A series of Tweets from teenagers across the country is shedding light on what may be a serious menace to American parents: their growing inability to chill the fuck out.
Spurred on by books by “leading sociologists,” as they’re often referred to in parental circles, child-rearing adults may be falling victim to an insidious trend that might be bigger than most teenagers believe. “I’m kinda worried,” texts one adolescent, referring to her mother after an unexpected sit-down talk, “she thinks I’m sexting strangers. Srsly.”
The trend, brought to light on a Facebook page called, “My Parents Are ZOMGing,” shows disturbing tendencies for parents to treat changing social communication methods as indications that their children are in danger. Many of the comments on that site compare adult reactions to normal teen habits; some of these reactions are causing alarm and, most notably, exasperation. Brandon Ellerby sums it up in his status update, posted from his cellphone while on the schoolbus: ” [My] Dad says Im spnding 2 mch time on MySpace!” The status earned 72 Likes from among Ellerby’s 214 Friends, and started a thread reaching 46 comments so far and growing – only a few of them offering possible explanations for his father’s erratic behavior. Most teens agree that this is a symptom of a much bigger concern.
Some young adults are placing the blame on the ever-present market of adult-help books, which exploit the typical concerns of parents by exaggerating, and in some cases inventing, extreme consequences of social media. Many of these books, which are not screened for content by teenagers or responsible editors, take isolated situations and trumpet them as likely outcomes. LaWanda Corbin, a nineteen-year-old college freshman studying statistics this semester, gave us more insight from her cellphone between classes. “There’s, you know, always weird things happening somewhere, because there’s a shitload of people in the country. So some book writers pick these stories out and make ’em sound like they’re happening all the time. Then Oprah gets the book on her show and everyone thinks it’s serious ’cause she says so.” Corbin has previous experience with such influences, having been regularly fed fish oil capsules a few years ago when her mother read about it in Martha Stewart Living magazine, a periodical aimed specifically at parents, especially the vulnerable mother market. “She goes for all that fad shit,” added Corbin. “She doesn’t know that most of those articles and books are based on reading studies wrong; they don’t say what the writers say they do.”
Others have had to cope with their parents trying to find evidence of threats where none exist. “My mom keeps looking through my texts when she gets ahold of my phone,” explains Cesily Andrews, a sophomore at River Valley High aiming to get into marketing in a few years. “She keeps asking me what ‘WTF’ and ‘BRB’ means, but she doesn’t ever believe me when I tell her. It’s like she gets mad ’cause I’m not dealing drugs over my phone or something. Then she starts telling me I gotta use proper words when texting! But she bitches when I spend too much time texting, too! I mean, make up your mind!”
Teens that have tried various methods of addressing this trend caution that it can often backfire. Dylan Mackie, who handled such situations for six years before attending a college out-of-state, tells of the hazards of trying to go it alone. “You think that your parents are just worried, you know, all parents do,” he says, shaking his head when we spoke to him at the coffee shop as he Tweeted from his laptop. “So you Friend them on Facebook, so they can see what you’re actually doing, and chill out a bit. But then you have them jumping into threads with your Friends, and reminding you of curfew, or asking who’s going to be at the party. They don’t relax at all – they just look for more shit to freak over.” After a brief pause to read a reply, Mackie went on, “But the worst is when they try to be cool. It’s totally gay. Take my word for it, just tell them you don’t even have an account.”
Most parents, when asked, see this as much more typical, and nothing to be alarmed over. “Parents should be concerned over what their children get into,” says Jim Therbutin, a longtime father. “It’s not like when we were kids, where the worst you could do was get a girl pregnant. Sometimes, that even turned out okay,” he added thoughtfully. “But now kids are having sex at seven years old when their wristbands get broken, and running up multi-thousand dollar phone bills, and getting trapped in balloons. Look at YouTube! We never did stupid stuff like that when we were that age! You’re not being a good parent if you simply give them some good guidelines and let them have a little responsibility and freedom. Kids just don’t have the sense we had when we were young – it’s all these violent video games and Lady Gaga, it means a parent has to keep their children from going wacko. It’d be irresponsible not to.”
Despite this viewpoint, however, the nation’s young adults remain concerned that their parents have lost their perspective and their grip with reality, and are considering drastic measures if it goes on much longer. “I just can’t wait until I move out,” we were told, reflecting the growing sentiment of many American teens.
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Thanks to World of Weird Things for the idea, and Sherry Turkle for creating another exploitative book about nonsense fears. And I apologize for resorting to the stilted hackneyed tabloid style of writing…