The Trifecta — Teenagers, Social Media, and Bullying

Last week, while the town watched the champion football team stomp on the opposing team, a group of kids on an adjacent field engaged in a less civilized battle. I only know the story in very broad sketches that have been whispered by parents on text messages and on parents’ Facebook group. A girl was involved. Naked pictures of her distributed. Racial slangs. Boys defending honor. Long years of grievances. One kid in the hospital with a fractured skull.

While this fight with the skull stomping was going on, a group of kids watched. And filmed the whole thing with their cellphones. And put it on Snapchat.

Jonah, away at college, saw the footage. I heard about it five days later on Facebook, when parents began yelling, demanding blood.

Last night, I went to the school board meeting as usual. Typically, I’m the only person in the audience. I find these meetings useful for work purposes. Last night, there was a crowd, news vehicles, and parents holding up signs. They came out to the microphone and brought up images of Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings. Hysteria. It was a lynch mob.

It’s a well heeled suburb outside of New York City. People work in law and in finance. They come here for the schools and the trees and the walkable downtown and the quick commute to downtown Manhattan. A fight where a skull gets cracked just doesn’t happen here. People are very freaked out.

The school doesn’t want to get involved, because the incident happened after school hours. It’s not their business. But the parents want them to get involved. At least, they want to hear a strong statement or platitutdes about the evils of bullying.

I think that the school district should bring in someone to talk to parents about finstagrams and snapchat. Images and words that go out on the Internet through these social media forums will never been seen by future employers, and the kids know that. They absolutely do. Can law enforcement find it? Not sure. It might be good to have someone from law enforcement talk to both parents and kids about these forms of social media and what the kids are putting on there. Most parents have no idea. Some school administrators would be surprised at what their own kids are putting out there.

Also, I’m not entirely sure that the kids who were video taping the incident were doing it in a voyeuristic sort of way. It wasn’t a Kitty Geneovese thing. It’s a generational thing. They feel they are doing a public service by video taping events. That’s what everyone does when they attend a protest. They also probably rationally figured it was a bad idea to get in the middle of two kids beating each other senseless.
Anyhow, tensions are pretty high around here. Very glad to just being parenting one very quirky kid who will never ever understand or participate in this sort behavior.
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Modern Madness

I went to a community presentation last night about “mindful parenting”. (Combine two trendy words and make a better trendy word!) The speaker began with information about how stress was bad for you. (Shocking, I know.) She included lots of big words about brain parts. (It’s science, I tell you!) Then she gave lots of tips and tricks for calming down (deep breathing, being grateful) for people whose lives are nutso, but don’t want to make any serious changes in their lives. She posted lots of pictures of the book that she was selling and her website where she was selling other stuff. She’s paid to give a talk and then uses the talk to make more money.

It’s a good gig. I want in.

But I suppose people are looking for answers in a world where 31-year olds work themselves to death.

We’ve kept our marbles by arranging the family with one real job and one flex job. For years, our parenting responsibilities were so extreme that it wasn’t possible to manage everything with two real jobs. Maybe if we had a full time housekeeper/babysitter, we could have done it. Things are getting easier now, but we’re still not ready for me to get a real job with a real commute. Ian needs someone to take him to all of his therapy, band practices, and doctor appointments. And his bus didn’t show up twice this week, so I made the 1-1/2 hour round trip with him. We can handle emergencies with the flex job.

But this system doesn’t work for a lot of families. So, they are breathing and looking for quick fixes.

Suburban Elegy

Yesterday afternoon was my first block of free time in weeks, so I brushed off the dust of Hillbilly Elegy, which has been sitting in my pile of books-that-should-be-read for months. I read it in one big gulp; it was that good. As soon as Jonah wakes up, I’m going to demand that he reads it.

The memoir is about one kid who managed to escape the culture of poverty thanks to luck, the Marines, and his Mamaw, who saved him from his own bad decisions and his mom’s bad decisions. He talks about the positive aspects of the Appalachian, Scot-Irish culture – loyal, family oriented – as well as the bat-shit crazy parts of the lifestyle, which has resulted in generations of poverty and misery.

I read the book from the comfort of our Crate and Barrel armchair that swivels, so I can put my feet up on the large picture window. I glanced up from the book from time to time to watch the women speed walking in their $100 running pants and the teenagers zooming by in their graduation-gift Cameros. It’s a world apart from the J.D. Vance’s Middletown, Ohio.

Yet, it’s not.

People fuck up here, too. In between the speed walking and the calorie counting on iPhone apps, there is a whole lot of wine drinking, which is somehow a more socially acceptable form of addiction than weed. There are teenagers who screw up in exactly the same ways as teenagers in every other community across the country. There are dubious debts, like second mortgages to pay for private colleges that aren’t worth the $300,000 price tag.

And while our community doesn’t have the divorce rates and rotating boyfriends that plague other parts of the country, we’re the only family that I know that actually eats dinner together every night. Kids spend long periods of time by themselves or with nannies that have no authority to reel them in. Kids work very hard at times, especially in the highly regimented sports programs and tutoring worlds, but other times, they are supremely lazy. They have no expectations for home chores or sibling babysitting. Even though they all go to college, the parents and consultants micomanage the process for them.

