Should you follow your teenager on social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Still no, but with an explanation.
My teenager uses social media. Not all formats — she despises Facebook, as do most teens. The younger set are turning away from it in droves, calling it “their parents meeting place,” which means it's about as cool as moms jeans and white runners. It's as cool as calling shoes "runners." It is not cool at all.
Facebook scared teenagers away more effectively than the angry manager at the local convenience store.You want to see teenagers scatter? Throw in a few adults and their dumb adult humour and cue the eye-rolling, folks. As long as e-cards and grandparents with internet connections exist, most teens will continue to avoid Facebook. Instagram and Twitter are attracting teens now, because many of them like the fast pace and abbreviated posting functions. And in fairness, Twitter is great because it doesn’t take long to tell someone where to go and what to do when they get there. Also, jokes.
My teenager has social media accounts but I don’t follow her. And yet I prefer her profiles are public. Yes; that’s correct — she does not have private accounts. She posts with a pen name and she has endured lecture upon lecture about making sure posts or photographs do not contain identifying information before she publishes them. She knows that things can live forever on the internet, as evidenced by my unfortunate run-in with an old classmate who has all my "big hair" pictures. She cannot post photographs of her family without their implicit permission, and I speak for her 10-year-old brother. She was not allowed to create accounts until high school and honest to God, even I got sick of my own voice what with the online safety lectures and if you know me, you know I can talk forever. Even knowing the dangers of putting things online, I do not follow her. This is her space this is her reality and she is entitled to some degree of privacy within it.
Do I check her streams, her posts? Hell yes. All the time. Some of the time. Not often. Occasionally. Once in a while. Obsessively. My motto is "trust, but verify."
What do I find there? A lot of cringe-worthy stuff, frankly. But not “get a counselor involved” or “we have to move” cringing. Her feeds and streams are mostly your average teenage angsty stuff spiced liberally with selfies shot at weird angles and pug memes.
I mentioned a random posting of hers once during a discussion on a unrelated topic. She was upset because the matter was — in her opinion — private. Aha! Private! This is the internet, lady. If I can see it then so can anyone else. I respect her privacy and I don’t favourite or retweet anything in her timeline, despite the fact that she is as funny or funnier than almost anyone I follow. I read her timelines every so often and I would not hesitate to do so with more frequency if I noticed any reason to be concerned, like posting questionable photographs or crowd-sourcing for Ke$ha tickets.
This isn’t my head in the sand. It’s a conscious effort to have her navigate her own boat.
My parents weren’t privy to every conversation I had between the ages of 13 and 20. Although I grew up to be a reasonably mature adult, my teenage voice would have frightened my parents so much I'd be coming home to a pile of nunnery brochures. I will concede that the world is a different place than it was when we were young but I don’t believe it's so different that we need to be aware of every single move our children make. Policing their words and scrutinizing all they say will not make them better adults nor will it accelerate their maturity. They are going to fuck up you guys, and we should totally be there when they do, but not every gaffe is preventable. I am not afraid to exert my authority and shut it down if I found something inappropriate in her field of online vision.
But unless that happens, I want (almost) nothing to do with it.
I was born in 1973. Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister, a carton of eggs cost 45 cents, and construction began on the CN Tower in Toronto, so future families could travel 114 stories up an elevator to experience being nauseous at 1100 feet.
We weren’t poor—not in the way some others were. We didn’t have new coats every winter, but we had coats, and that was more than some of my classmates could say. My sister and I lived in a bungalow with my father in a nice neighbourhood, but the newer houses had paved driveways. Those kids could ride their bikes on theirs, but we found fossils in ours, and we were sure we were discovering forgotten ancient species. That was worth the skinned knees and dusty hands they required.
The house was simple and clean, but no one planted flowers, and whatever car sat in the driveway leaked oil. My sister and I started the car once—far too young to do so, but not so old that we knew better—because we wanted to listen to the radio. Being young and almost certainly at least temporarily stupid, we did not understand the concept of manual transmission, yet somehow pushed the right pedals in the right order and promptly smashed the car into the fence. We also lit the backyard on fire, using gasoline meant for the lawnmower, to start the uncooperative charcoal BBQ. It worked to both cook the frozen steak and also in that it eliminated the need for a lawnmower for the season. I guess the takeaway here is that when I was young, parents left their children unsupervised and with access to flammable materials.
I had a pair of hand-me-down roller skates with a key I wore around my neck on a piece of twine (choking hazard), I was allowed to return glass pop bottles for the 10 cent refund (possible breakage), and I ate sandwiches my Gramma made me using cracked wheat bread and corn syrup (diabetes). If there is a God, he is currently busy giving her all the roller sets she desires as payback for those delicious sandwiches. My sister and I ate mountains of those sandwiches while we stuffed and rolled her cigarettes on her fancy cigarette machine.
