Please don’t tweet “tool” unless you mean hammer.

Dear friends,

After my literary rant yesterday, there’s just one more thing I have to get off my chest.

There’s this teenage girl I made the mistake of following on Twitter and she really upsets me. I’ve only met her once and got an odd vibe. I’ve met her mother a few times and found her delightful.

The rub is this: the girl frequently sends out the most vile tweets I have ever seen. To judge her by her tweets, she is rude. She is vulgar. She is a brat. But since no one wants to be judged solely by their social networking persona, I’m trying to refrain from drawing knee-jerk conclusions.

This is one of her milder posts: “Middle finger up to the high school. See you later b-tches!”

The one that nearly sent me over the edge said “I just accidentally told my mother to f— off. #oops

I didn’t use the expletives in my sentences even though she did.  Mostly, her vulgarities are pointed at members of her peer group (most of whom she calls “tools”) and her family.

I could totally get on my soapbox here about the dire consequences to any child of mine that would dare say those words to me or about me, much less brag about it on Twitter. There would be a destroyed phone. There might be bodily harm. I dare say all the child’s possessions would be carted to Goodwill and hard labor would plague the child until the age of consent. But that’s not the point.

The point is probably that I should unfollow the girl immediately because her behavior is none of my business.

Except . . . except . . . if it’s not my business, whose is it? If I were chaperoning a dance, for example, and she was speaking that way within earshot of me, I would say something — to her and to her parents. Should the rules be different for social networking?

So I’m really torn about whether or not to make the call to her mother. I’ve met plenty of parents, including Mr. Mom, who aren’t on Twitter so I have a hunch the mother doesn’t know what’s going on. Still, there’s probably far more potential downside than upside to reaching out. If her mother reads her tweets and isn’t aghast, what do I say? To quote her daughter . . . Oops? If her mother doesn’t read her tweets but doesn’t appreciate me alerting  her to her daughter’s behavior, well that’s a big ol’ can of worms, too.

I want to be clear and honest about something. As a family, we are not as pure as the driven snow. We curse. Out loud. But putting curse words in writing in a public forum is just plain dumb, and I told my kids so. “Look” I said,” if you want to rip one off in front of your friends, okay. No big deal. But be smart and keep your tweets clean. Someday you’ll need a job — or something else for which you will be checked out and evaluated — and you don’t need a questionable social networking history following you.” To make sure they follow my advice (at least while they live under my roof), I read their tweets regularly and give feedback whenever I see something that merits discussion or correction.

I know that most kids spend all their energy posturing in front of other kids. So why do I give a whit about one teenage girl’s vulgar tweets?

Because it doesn’t feel like posturing. It feels like a young woman who needs help. And maybe the other adults around her just haven’t noticed yet. Or haven’t spoken up for all the reasons I’ve wrestled with.

So please weigh in. What would you do? On both sides of the fence, if you were me and if you were the girl’s mother hearing from me?

With gratitude {for the parts of my life that are less complex than parenting, such as sleeping},

Joan, who thinks kids are like math papers and therefore require frequent correction



  1. The following is all opinion/all the time: Every family has their own set point when it comes to privacy for their young adults and again when it comes to fighting the use of profanity. If this teenager offends you, then definitely unfollow her.

    If I didn’t already know something was going on in the face of my own daughter “accidentally” telling me to F-off, that casts doubts upon whether I would “hear” you in any constructive way when you arrived to tell me your concerns. This youngster already slipped in front of her Mom, so any weigh-in from you must first allow the family time and space to figure out how they’ll address whatever is going on, on their own. Until and unless they ask for your help.

    If you feel you must speak, I’d say approach the girl directly, remind her as a university type you work in a field that consistently assesses behaviors in her age group, and point out her tweets are representing her (searchable! forever!) and her entire family to the outside world. You could point out you were discomfited by her use of profane language to the point you dropped her account. Maybe she cares. Then, past taking time to have a teaching moment with your own kids if you want to, I think you have to let this one go. Not your fry to fish.

  2. Juanita says:

    Face to face tell her what you did in the paragraph “I want to be clear and honest”.

  3. Sandy Shoes says:

    I don’t comment often and I feel your nurturing spirit to want to help this girl, but I have to agree, just unfollow her and let it go. It is sad that the age of technology has opened up youthful indiscretions for the whole world, but it has and is reaching far into the the pre-technological age. My husband, who is 49, was caught with minor possession of an illegal drug in 1980 at the wise old age of 18. It warranted him a minor parole and he thought the whole thing was long gone. Recently, he applied (and thankfully got) a job that did a background check,and turned that up, thanks to computerization! He was mortified, but after explaining to the prospective employer, they agreed to hire him. Try to parent your kids (as you have) and hope that they are the ones that stand above the others, in the future job market.

    My niece uses extreme profanity and illicit drug comments all the time on her facebook and she is such a beautiful and talented girl, but she is 21 and my heart just breaks that she doesn’t have a mother or father to show her these errors in judgement.

    one of your lurkers, that loves to read your blog!
    Sandy Shoes

  4. I constantly struggle with (what I deem) butting in or not. A part of me thinks it’s my responsibility to say something, I’m an educator for crying out loud. But another part thinks it’s best to live and let live, and knows behaviors will correct themselves when they meet their consequences. Or in other words, it will take care of itself in the long run, because we all have met karma, haven’t we? But if this girl’s mother is a friend of yours, if you know this girl and care about her future, then I’d say go for it, and say something. At least that way you will feel ok with yourself by having done what you thought was right for her.

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