My teen years were tough. My mother and I couldn't have been farther apart. She was a "Messianic Jew" drunk on the religiosity of the South [I grew up in Nashville], and I was determined to rebel as hard as I possibly could. She was born again when I was five, and my dad just stayed out of it all pretty much up until they finally got divorced my senior year. I didn't have the internet to meet and hook up with guys -- just bars I snuck into or older guys I met at parties or at my part time job. I didn't have to lie about my age online, I perfected lying about it in person. There was no cell phone for me to say I was where I was supposed to be -- just elaborate plotting and hoping I didn't get caught. No MySpace bulletins to tell me where the party was -- just old fashion word of mouth that spread from friend to friend like the telephone game with the person's address whispered from one teen to another.
I was 16 when my mom flipped out after picking up the phone and overhearing me talk about getting the pill from Planned Parenthood. She threatened to take away my landline phone and stereo, and said she wouldn't let me go to school or have friends. I got to keep my stereo (and my friends) and graduated from high school. It's amazing that we survived this period full of "I hate you!s" (that would be me) and "Go ahead and leave, I'll pack your bags for you!s" (that would be mom). Today she lives across the country and keeps up with my life mainly through reading Ypulse (where she is also forced to also keep up with youth marketing trends). We talk on the phone at least once a week.
Now mom is a therapist and does a lot of counseling with adolescents and their parents, and I just wrote a book for parents trying to calm their fears about what teens are doing online. Funny how we always try to fix the hard parts of our lives through our career choices. I try to inspire parents to engage with their teens about what they're doing in their digital lives, which have basically become extensions of their offline lives. But I'm realizing it's not just learning the features of MySpace or Facebook or text messaging acronyms that will make parents and teens or moms and daughters closer. It's the parenting 1.0 stuff -- the challenge of balancing being the parent and setting limits with helping teens become young adults through gradually building trust and giving them more responsibility. It's keeping your teen's identity and mistakes separate from your own issues. This is especially important when they come home pierced, wearing black lipstick with a boyfriend or girlfriend who has even more piercings and black lipstick. Throw in being a confidante who won't judge them when they actually tell you stuff (or take away the stereo...I mean the iPod), and you've got the hardest job on earth. Even though I'm not a parent yet, having been that troubled teenager, I feel your pain.
I tell parents if your teen actually lets them be their friend on MySpace or Facebook, it's an opportunity to know more about them then they would most likely verbally share with you about their lives -- this is especially true with boys, who tend to be notoriously tight lipped during their teen years. Again, you have to have already built up a pretty solid relationship with lots of open communication and good will to actually be "accepted" as an online friend. I don't think mom and I could have been friends then, on MySpace or in "real life." But I'm glad we are now.