I have a teenager. Whenever I say that, it is usually with a look of apologetic dismay and an utterly defeated shrug of my shoulders.
I knew I was getting old when I finally realize that I don't really like teenagers. As "California" as I am, with my accent and use of words like "totally" and over-excessive peppering of "like" in my sentences ("like" is "hooah" for Californians. It can mean nearly anything. Army Californians have this great "like, hooah!" thing going on), the speech patterns of teenagers still overload my mental circuitry.
There are good things about teenagers, though; responsible ones make valuable babysitters - we call my 14 year old our "House Elf." They are good for mowing lawns, too. And I have to admit, being a military teenager brings with it a whole different set of circumstances that our extended families and school counselors often aren't equipped or ready to deal with.
I'm going to go ahead and say it - the best thing about being a military family with a teenager is that when your kid falls in with a bad crowd and starts getting into trouble, it's usually time to move again. That solves that problem.
Well, not always. But it REALLY helps.
On the flip side,we often move just when our teenager has made some very good, close, responsible friendships. And if our teenager isn't moving, someone else in their clique usually is. To be a military teenager is to lose an awful lot of stability during the years when they often need it the most.
Those newfangled things which were just starting out when I was in high school are now full fledged and unstoppable trends. MySpace can be an invaluable way for our on-the-go military brats to keep in touch with friends they went to school with in eighth grade, their friends from Mom or Dad's short school tour in ninth grade, and the church youth group they started in eleventh grade.
As I found out with my teenage daughter, however; even though the responsibilities present in being a part of a family that is sometimes single parented, sometimes dual parented, and functionally homeless quite too often for comfort can combine to make an incredible person; it also creates opportunities that military parents have to be very wary of.
That's right - we had ourselves a MySpace problem!
Generally speaking, I have found that as a whole military families tend to crack down on rules and their children's behavior to a greater degree than in many civilian communities. My sneaking suspicion is that it has to do with our sponsor's responsibility for the actions of their Dependants. For instance, in our house "time out" is just not comfortable. We do "stand at attention". In fact, we had a "stand at attention" incident during Sunday's Girl Scout Cookie booth at the commissary. I got quite a few, "That's right! It worked for me!" reactions and cookie sales were way up.
That's not to say that there aren't military families that don't abrogate their parental responsibilities - we've all seen the kids who congregate in the picnic area on the corner. But on the whole, I'm more likely to find a reliable and well recommended babysitter on base.
But back to the MySpace problem. Even with a network of "eyes and ears" around base to tattle on our child's extracurricular activities, it's easy to find a way to a computer. And once on, it's easy to abuse the privilege. And once abused, it can be difficult for parents to find out what's going on.
I wish I could end this post with some answers. How to allow our military teenagers the freedom they need to use technology without abusing it. How to instill the above average level of responsibility needed to be a military brat without resorting to tying them up in the secret dungeon under the base chapel. Or the url to order the newest electric shock apparatus to condition them to computers like Pavlov's dog and the bell.
Like so many other military lifestyle conundrums, this one is purely trial and error. No two families are alike, and with the infinity plus one situations that can arise from our chosen lifestyle we have to constantly improvise, adapt, and overcome. Oh, wait a minute, wrong service branch! But true for all of us anyway.
Perhaps I should put that poster in my teenager's bedroom.
Nah - the last thing I want to do is give her more ideas.