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

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Dear friends,

Now that both my children are older, both driving, both moving about the world in ways I no longer see and supervise, I find myself confronting a new kind of parental anxiety.

Hold on? Let go?

Of course, it’s not that easy. It’s never that easy. It’s always the degrees in life that get you.

A young child in our community died recently, of a sudden illness. Our school sent parents a note about contagious diseases and proper precautions, although we all know there’s never proper anything that makes us feel better in these situations. Our entire community grieved over this unimaginable loss, and all parents who hear this kind of story feel a sharp pang of fear in knowing it could have been their child. Could have been their loss.

Sunday afternoon I tripped across this mother’s story. She lost her 12-year-old son last year in an accident in a creek on a rainy day. Not long after I finished reading the story, Parker came home after spending the night at a friend’s house. He popped in long enough to say he was going to grab his swimsuit and return to the friend’s house to swim in the creek behind his house.

“Okay,” Mr. Mom said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.

Obviously, reading a story about a 12-year-old boy dying in a creek on a rainy day right before my 16-year-old announces his attention to go swimming in one after a day of heavy rain makes me worry. But even if I hadn’t read the story, I probably would have asked the same questions: Who will you be with? How deep and wide is the creek? Don’t you think it’s too cold and too early in the year to be swimming?

And the hardest questions of all: To what degree do I assert my concern, both with Mr. Mom and Parker, and do I allow their judgment to override my fear?

In the end, Parker went swimming. And he came home safe two hours later. Upon questioning, he said the water was not running fast. It was deep (perhaps 10 feet he estimated, which doesn’t make it a “creek” in my book) and cold. It was also fun, he said, in the same voice Mr. Mom had privately described to me what he considered reasonable boyhood adventures after Parker left with his swimsuit.

Mr. Mom lived through what I would describe as a largely unsafe adolescence. I lived through a very tame one. How I reconcile our varying degrees of parental comfort based on very different experiences is another one of those questions I struggle with.

My comfort level is further eroded because my brother died in his early 20s due to complications from a motorcycle accident. I was 11 when I watched my mother lose her only son, so I’ve spent a lifetime fearing that kind of grief more than anything.

If you are a person of great faith, I suppose you look to the Lord for comfort and answers. If you are a person of little or no faith, I suppose both are hard to come by. If you are a person in the middle, like so many are, I imagine you swing between divine purpose and pointless longing for what can’t be undone depending on the tenor of your grief on that day and hour.

To his credit, Mr. Mom has always been respectful of my concerns, even if he thinks I’m being overprotective. He usually starts on one end of the spectrum and I start on the other, and so far we’ve managed to grope our way to the middle. Or what feels like middle ground to the two of us.

At some point, I guess, all parents have to learn to reasonably judge their child’s strengths, frailties, attraction to risk, and ability to self-manage among peers in uncertain circumstances. I always judge more conservatively than Mr. Mom. I guess I’ve gotten comfortable with him tugging me his direction a little.

Some days, though, when you read of the tragic loss of others, you never get comfortable.

Until the child, who will always be your child no matter his age, walks in the door.

With gratitude {for two kids who have so far escaped serious injury and their mother’s worrying},

Joan, who comes from a long line of worrywarts but has managed to release some of her irrational fears, arachnophobia and batophobia nothwithstanding