Facebook parenting — God help us

At the risk of sounding like a grandmother, which I quintupitally am, I have to say I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past several days being thankful I’m not raising any teenagers. This is thanks to the story of Tess of the d’Overmuch and her Facebook quest for relief from being grounded. If you’ve missed this exciting adventure, Susan Dominus summarizes it in today’s New York Times:

They feel her pain. At the Spence School and Greenwich High and Fullerton Union High and Nyack High and Narragansett High, teenagers and near-teenagers, hundreds of them, are waving a virtual flag for Tess Chapin, a 15-year-old from Sunnyside, Queens, who has been grounded for five weeks. A few days after founding the Facebook group — “1000 to get tess ungrounded” — Tess had nearly reached her stated goal, with 806 members by Friday morning; after this column about her quest was posted on nytimes.com, she surpassed it.

This is teenage rebellion, electronic style — peaceful, organized and, apparently, contagious.

So basically, Tess explains on her group page, she made an honest late-night mistake. Her parents flipped, and they grounded her for five weeks — “thats my childhood right there,” she wrote. “please join so I can convince them to unground me. please please please.”

Interesting she should mention childhood. Tess’ groundation, as she terms it, occurred after an honest late-night mistake involving drinking booze and missing a curfew, behaviors that are wisely left until childhood is past, which her parents, if not her friends, understand. To their everlasting credit — and bless their hearts for having to raise what must be a bright and feisty daughter in such a public arena — they seem thus far disinclined to let Facebook group rule.

If your parents didn’t care,” pointed out a sophomore at Ithaca College, “they would have just let you rot.” Someone agreed with Tess that “parents can be stupid.” A friend of a friend expressed hope that she and her parents would take something “grand” away from the experience. A close pal chimed in, “I love you, but your parents are not gonna unground you for convincing 1,000 people to join a group.”

It is to this last theory that Ms. Iselin Chapin (mom Jennifer Iselin Chapin, a fund-raiser for the Natural Resources Defense Council) subscribes.

“What’s your fallback strategy?” she asked her daughter Thursday night, sitting across from her in the living room of their two-bedroom apartment in Sunnyside.

“O.K., one: drive you so crazy that you’re going to unground me,” Tess replied.

Her mother shook her head. “That’s not going to do it, sweetheart.”

Times writer Dominus suggested early on that perhaps another group might be started in support of “Parents Who Believe in Consequences for Serious Lapses in Judgment and Care Enough About Their Kids to Enforce the Rules,” and reported that within an hour a Times Online reader had done just that. And bless that reader’s heart, too.

I think raising kids in the relative obscurity of pre-internet times was infinitely easier and surely effective, for proof of which I offer three excellent grown children, parents of three flawless teenagers and — in the case of son and daughter-in-law who deserve an extra blessing of hearts — two gorgeous girls who won’t be teenagers for another 6 or 8 years.

My eldest granddaughter came across the country to enter college last fall, offering joy and a learning experience to her creaky left coast grandparents. We are diligently learning about what 19-year-old college art students create, wear, enjoy and pierce. She is extraordinarily grounded and gifted and fast approaching the end of child/teenagehood — though she did exemplify the complexities of it all when assuring her mother she was not homesick while asking that she (the mom) please not talk about the dogs.

I have conceded that most of today’s teenagers will miss the pleasure of things like thank-you notes (they don’t write, they Facebook and they text,) and think it’s just as well my own college art major was in the dark ages. We did life drawing and paintings of little arrangements of bottles and fruits for starters. The college art life today is tough. My granddaughter took us on a walking tour of her dorm and its collection of depictions of violence and terrors, which prompted me to remark that there is so much angst in today’s art.

“Well, Gran,” she said with a note of weary indulgence, “we ARE teenagers.”

Big City – Teenager Taps Facebook to Protest a Punishment From Her Parents – NYTimes.com.

The perils of parenting… and iPods… and texting while driving…

My granddaughter’s birthday is today. She’s 19. A gifted art student, a remarkably grounded, neat kid. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this afternoon she totaled her car.

The further good news is that she’s okay, and she didn’t hurt anyone else. But it was her fault. I understand the music was playing customarily loud; I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she had been texting a friend.

The really bad news is that I don’t imagine either of the above behaviors will change.

In 2008, the latest year for which a lot of data has been collected and digested, some 3,500 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 died in car wrecks. About 10 times that many wound up in emergency rooms, but survived. The 15 to 24 age group accounts for 14% of the population, but it accounted for 30% of the costs of motor vehicle injuries ($19 billion) among males, and 28% ($7 billion) among females. Nobody knows how many of the young drivers causing those accidents were texting their friends at the time — cell phones tend to fly out the window, although many of them have survived to incriminate people who murdered other people during casual conversation. There’s a very popular YouTube video that ought to cure you; my granddaughter has seen it.

A few months ago I was driving my granddaughter to catch the BART train back to campus, fairly late one night, when I committed a minor traffic violation under the immediate gaze of a San Francisco policewoman. During the interminable length of time it took for the policewoman to sit in her car studying her computer I did a lot of beating on the steering wheel, ranting about how this would ruin our insurance, how I hadn’t had a ticket in decades, how furious I was with myself for a dumb move. Eventually the policewoman returned, congratulated me on my excellent driving record, and said, “I’m going to give you a break this time, Ms. Johns…” and my granddaughter and I exhaled.

For the next few minutes we talked about my driving record. I said at least some of it has to relate to the fact that I do not talk on the phone while driving and I do not text while driving, and I like soft music (actually, I don’t think I mentioned the music business.) Those, however, are not dots one is interested in connecting if one is 18 years old… or any age, probably, coming from a little-old-lady driver who just got off lucky.

My greatly beloved granddaughter said she often texts while driving. “Everybody does,” she said.