responsible parenting at this age is teaching that the world will not hand you whatever you want.  I also want my kids to realize they are part of a team, and we all work together to make our life flow.  If you listen closely, this was the dad’s message as well.  He lost me, however, with the gun.

I’ll admit that I hate guns. They scare me, and an angry person with a gun scares me even more.  But just as important here is that there were so many more effective ways to drive home his message.  In my mind, his daughter needed help in two areas: responsible use of the internet and understanding the value of each person’s contributions to the family unit.  Clearly this is a kid who doesn’t need to be using the internet unsupervised, so a moveable laptop is too much responsibility.  Rather than destroying the innocent laptop, why not donate it to a family or college student that could really use it.  If they express gratitude, all the better at proving the point.  When the daughter earns back the privilege of internet use, she should use a desk top in a public place in the house.

The daughter also needs to appreciate what others in the family contribute to making the family function.  This opens up lots of ideas for creative parenting. Perhaps she could use the next few weekends to shadow her mom and dad to see all the small and large things they do for the family. Or she could interview them and write a report on how each person contributes.

I’m not big on armchair quarterbacking, especially with parenting.  My house is made of way too much glass for that.  I know all too well that feeling of anger that our beloved children can bring us to, and the almost irresistible urge to take bold action to make your point.  But, in my experience, swift, bold and dramatic action is often less effective at teaching than slowly considered and executed lessons.  Thoughtful response is part of what we’re modeling for our kids.  I’ll admit though that thoughtful consideration doesn’t feel as good when you’re really mad, and I bet shooting that computer felt awfully good.

How the Dad Found the Hidden Facebook Post

I had forgotten that it was possible to create lists and only show selected posts to each list.  Makes me realize that my requirement that my children friend me on Facebook has probably restricted my posts more than theirs.  Darn!  This is what the dad posted on how he stumbled across the hidden post. You got to admit, the guy’s got a sense of humor.

HOW SHE GOT CAUGHT: The Dog Did It.. no, really.

I finally came out and told her this today, partly because it was too funny NOT to share. When my daughter made her post, she used Facebook’s privacy settings to block “Family” and “Church” friend’s lists. All her other friends could see it. We, of course could not.

One of our dogs is always getting in photos and therefore has her own Facebook page. It’s just a cute dumb thing we did for fun. Well, the dog’s profile is rarely used except when funny pictures of her are posted. Since that’s not too often, and she has very few friends on Facebook, her wall is kind of bare, with relatively few posts showing up on it.

The other night we gave the dog a bath and there was a funny photo we uploaded to Facebook and tagged her in. I logged in as the dog the next morning to comment on the photo.  However when I logged into the dog’s profile, my daughter had forgotten to add her to the “family” list…. so our family dog’s profile showed her post right there on the front page.

It wasn’t any parent-hacking, computer spying, or monitoring of any kind.. the dog actually ratted her out completely by accident. She hasn’t petted that dog all day today…

The Rest of the Story

As can happen in the blink of an eye, this video went viral, I suspect because it touched a nerve with many flustered parents.  The dad was inundated with requests from the media, but decided to not milk his 15 minutes of fame. I respect that. He posted several follow ups on his Facebook page , all well-reasoned, thoughtful, and showing a healthy sense of irony and humor.  I’ve excerpted some below.  He’s a hard guy not to like.

[In explanation of why he was refusing all media appearances.] [T]here’s absolutely NO way I’m going to send my child the message that it’s OK to gain from something like this. It would send her a message that it’s OK to profit at the expense of someone else’s embarrassment or misfortune and that’s not how I was raised, nor how she has been raised.

I told my daughter not to air that kind of material on Facebook because it was hurtful to other people. It embarrassed them. It caused them to feel humiliated, especially our very very good friend, who is NOT a cleaning lady by any stretch of the imagination!

Instead, I simply turned the tables and let her be on the receiving end of something and see how it made her feel. You mentioned not embellishing it, not sensationalizing it. I didn’t. I read exactly what she put out there for the world to see, in her own words. Then I added a few of my own words to it.

And then, yes, I shot it full of holes. Would I have received the same viral attention if I’d used it as a dog toy, hit it with a hammer, drove over it with the truck, or simply thrown it away? I’m not sure. But the point is that her parents told her “If it happens again, I’ll put a bullet through it.”
So, rather than let her push that particular boundary any further, I did absolutely no more and no less than I promised I’d do.

Truthfully though the social attention has helped her and I both deal with it. We had our discussion about it after she returned home from school. We set the ground rules for her punishment, and then I let her read some of the comments on Facebook with me at my computer. At first it was upsetting. Then as we read it became less so, eventually funny to both of us. At the end, she was amazed that other people had such amazingly strong reactions. Some said she’d grow up to be a stripper. Others that she’d get pregnant and become drug addicted because of the emotional damage. She actually asked me to go on Facebook and ask if there was anything else the victim of a laptop-homicide could do besides stripping because all the posts seem to mention that particular job and she wasn’t so keen on that one.

So in the end, she’s fine. My Facebook wall will never be the same again, and we’ll be OK as a family and she’ll grow up happy, healthy, and have everything she needs, but not everything she wants. And I absolutely guarantee she’ll never doubt my resolve to follow-through on a consequence again.


Image credit: Erik Luyten Moblog