It’s a funny thing when you’re a teenager. You think you know it all. Then you read sentences like that and say, “I don’t know it all. I don’t know why adults think that teenagers think they know it all. Adults don’t know everything.”
When I was sixteen, the internet was a Big Deal. It was new, it was fascinating, and it confused the hell out of my parents, who flipped out when I told them I spent an hour talking to a teenager in New Jersey, because they were worried about all the long distance charges.
Nowadays, there are no such things as long distance charges, and my toddler has video chatted with my husband on Gmail.
I used to have an online pen pal named Dennis. We would write lengthy emails to one another, mostly rambling about our lives. He would rave about this new coffee place that had opened in Seattle called Starbucks, and I would rant about the idiot girls I went to school with. I talked about first loves, he flirted shamelessly (in writing), and I thought it was an awesome relationship. The guy would start his emails off, “Hey, lover.” I was sixteen. I was a girl. I was desperate for a man to pay attention to me, and I was thrilled. My parents had no idea — this was before the age of internet predators, before the age of cybernannies and surveillance software. The computer was in the spare bedroom in our house, and I had free rein on the chat rooms on AOL.
Dennis was 32 years old.
Believe it or not, I never thought anything of our pen pal relationship. I don’t recall him saying anything that made me uncomfortable. Despite the flirting, he never asked me to send him naked pictures of myself or anything. I would talk about dating (and, at the time, I thought I was scandalous because I’d let a guy put his hand under my bra), and he would talk about his infatuation with this married woman named Kim. I would offer my advice, he would offer his, and we were good buddies. Our pen pal relationship didn’t come to a dramatic end or anything. I stopped writing, or he did. I have no idea what happened to him.
A little internet stalking leads me to strongly suspect he married this “Kim,” because a Dennis with his last name is listed as married to a Kim with that last name now.
Anyway. I mentioned this to my husband one day, just out of hand. He kind of stared at me. He said something along the lines of, “You had a 32 year old guy calling you ‘lover’ and emailing you all the time, talking about cheating with a married woman? And you didn’t think there was anything wrong with that?”
No, I didn’t.
I do now.
I think about this a lot when I read news stories about a kid doing something stupid. People are so quick to point fingers at the parents. “Why didn’t the parents know? Why didn’t they do something to stop their child?”
Well, perspective works both ways. My parents never would have assumed I’d have a lengthy email relationship with an older man. I never thought there was anything wrong, so I never thought to tell them. To this day, I don’t think they know. If Dennis had been local, and had suggested a meeting, I might have gone.
Now, with adult perspective, that scares me.
When I was a kid, it didn’t.
You know, ’cause I knew everything.