Ahh, the '80s.
Do you remember Strawberry Shortcake? My friend down the street had the whole collection and the travelling case. She also had two parents and a matching bedroom set from Sears, so the Shortcake gang wasn’t the primary reason I hated her. I had a Barbie castle, but it smelled of stale beer, because I made it myself from empty 2-4 cases. I loved it more than I could love a plastic one, and my memories of growing up—even the bad ones—don’t revolve around the material things I missed. Except Cougar boots—being a child in 1982 and not owning a pair of tan lace-up cougar boots with the red lining was like having a scarlet letter on your chest. I would have built myself a beer case house to live in if it meant I could have a pair of those boots.
I watched Sha-Na-Na and I ran around saying things like, “Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!” And I was scared of Russia, and my father needed quiet when the news was on, and on Friday nights if I was very, very quiet and sunk down low in the recliner chair, he would forget I was awake and I could stay up to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. He would smoke at the table and I would pretend to be sleeping during the opening credits. The house smelled like cigarettes and the Lestoil cleaner we used to mop the kitchen floor, and Fridays were my favourite.
When I think about my childhood, it doesn’t smell like Strawberry Shortcake. It smells like clean linoleum and empty beer cases and fresh-rolled cigarettes and burnt grass.
It’s a good smell.
Life is full of awkward moments. I’ve spent 41 years stringing them together, and there’s been no shortage of material since my oldest child became a teenager. It’s a regular grimace-fest here on a regular basis because anything I do embarrasses and mortifies this teenage child. You too can expect to encounter several awkward moments before your youngest heads off to University or runs away to marry the drummer in a Coldplay cover band.
Meeting Their First Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Meeting your son or daughter’s first romantic interest can be pretty awkward. No one is comfortable. Understand that there is no way you can make this better for anyone involved, so let any allusion of dignity go by the wayside. You can be wearing the newest fashion trends, have current music playing, and serve a delicious tried and true meal, but none of this will matter. You may as well pick them up after their movie date wearing fisherman hip waders and a crocheted beer can hat because you are not cool. Do you hear me? Of course you don’t; you’re like 100 years old.
I tried to play it cool when I met my daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. By the time he left (early, go figure) I had explained that our fireplace was actually a magic portal to another dimension and told him the story of how when I was a teenager I once peed on my boyfriends couch, necessitating an abrupt morning break-up lest he discover the stain before I had a chance to leave. (In the end I just flipped the cushion over and told him “I think we’re better as friends.”)
Disciplining Them in Front of Their Friends
Sometimes we need to correct and reprimand our kids in the moment. They’re like dogs during housebreaking in the way that you must correct the behaviour when it occurs because — just like dogs — teenagers have very short memories. The typical teenager is bombarded with information during their waking hours but lack a fully matured cerebral cortex to process the input. Simply put: dumb it down. Teens aren’t stupid but they don’t listen for long so your goal here is to be fast and effective. For example: When I need to get my daughter’s attention, say, at the mall when she’s with a group of peers, I go for the big guns. Yep; birth story. If she doesn’t answer me or respond to texts within a reasonable amount of time, I locate her and gather her and friends 'round for the haunting tale. “Hey, Daughter,” I start. “Remember that time I squeezed you out of my vagina?”
That’s as far as I’ve ever got. She’s usually in the car by the first beat on “vagina.”
When They “Catch” You
Lots of parents get caught "in the act" while their children are young, so what’s the big deal about getting found out when your children are teenagers? SO MUCH IS WRONG. First of all, little kids will believe that you and Daddy were simply practicing for Leap Frog League try-out, but your teenager isn’t buying that. Additionally, they may even know how what you’re doing feels and could possibly be aware it feels sort of pretty good. Sex is something you want to put a lockdown on immediately. Do what an enterprising friend of mine did — put a few tennis balls in the dryer and shift laundry to every night at 9PM to buffer out Parental Sexy Time.
When You Catch Them
So your child — the one who bathed a grand total of twice from ages 11 to 14 — has started taking 45-minute showers every night. Your hot water bill is through the roof and no one can flush a toilet at night without causing third degree burns. Things are getting ridiculous and you think you need to put your foot down. Don’t. It doesn’t matter that no one else can shower until midnight and that your son’s hands are permanently water-logged and resemble dried apricots. You do not want to know what’s going on in there and unless you want to haul a 50lb laundry basket down to the laundry room every week, you’re best to just keep on keepin’ on. Trust me.
It can all seem like a bit much sometimes, having to watch and monitor everything we say and do to avoid awkward moments. My daughter won’t acknowledge my presence if I run into her in a public setting, yet she once shit all over my leg at a wedding. I plan on spending my retirement years evening the score.