breakfast club

We are not "The Breakfast Club": Teenage punishment today, Part II (the mother)

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By BRANISLAVA KOREN

Part II: The mother's side

My daughter Cassandra reminds me that among its enumerated guarantees, “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall enact no law that infringes on the right to peaceable assembly.” Sanna, as she is called by her friends, is the president of her high schools Mock Trial team and is in the habit of informing me, hands on hips, of her legal rights.

Well, for the record, I am not Congress. I am a mother, and a disruption in assembly was exactly what I was intending when her father and I responded to inappropriate and dangerous behavior on the part of my daughter and the dark influences she calls her friends. To her I say, note the word “peaceable.” In my eyes, her little “coalition of the willing” is anything but peaceable.

Sometimes a mother has to make an amendment to the familial constitution. To protect my daughter from herself, her posse had to be disbanded.

Having grown up largely without the Internet, parents of teenagers today inhabit a brave new world. We don’t yet fully understand how young minds have been shaped by the constant engagement with new media. But shaped they certainly have been.

Unlike previous generations, we parents cannot fall back on the foibles of our own childhood to understand what effective punishment is. Parents of teenagers today—we have to be creative, get into the mind of our teenagers and think like them in order to hit them where it hurts. 

Dear reader, this may sound severe. But I present to you this: my daughter Cassandra has been busted a second time for the same crime. The first time we went the traditional route. We grounded her for three months and droned on endlessly about how what she was doing was dangerous, how it mattered how she was perceived by society at large and how she, being an upper classman, was a role model to the younger children at school. In short, we appealed to her reason. We believed she had bought into the logic of it. She had not.

So enter, Lockdown: Punishment 2.0. My husband and I decided that Lockdown in our house would consist of:

1) Good old fashioned physical restraint, i.e. a grounding: Cassandra comes home after school and stays home until it is time to go to school again.

2) No access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or anything like social media. We even erected a firewall so that a mere article on the Web with the word Facebook in it is not viewable.

3) No more IPhone; confiscated, gone.

We are now in the second month of Lockdown.

And here’s the thing. I will be brutally honest. I like having her around. Sometimes when I go to bed, even though I have said a cheery “Good night!” to a locked door with no response, there is a smile on my face as I sink into my pillows. What it boils down to is as timeless a concept as teenage punishment once was. We may be punishing her to teach her a lesson, yes. But like the public service commercial used to say, it is good to know where your 16 year old is at 10:00 pm on a Saturday night.

The Facebook firewall? Meh. Who cares? She doesn't seem to. But the phone. The phone was the heart of the matter.  The irony is that the removal of the phone hurt us both. By punishing my daughter with the confiscation of her phone, I had punished myself.

Like many high school seniors involved in things like film production or mock trials after school, the time at which Cassandra comes home varies. Everyday at about 3:30 when her last class is done, I send her a text that reads, "Where you at, brat?" To which I receive a response in about 30 seconds informing me of her afternoon activity and her projected time of arrival.

Hearing the ping of my cell phone announce a text message has become one of the loveliest sounds in the world to me, a close second to the sound of a baby laughing. It is usually Cassandra divulging her coordinates, or my son—a sophomore at college—telling us he has bought another textbook on our credit card.

Frankly, I don't know how our parents did it. How did they relax, eat, sleep, and drink without the ability to, in a heartbeat, know that we were alive when we were without them in this world? I am not addicted to texting my children every hour, like some parents I know. What I am addicted to is the relief of worry dissolved by the sweet, sweet ping of an incoming text when the time has come for my children to be home and they are not.

So Cassandra got her phone handed back to her within the first two weeks of Lockdown with a terse, "I hope you have learned something,” and I got handed back piece of mind. I console myself by the thought that as a parent, my main job is to keep my child safe both in mind and body until she can take responsibility for this herself.

She may have lost her identity, but I lost the reassurance of my daughter’s very existence in the world. Who cares whether you are the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the brain, or for that matter, the criminal—as long as you’re alive and coming home to your parents later that night.

For now, Lockdown still is in effect, but modified. Cassandra's physical restraints remain in place; no going out and no Facebook. It’s awkward when a parent relents and reverses a decision, because we’ve learned from experience that "follow through" is everything when raising a child. But sometimes it just has to be done. So I comfort myself with another relic from my generation, Meatloaf, and his anthem that "Two out of three ain't bad...."

Branislava Koren lives in San Francisco. When she is not enjoying the company of her husband, two children and three dogs, she designs pretty houses for other people.

Screengrabs via universalmoviesuk/YouTube