Teen instant messaging

Ask Rene:
My Kids Trashed Me Online!

Hi Rene:

 Love your advice and am hoping you can send some my way. My problem has to do with teens and technology.

 I have four children between the ages of 13 and 23, who, like most young people, are heavy into technology. They spend a lot of time instant messaging each other as well as communicating via Facebook and Twitter. I follow some of their friends on the latter, just so I can keep up on what’s going on.

 Recently, two of my kids slacked off on their chores and as punishment I took away their phones, only to be used when they go out of the house. So the other day, I happened to check the tweets by some of their friends and thought to check on those of my own offspring as well. What I saw made my eyes pop out of my head and broke my heart too. My kids, my own flesh and blood, who I carried for nine months, were trashing me! Not just saying bad things but using foul language too! It was such a shock because neither my husband nor I cuss so I wondered where it came from.

 But one of the most troubling aspects was the way they were talking about me. It was disrespectful and degrading and frankly I expect more of them. The other puzzling part is that they completely left their dad out of it; none of the foul language was directed at him. I was the sole target of their ire.

 Rene, I don’t know what to do. My husband wants to confront them but I want to forgive and forget about it. I’m so confused and hurt by this. What would you do?


Hurt in Hawaii

Dear Hurt:

Okay first, from one mother to another, a cyber hug; this job is freakin’ hard  ain’t it ? There are few things worse than finding out those you care so deeply for, have thrown you under the wheels of the bus and it’s one of the things that makes us worry about being vulnerable. We’d like to think things are different with family and I believe for the most part they are. But here’s what I think is going on in your situation and what I recommend.

YOUR KIDS DO LOVE YOU:  I really don’t think your kids don’t love you as much as they are angry with you and, because they’re immature, they don’t know how to properly express that. They did what young people do, they vented online. In our day, we picked up our princess telephone and called our best friend to complain about our totally unhip parents. We may have even called them a name or two. Same action, different channels. Your mom and my mom never found out because it was a closed system, two friends on a phone. Your kids basically took out a billboard on Sunset Boulevard to spew their venom. That’s a big mistake and a very bad habit to get into.

YOUR KIDS WERE SHOWING OFF: Teens want to bond with their friends and what better way to do than railing about how uncool your folks are? Adolescence is a hard place to be; kids are straddling the gray area between childhood and adulthood. They’re longing for autonomy but too much of that scares them. So as much as they rail against having boundaries placed upon them, they know they need and want those parameters but it’s too baby-ish to admit. So they do what they can to look tough. Get where I’m going here? They talk a good game in front of their friends but the reality is very different.

YOUR HUSBAND IS RIGHT: Time for a family meeting, to be headed by him, not because he’s a man, but because he is a revered figure in their lives. In my home, my husband’s interaction with the kids on a daily basis is less frequent than my own but more intense. At this meeting, your husband will hand the kids a printout of all the offending tweets and ask them to read them aloud, with you at the table. It might be hard to hear and you may shed some tears but I doubt they are going to be able to get through them all. Next, your husband asks them to explain themselves and if they have anything to say to you. I suspect tears by them and an apology will follow. Then your husband is going to tell them they will NEVER AGAIN speak about the woman he loves that way and that the two of you will be monitoring all of their social media habits. Come up with a punishment for that infraction and make sure it is one you can stick to.  But for this infraction, I’d take their phones away for a good long time, even when they do go out. In fact, they wouldn’t BE going out; this sounds like it is time for grounding. That’s up to you but I would DEFINITELY be taking those phones. I would also put up a one or two line tweet/Facebook message stating that your kids would be off social media for a time while they learn how to be social again. Seriously.

For you mom, these final words. You mention that you are worried now that all of cyberspace knows how your kids feel about you. Who cares? Your kids are not the first and won’t be the last to bitch about their parents. And trust me, by the time it goes out online, it is old news (have you ever tried to keep up on Twitter?). And while we want our kids to like us, that is not our primary job/concern as parents. It is to PARENT! That means taking an unpopular stance sometimes and knowing we’ll be called names, either under their breath, over the princess telephone or in cyberspace. One more thing; now would also be an opportune time to warn your kids that nothing EVER goes away in cyberspace and that many people have lost jobs and scholarships because of the stuff they’ve indiscreetly put online.

Good luck mommy, you’re gonna be fine!

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