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The potentially high cost of adolescent hijinks...

As if early adolescence wasn’t hard enough, I think the internet has the possibility of making it worse and, as the mother of a girl who will eventually be that age, I’m not sure I’m prepared.

I still clearly remember my pre-teen years. The awkwardness, the imbalance and worst of all -- the peer dynamics. I kept a diary during those years and I cringe reading it today. I can sum it up by saying I would never, ever, EVER want to be a pre-teen again. I’m grateful that each year after the age of 13 was accompanied by further maturity, clarity, self-discovery and understanding. I am glad that I had amazing, involved parents who were committed to me and teachers who went above and beyond at a time when I really needed some added assurance in the infinitely more cruel world outside my home.

Just this morning, as part of our Sunday morning routine, we watched the news programs and I learned about the latest photo scandal involving a young star. Apparently, some of what I would describe as “goofy” photos surfaced of her with her friends at a slumber party. They weren’t particularly questionable in my mind – just young, giggly girls being silly. Please. Reading too much into what she was doing in the pictures is the real perversion. They were photos of her with her friends that, for most teens, would either wind up in a scrapbook, crammed in a desk or, on her most horrifying day, maybe posted anonymously on her locker door. That’s it. Instead, she’s a star, they wound up on the internet and now they’re fodder public scrutiny. I’m not going to add to the drama by discussing her situation any further, but the whole thing made me think about something I had not considered before. At that moment, I realized that what would have happened to those photos on the worst day when I was a teen or pre-teen is not the worst thing that could happen in today’s technological world.

Indeed, combine the fickle relationships, raging hormones, immaturity and, unfortunately, the amount of instability and disfunction in homes today, oh – and the internet – and it is a recipe for disaster on a level I can’t fathom even on my worst day as an adolescent girl.

Later, in the process of looking for something else entirely on the internet, I came across a MySpace page dedicated to what appeared to be a cliquish, mutual hate for one teen girl by a group of other girls – and, sadly, it was a very large group. The site featured a photo of the young target superimposed with choice words emblazoned across it, a photo of the “ringleader” and boasted the membership of 44 others who, at least online, were showing their support of this campaign of hate. Knowing teens, probably only a few really did not like the girl and the others just wanted to avoid being objects of their own hate campaigns! The page appeared to have been created two years ago and it was shockingly still online. I can’t imagine how much someone much dislike someone else to create a webpage dedicated to that hate. I also can’t imagine how much it must hurt the targeted girl that such a page has existed, for the world to see, for the past two years. Unfortunately, she is powerless to remove it or it would be long gone by now and I would not have stumbled across it today. Further troubling is that I know this same drama is playing out with other teens in other schools and towns. I have seen news shows dedicated to the “what happens next” when this kind of adolescent behavior results in permanent damage in the form of psychological harm or, worse, unnatural death. Yeah, it can be that serious. I’ve seen the shows.

What is a parent to do to prepare for this? I can’t protect her from what is probably not going to be a pleasant era in her life – the adolescent years – but there has to be a way I can make it easier. My gut feeling is that I want to insulate her from the world around her, yet I know it isn’t realistic. I have no idea how to deal with preventing her from posing in a goofy photo that a miffed, misguided, so-called friend might post online to hurt or embarrass her. Yes, I realize she’s not going to be a movie star, but she is going to be like every other girl her age not wanting to be the object of ridicule or cruelty by her peers. And, in today’s age, I now realize the internet, personal cell phones and technology that isn’t even invented yet might somehow play into what happens to everyone in those trying, adolescent years – making them tougher, more dangerous and damaging to the psyche.

Indeed, I will do the best I can to build her up at home, reinforce the values we have in our family and with God, and to enhance her self-esteem and perspective as she grows. I will be the active, involved parent that asks too many questions and who gets in her space. I will make every effort to be personally acquainted with all of her friends, their parents and their life story. I’m planning to know the drama in her. That’s the kind of mom I had and that’s the kind I’m going to be! I think that is the best any parent can do to get ready for what’s ahead. I’m just glad I have about seven years to prepare for this.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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