Teen Trouble, 2014 Style

by Nicki Gilbert
Originally Published: 

I love a party. Really any party at any time of day, but especially a nighttime dance party.

Bar mitzvah parties are my favorite. Balloon bouquets, party dresses, disco lights and sparkly shoes. Colorful candy and bright eyes and giddy laughter and the promise of “Footloose” on the dance floor. The boys are appealingly cool in their awkwardness, and the girls are squeally and sweet, and all the parents think this is actually their party and we’ll show you kids that yes, it is all about that bass! Good times.

We celebrated my son’s bar mitzvah just like this a few weeks ago (the DJ forgot to play “Footloose”, but he brought his own trumpet to accompany Macklemore, so he’s forgiven). There were cake pops and jars of jelly bellies and glow sticks, and a screen to live-stream all those fun Instagram pics the kids (and adults) were posting. Yep fun, 2014-style!

And a guaranteed invitation for trouble, 2014-style.

Trouble I did not expect, anticipate or even vaguely imagine as we put the finishing touches on this wholesome, dance-party celebration. The screen, the unique hashtag, the music generated so much happy excitement as adorable photos of my kids and their friends, DJ Will and his trumpet, flashed through the projector complete with witty captions. Great times!

A photo of a snail on a glass. Something that looked like a hairy tuchus. An evil clown. A toilet. And then two white horses in a very compromising position. Or maybe they were goats. Were they goats?

Um… what?

It wasn’t until Miley Cyrus clad in come-hither skin-tight-white flashed on screen that I realized what was happening. And that it was Trouble.

Those not-so-sneaky, barely-13-year-old boys were hashtagging inappropriate photos and posting them to the big screen with their stealth Instagram accounts.

And I did not see it coming. At all.

We killed the projector, took down the screen, and lured everyone onto the dance floor with Hava Nagilla and the kind of synchronous dancing only accomplished with hoedowns and horas.

Note to self: Teenage boys will be teenage boys. Even if they’re awkward.

Now, how could I have forgotten that?

I wasn’t troubled by the boys’ behavior. I was disturbed by own naiveté. By my lack of guile and suspicion. By the fact that I did not, for one second, imagine that my creative, cyberrific, techno-display of fun party photos would invite typical, teenage how-can-we-break-the-rules antics. How could I not have imagined that?

I’m not usually a naïve, gullible mom. I know what I got up to as a teen, and I fully expect my children to do similar — but with potentially more dangerous consequences. The cigarettes we fashioned out of tea leaves and Tampax applicators is child’s play compared with masterminding an undercover, inappropriate-photo campaign.

I have told my kids that anything they’re thinking of, planning on, or wondering about that carries a tantalizing whiff of impropriety or danger is something I’ve probably done myself.

Drunk on school property: been there. Lied to my parents about whereabouts, friends, schoolwork: yes yes yes. Hitched a late-night ride at the back of a truck in downtown Johannesburg: done.

I don’t expect my children not to break rules, not to get in trouble, or not to do things they shouldn’t. As long as it’s not life threatening (see aforementioned truck ride with strangers), I accept that this is part of growing up and finding ones comfortable self in the world. But I always thought I’d be waiting down the road, to gently redirect them, show them a different way. With patience and understanding, or with anger and outrage, because I’ve already been there done that.

But these things they’re doing now? I haven’t done them. And I don’t know much about any of them. Online video games, twerking, SnapChat, cyber bullies and YouTube channels… Are you texting your grandmother or the girl next-door or your dealer? I am out of my league. I feel vulnerable, gullible, and even a little stupid.

I may not be able to accurately anticipate what’s next because of my lack of 21st century teenage experience, but I won’t forget again that there is always a next. Teenagers will always find an opportunity to get away with something. And that’s okay. As long as I remember that teenagers will be teenagers. That means fun. And trouble. 2014-style.

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