It’s hard out here for a teenager.
For those of you who may have missed the social media brouhaha surrounding the head-scratching tradition of presidential turkey pardons, a few days ago the First Daughters had the temerity to appear less than enthused when President Obama spared the life of a large fowl. Since I’m in the John Oliver camp of finding the whole ordeal an exercise in abject silliness, I can’t say I blamed them. Being forced to accompany your dad to an event that whole world recognizes as lame isn’t going to be fun for even the most well-mannered adolescent.
Sadly, some set their standards for Sasha and Malia higher than others. In particular, Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Representative Stephen Fincher, took the teens to task on Facebook, deriding both their attitudes and their outfits. They were advised to “try showing a little class” and “[d]ress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”
That set off a shitstorm of epic proportions. Given that I’m not fan of any teen getting bullied on social media no matter how powerful or famous their parents are, I had very little sympathy four Lauten. You’d think that a congressional aide in charge of communications would have had a bit more insight into the way most teenagers act and dress (hint: just like Sasha and Malia), and that many people would react badly to seeing them mocked.
She has since resigned.
If the story ended there, I wouldn’t have had all that much to say about it. Sadly, no. Because there’s no pillory big enough for our appetite for public shame, gossip site The Smoking Gun has graced us with news that Lauten was herself arrested for shoplifting when she was a teenager.
Shut it down, America.
As a pediatrician who specializes in the care of adolescents, I ask my patients a lot of personal questions. I ask about sex and drinking and drugs, routinely and without hesitation. While I don’t kid myself that every single patient is honest with me, I’ve found that most are straightforward if the questions are asked in a non-judgmental manner in a safe space.
Which means they tell me about all the stuff they’re not supposed to be doing. The drinking their parents don’t know about. The sex their parents don’t know they’re having. While nobody I’ve asked has owned up to it yet, studies show they’re sexting as well. And these are more often than not “good kids” who are getting good grades and participating in extracurricular activities and being good citizens.
And today’s teens are less likely to be having unprotected sex, using drugs, or getting pregnant than generations past. It’s no real surprise that Lauten did stupid crap when she was a teenager, because teenagers have been doing stupid crap since there was stupid crap to do. Lord knows I’d rather crawl into a pit than have some of the asinine things I did as an adolescent exposed to public comment.
Lauten’s Facebook post was disgraceful. It was frank nastiness to go after Sasha and Malia the way she did, and her resignation won’t trouble my sleep. But plumbing the teenage years of people we don’t like for dirt is a step I hope we collectively refrain from making. It’s hard enough making it through adolescence with one’s dignity and health intact. Having all made it through ourselves, can we have the grace to leave that part of each others’ pasts off-limits? The present will dish up plenty of its own idiocy to hold our attention.