All right, as the mother of a teenage girl, there are times when my popularity index dips low. Really low. Less than zero low. From little things, like insisting she eat half a bagel with melted cheese this morning (quick — call Social Services!), to larger issues like grades, curfews and cell phone use.
One issue that rears its contentious head over and over is Internet time limits. We have rules. However, the rules (like the rule-maker) are not very popular.
This is actually one of the (few, believe me, very few) times to which my husband and I can look back and say, "We did it right." It all started a couple of years ago. Desperate for a laptop, Internet access and Facebook page, my then tween daughter happily agreed to some basic rules. She could only be online a limited number (I think it was two) hours each day. All electronica (laptop, iPhone, iPad) was to shut off at 8 pm. We've heard too many stories about teenagers getting into all sorts of trouble alone late at night and online.
The trick, in hindsight, was to solicit buy-in at that crucial moment when the prospect of getting access was irresistible. Basically, she wanted Facebook so badly, she would have agreed to just about anything. We have friends who didn't make rules when their daughters were twelve and thirteen. For them, it's virtually impossible to set boundaries now that the girls are fifteen and sixteen.
The rules have evolved a bit, driven mostly by late-night homework that necessitates Web access. But, we do still have rules. They provide us with a constant reason for connection. "Turn off the phone now." "You're not online, right?" "No more texting, time's up."
What would we have to talk about otherwise?
While my daughter thinks our rules are "ridiculous" (yes, she has used that exact word), she hasn't been driven to break them. Or at least she hasn't been driven to break the law to break them.
That's exactly what two teenagers in California have been accused of. Fifteen and sixteen year old friends allegedly mixed prescription sleeping pills in milkshakes and gave them to the parents of the younger girl. The motive? To knock the parents out so they could go online. Yikes!
The parents became suspicious when they both awoke groggy and with headaches. They acquired drug-testing kits from their local police and with results in hand returned later. The girls were taken to Juvenile Hall.
I'm not sure what boggles my mind more. Wanting to go on the Internet so badly that you would essentially poison someone (your parents no less)! Or, reporting your teenage daughter to the police to have her arrested. I can only assume that the parents feel (rightly) that their daughter is out of control. I can only hope that earlier intervention — and much of it — was attempted before the family reached this terrible place. The story is circulating online because it's so sordid. I hope that people also realize that it's so sad.
Despite a fairly constant barrage of complaints, I will continue to enforce our family's rules. My daughter has been known to stretch the truth at times, to get away with things when she can, to practice the ancient teenage art of lying by omission. But, by and large, she is a law-abiding if rather sulky citizen of our house.
Truth is, I trust her.
But just in case, I think I'll decline any drinks she makes from now on.