Were any other parents out there confused by the Times’ op-ed pages today? First we have Harlan Coben, in a piece called “The Undercover Parent,” telling us to install spyware on our kids’ computers to monitor their keystrokes in online chat rooms. “One friend of mine, using spyware to monitor his college-bound, straight-A daughter, found out that not only was she using drugs but she was sleeping with her dealer,” Coben reports. The contemporary twist? We’re supposed to tell them we’re monitoring them. “One of the most popular arguments against spyware is the claim that you are reading your teenager’s every thought, that in today’s world, a computer is the little key-locked diary of the past,” Coben writes. “But posting thoughts on the Internet isn’t the same thing as hiding them under your mattress.” (Maybe not, but would you read your teenager’s love letters?)
Then, below the fold, Caitlin Flanagan notes that, as the Times reported a few weeks ago, fewer than one-third of American sixteen-year-olds are now inclined to get driver’s licenses. Rather than spend their Saturday nights cruising, they prefer to stay at home watching DVDs with their parents; when they do go out, they are content to have their parents chauffeur them. “If our generation of parents has done one thing right,” Flanagan writes, “it has been to manipulate our children into giving up driving.” She continues: “It means that we can prolong the period of our children’s dependency, to extend the sweet phase of cocooning and protecting well into their adolescence.” (In Flanagan’s world, this is something to be celebrated.)
In our hyper-connected existence, of course, teenagers can simultaneously cruise and stay at home; they can text underneath a blanket while watching those DVDs in the living room. But neither article recognizes this complexity. Instead, we’re presented with two basically irreconcilable visions of today’s teenagers. Is this the generation of codependents that we’re always hearing about—those college students who can’t decide what clothes to put on in the morning without a call to Mom? Or are they peddling sex via webcam as their parents bask in obliviousness? Fortunately, my kids are only two and four, so I have a few years to figure this one out.