Last weekend, Margaret and I went to see I, Tonya about the American figure skater, Tonya Harding. Margaret was unusually sparky about seeing it and so I jumped on the chance to spend some mother-daughter time together. Watching the silver screen silently while we sit next to each other, mowing on popcorn and Swedish fish for a few hours constitutes for quality time, right? Look, at least we’re not arguing. That’s progress.
I was a little nervous about the content. I’ve never seen an R-rated movie with her. I wasn’t concerned at all about the language. Lord knows Margaret’s impervious to that (no thanks to me). I was, however, slightly concerned about the sexual content. Who wants to watch a sex scene with their kid? Though it was fairly mild for Hollywood, (I’ve seen worse on The Americans), apparently the sentiment was shared. When I glanced over, Margaret was turned to the side with her eyes averted away from the screen.
What was more disturbing – and ended up being a hot topic post-movie – was the physical abuse Tonya Harding suffered at the hands of her mother and then husband. Margaret wondered why someone like Tonya would stay with a man who was physically hurting her. Especially because she seemed very strong and capable of walking away – which she ultimately did in the end.
Side note: The entire time I’m watching the scenes where Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly are beating the crap out of each other, Treat Me Right was playing in the background of my head. Thanks to my childhood best friend, Andrea (you might know her as Alex Borstein) who turned me onto her when we were Margaret’s age, I still am a big Pat Benatar fan.
We talked about the need to get to know someone before you can trust them. And how that can take a long time, because you have to see how someone behaves in various situations as well as meet the people who know them well who can stand testimony to their character.
I am starting to drill into her that if a boy or man ever makes the mistake of hitting her, it will be the first and only time he does that. We also talked about how verbal abuse is unacceptable because it can be just as damaging. And can easily lead to physical abuse – so you’ve got to adopt a no-tolerance policy. No excuses. No exceptions.
There is so much more that I want to share with her but I didn’t want to overwhelm her. Like paying attention to subtle signs that can reveal important aspects of someone’s character but can also easily be overlooked. You kind of have to be a bit of a detective when you’re getting to know someone. And you always have to be aware and on guard to protect yourself. Like your own secret service agent, so to speak. (I hear they’re pretty cool.)
This week, Margaret decided to stop interacting with a gamer she’s been playing Minecraft with online who has alleged that he’s a teenage boy from North Carolina. My husband, who gets a gold star for consistently monitoring her on social media while I admittedly shirk this responsibility, noticed a picture he sent to her followed by a picture she sent back to him. That’s when things got a big ugly because I freaked out. When we intervened, she insisted that the picture was really him. We asked her to prove that assumption and she couldn’t. She was not happy when we froze her Instagram account until getting to the bottom of this.
I promptly showed her this video that YouTube personality Coby Persin made a few years ago showcasing three teenage girls who met online strangers despite telling their parents they’d never do so. She watched it while sitting motionless and expressionless, feigning boredom but fixated on it nonetheless.
Rather than forbid her from playing with online strangers (I’ve learned from my own teenage experience that forbidding something doesn’t always work and often makes teenagers run more toward that which is forbidden), we decided to institute a new rule. In order for her to play with someone she doesn’t already know in person, she would need us to Skype with them to ensure they are who they say they are. The North Carolina “teen” had two chances to meet with us on Skype; not surprisingly, he flaked both times.
Yesterday, I asked her if she wanted to give North Carolina one last chance. After all, teenagers can be flaky I told her (as can con artists). But she declined. She told me that she blocked him from playing Minecraft with her and from Instagram.
I was encouraged by the swiftness and resolve of her decision, and particularly that she sprung into action without being asked to. There’s definitely hope for her.
The scary thing, though, is that rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until the mid-20’s, possibly 30’s. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center “adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
This explains a good decade of my life, which I can’t completely blame on my teenage friends like Andrea (and believe me, I’ve tried!). I made some questionable decisions from my late teens to my late 20’s. Let’s just say that my guardian angel racked up some serious overtime for more than a decade.
So, until Margaret’s brain can be trusted to make good decisions, I’m going to make her wear a chastity belt and follow her around everywhere she goes until she’s 28 or becomes a nun – whichever comes first.
If that doesn’t work, I’m resorting to shame and mortification. When she has her first date, I’m going to stick a parrot on my shoulder and steal the ever so classy line Tonya’s mom asked her boyfriend and Tonya in the movie when she first meets him: “Did you two %$& yet?”
And the answer best be no. Or else, as the very funny standup comedian Russell Peters’ dad says, “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad!”