There have been lots of recent studies (too lazy to find the link right now) that show that the wealthier families are spending more on educational programs for their children than ever before. And that’s all true. But in between those scheduled activities, there is a parenting vacuum. Parents set up the activities and even drive them from place to place, but don’t talk with their kids or guide them or yell at them when they screw up.

My parents, who were the first generation college attenders and who came from very rough family lives themselves, are appauled at the bad habits that they see around them in their own UMC town and in ours. Entitlement is its own evil culture. Wealth can protect people from bad habits for a short time, but it’s not fool proof.

The Timer Went Off

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors; How a Filibuster Works; Hard Work Matters More than Brains

Jonah’s college acceptance letter has triggered the reality that he’s going to be gone in six months. I have six months left to parent, before he’s gone. He’ll be on his own. And there’s so much left to teach him.

Why Smart Girls Are Better Than Cheerleaders; Why You Should Never Rinse Pasta After You Finish Boiling It

There’s still so much that he doesn’t know, and I don’t have much time. The ten minute drive to his high school is the only time where he’s captive, strapped in the car, forced to listen. I babble using the morning news as the entry into topics that we never talked about before. I have to give him a crash course on life. How did I forget to teach him the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House Writes the Budget Because the Founders Thought that the Branch That Was Closest to the People Should Have the Most Say Over Money and Taxes

Yes, he’ll have to figure out a lot of this on his own, but I could have taught him this earlier. I wasted time. We were too caught up in the details of life — the homework and the soccer practice. And then his friends and cellphone shouted me out.

Your Great-great Grandfather Was a Famous Oboist; Was Napolean Really Short?; Never Put a Red Sweatshirt in the Washing Machine With White Undershirts

He’s undercooked. How is going to fare on a college campus that first semester without this information? This is what happens when a neurotic parent and former college professor starts to panic. She lectures.

Are the Kids Alright?

While the rest of the world is falling apart, the kids — at least here in this suburb — seem to be struggling, too.

We got a five page e-mail from our superintendent yesterday about drug use in our town. They did two major Xanax busts in the school last week. One girl, an honor student, OD-ed after taking ten Xanax this month. We’re going to have a major, emergency meeting at the school next week to talk about the abuse of drugs in town. I’m hearing rumors about good kids from good families getting into major trouble.

I’m supremely grateful that my kid is kept super busy at track practice. There’s little way, despite a high level whining, that we’ll let him drop out of track. We want him busy as he enters into his second semester of his senior  year. I’m looking into sending him away for the summer on an Outward Bound adventure just to keep him away from certain friends.

When we came back from out ski trip last weekend, we found a broken window above my desk. There was a large footprint on the desk. Someone had been in our house.

We called the cops and then a security company. The cops said it had all the earmarks of a teenager. Nothing was taken. The house wasn’t trashed. The cops said that teenagers, who knew we were away, probably used our house for a party. Since the house wasn’t trashed, it was probably somebody that knew our kid. Apparently, this happens a lot. It won’t happen again, because our house will be Fort Knox after the security company finishes flipping a switch next week.

The school district stopped hiring substitute teachers to save money. So, when the teachers are absent, the kids can come and go from the school whenever they like. One parent told me that her son had four free periods last month and used that time to get into a lot of trouble. She said that she can’t manage her kid, if she assumes that he’s in school, but he’s actually roaming free.

Teenagers get into trouble. I did. But I’m hearing about them doing things — break-ins, vaping in the bathroom, smoking weed in the middle of the day — that makes my past stupidity laughable.

To keep my kid safe, I’ve got him on a very short leash. Which makes him pissed off at me. Parenting is tough.

Ice and Ill

We’re encased in ice. The driveway, which wasn’t shoveled in time, is a fine sheet of black ice. I might try to hack away at it with a corner of a shovel in an hour or two, when we are supposed to briefly go above freezing. I would rather that the postman didn’t wipe out on our front steps.

I’m working for a bit. Waiting for some return e-mails, and keeping up with the news. But mostly, I’m monitoring a sick kid upstairs. Strep throat again. He’s watching a movie wrapped in a purple blanket. A glass of ginger ale with a bent straw and bite-sized carbs on a green napkin.

There are certain rituals that MUST happen when you’re sick in this house. Mommy and boy movie time is one thing that always happens. A few years back, Jonah got a five-day stomach virus. We watched all the Marvel movies, from XMen to the Avengers, that week. I’ll go upstairs and join Ian on his movie binge in a moment.

Since I’m sealed in this tomb of ice and illness, I’m cleaning the tomb. I put away the Christmas ornaments and manger. I can only deal with Christmas clutter for two weeks. I think my OCD is getting worse, as I get older. Today’s plan is to purge all the random plates and bowls from the kitchen. One green plate and one small blue bowl will get packed up for the Good Will.

And I have to read every article about Trump’s secretary of education pick. I’ll have to do some school choice articles soon, and I’m trying to choose the best angle.