Several months ago, my wife and I heard rumbling upstairs around 3 a.m. Earthquake? Tornado? Intruders? No, just teenagers reminding us why the right to vote has yet to be conferred upon 16-year-olds. Middle-of-the-night parties are verboten in our house.
Especially when we're asleep downstairs.
Hello, what are you thinking?
Back in the 1970s, such a transgression would have netted a loss of television privileges -- the privilege of watching one of the three available stations on the one television our family owned. It might have meant losing car privileges for a couple of weeks -- you know, the one car everyone in the house shared.
Many teenagers today have their own televisions (with hundreds of stations), plus their own cars and smartphones and iPods and Facebook accounts and Internet access. Try taking away any privilege and, like digging the proverbial hole in the sand, more activities rush in to fill the void.
It's tough being a parent today, even if you fancy yourself a clever one. Our clever response to our daughter's clandestine soiree involved purchasing an advertisement in the Southlake Journal offering her baby-sitting services free of charge. Genius, we thought; violate our rules and you do community service for, well, our community.
Genius, that is, until the KXAS/Channel 5 truck rolled up on the front lawn. Our family soon became fodder for discussion on both local and national TV news, radio programs and publications ranging from the Star-Telegram to the National Enquirer. Imagine driving home while listening to the sports guys on KTCK/1310 AM "The Ticket" debate your parenting skills.
It was all good fun until the discussion entered the murky netherworld of the Internet, where journalistic integrity is checked at the door along with any sense of decorum or social niceties. Bloggers fired away with opinions that would provoke fistfights in face-to-face conversation.
A guy in Canada referred to me as the "perverted pimp parent of Southlake." A mom from New Jersey characterized me as "creepy."
Based on some of the comments, one would have thought that offering my daughter's baby-sitting services for free was the moral equivalent of farming her out to pedophiles and crack houses. Bloggers and commentators hurled attacks at my daughter ranging from benign criticisms of her fashion sense to the downright scary. Our phone number was posted online along with messages exhorting blog viewers to call our home at all hours of the day and night.
And you know what? God bless 'em all.
Unwittingly, the bellicose barkers of the blogosphere have helped teach our children one of the most valuable lessons of their generation: The privacy their parents enjoyed as teenagers no longer exists. Any idiot with a cellphone camera can make them an instant Internet celebrity; a suggestive text message or photo is a couple of clicks away from becoming public information; their Facebook accounts are available to anyone. And once their personal information is made available, they have no control over public interpretation and perception.
The Internet has, of course, changed everything -- from pontification to parenting -- and mostly for the better. Although parenting approaches have certainly changed considerably since the 1970s -- my belt, for example, stays mostly around my waist -- families really haven't. Kids still do stupid stuff. Parents still punish them. Folks still talk about it. The difference today is that the discourse is held in a public forum and anyone can find themselves the topic of conversation.
Especially teenagers with clever parents.
Robert Rausch of Southlake is a member of the 2011 Star-Telegram Community Columnist Panel. firstname.lastname@example.org