This post was created with the full consent of my daughter. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty but I know who you are and I forget nothing.
I needed to apologize to my teenage daughter the other day. It was a really nice moment. For her.
So…it’s nice when you recognize something about your child that is also like you. When it’s positive and fun. She likes to sing loudly to pop music and enjoys sparkly nail polish and has some good one-liners. ME TOO. Yay us.
When it isn’t so great a quality…maybe not so flattering-it’s humbling and it can cause alarm bells and you can take it on as a campaign to root it out of them. My girl. My happy, joyful, animated, teenagery girl can get really irritated sometimes. Sometimes, when people cross a line with her or cross her, she will get mad. And when she is mad at you, she can go into a little dark place in her mind to process things and if you are on the receiving end of this-it’s quiet time for you. Crickets.
I wonder where oh where in the world she learned this strategy? Oh. Me.
Now. In her defense, she is a much milder person than I am. Truly. She is kinder, gentler, and more forgiving than her mother before her. Always has been. In fact, I am bookended by a mother and daughter who give second and third and fourth chances. They are olive branch extenders. I am inspired by them but alas, I’m not them. I’m more a “one and done” type of personality. Show me who you are and I believe you. Cross the line? Cross me? I’ll prune the branch. Snip.
My girl, she might take a cool tone with you. I will ice you out for 50 years without another thought. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to say something I will regret. Contrary to popular belief, I’m deliberate about what I say and calculated about who I am close with. It’s not my fault. My mother thinks I’m missing some standard issue ‘woman gene’ that causes them to say yes to things, experience guilt and exude diplomacy. Apparently, I have been like this since birth. There is no known cure.
I don’t want her to be like me in this way. I want better for her. She is better. She cuts people a break and is a more tolerant being. The world needs this so desperately. I want her to retain her sweetness and her extroversion and her true love of and interest in people. I don’t want her to shut down and cut people off. So I have been trying very hard (for years) to encourage her to work things out…with everyone. This is both time consuming and frustrating but it’s well worth it to sort through the easy hurts and I have learned (baby steps) to do better myself.
But then…there is this issue.
I am absolutely horrified by how teenagers speak to one another. It disgusts me. It scares me. The language. The name calling. The rudeness. The insults. The ridiculous comments on social media. The ridiculous retorts to the comments on social media. The need to verbalize everything that passes through their minds to one another. In the last few months, some people have said in person and texted some things to my daughter that are not great. People she has just met. Some minor things. A little crude. But then…a couple of vicious things. Vitriol. Profane. Bizarre. They have said things that I have yet to unleash on anyone, for any reason. But why? Is it necessary to tell someone to “F-off” because they weren’t invited over for pizza?
Is it her? It’s not just her. I’ve seen dozens of screen shots from her and her friends of these messages. Group threads. Instagram. Twitter. It happens a lot. The drama that begins in the virtual world is plentiful and relentless. She assures me this is just ‘normal’. She tells me people at school swear at each other. Boys and girls alike call each other derogatory names. Girls call other girls terrible, deplorable names. It’s the new status quo. Everything is out in the open now.
Someone asked her this year (IN PERSON) if she does extra squats at home to get that booty so she can ‘get more guys’. Seriously? First of all-No. Wait. What??? Who asks that? Who walks up to someone they barely know and opens a conversation with that? Plus-would that work? I should start doing squats. That’s not the point. Sorry.
I have to ask myself why? Why does this seem more intense than 25 years ago?
- Kids are lonely? Alone. On their own in their houses for hours on end with only their phone to entertain them and connect them to the world. Bored. They reach out into cyberspace but have developed zero true social skills?
- Kids have been trained to be bold through social media and anonymity and this is transferring to in person interactions?
- Kids have been raised worshipping people like The Kardashians and other ‘celebrated’ role models and think that it is cool and normal to speak to other humans like wild animals?
- Kids think there are no long term consequences?
- Kids have underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes and just have bad judgment?
- Kids are broken, hurting, damaged? Lashing out is the only answer?
And does it matter? Does anyone care that I can’t stand it? It doesn’t bother her nearly as much as it bothers me and that bothers me. I’m sickened to think we are now in a world where F-You is tossed out casually with people you don’t even know. Name calling might not seem like a big deal. I guess. But can’t it be the seed of evil that flourishes into bullying? Kids have taken their own LIVES because of what other kids said about them. True things and untrue things. Is it funny now for a girl to call another girl a bitch or a slut on Instagram with 1000 people to witness it? It’s not a big deal?
Will we look back and think it was just part of growing up and the shortsightedness of youth? We all say and do things as teenagers that we regret later. Maybe.
Or… Is this the new normal? Is this going to be a new generation that tolerates any and all rudeness? Is the world just one giant comment section? Is there no room for simple disagreements? Do we not care about civility because that gets in the way of our stalwart adherence to free speech? Because we can say anything we should say everything? I’m worried.
Are these kids going to be verbally abusive to their spouses, to their kids, to their friends and neighbors and employees? Are these kids going to be the teachers and coaches and politicians and clergy who use verbal threats and rage and coercion to garner compliance? Is this the beginning of how they will relate to the world as adults?
A couple of days ago things hit a high intensity level with this kid over text message. My girl looked at me and shrugged and said….”Well. I’m just sending him the snowflake.” I said, “What do you mean? What does that do?” She said. “That’s my thing. Like, I give up. So-you get a snowflake. I have nothing left to say.” So she fired off a snowflake to him and then did her homework.
I had to laugh. That’s my girl. I mean, that is a strategy but not one that I would have come up with. It’s a way to take a break from the tension in a thoroughly modern way. And I felt urged to apologize. I told her she absolutely has the right to shut down sometimes. Block people out. Ignore what they say. Walk away. There absolutely still has to be a minimum standard of behavior. She can’t take it all in and sort it all out. It’s too much these days. It’s on tv, on their phone, on 6 sources of social media, and even in person. So-send up your big fat snowflake as many times as you need my love. I am sorry. I really had no idea how it was…It is a relentless siege of unwelcome and unwarranted opinion. I am wrong and she is right and it doesn’t have to be either extreme of complete absorption or complete isolation.
Good luck world. I can’t take it. There is a growing list of kids that will never, ever be welcome in this home. My line in the sand begins at my driveway. My girl will likely forgive all of them eventually. That’s just her way. And I’m grateful.
She is already handling the brave new world better than I am.