Saturday, November 03, 2012

Electricity, snooping

First, the lights came back on. Last night, just over four full days since they'd gone out. It was unreal. Then, a few hours later, the wireless returned. Heat and hot water must have happened overnight, so this morning was one of those post-camping-trip-type showers. Wonderful.

So, on a more traditional WWPD note, on the theme of parents sharing their kids' dirty laundry, the NYT (sorry, Sigivald) is quite literally inviting parents to do this. In what universe is it socially acceptable to go into a teenager's bedroom, photograph it, and send said photo to a national newspaper?

4 comments:

PG said...

Well, we're clearly no longer a society in which bedrooms generally should not be in the public eye. There are entire reality TV programs about going into young men's bedrooms with blacklights to detect stains. So for this to be socially unacceptable, it's presumably because the person inhabiting the bedroom didn't consent. But unless the teen is paying rent, it's only his room by a family courtesy. Doesn't "It's my house, my rules" still mean something?

I'd have found it freakish for my parents to photograph my messy room and send it to the NYT, but that's because they were private kind of people, not because I didn't think they ought to be able to come into my room and largely do whatever they wanted. I was upset at the time if they went through my stuff, because I liked the illusion of its all being "mine," but I wouldn't have been able to make a plausible argument that I really had much stuff that they didn't have the right to go through. For people who aren't privacy-oriented, and for an overall society that increasingly isn't, I don't see the violation of social norms.

But to the extent that the parents and children agree on the "Your space, My place" detente described in the article ("There are piles of parenting books about adolescent clutter, advocating strategies that range from draconian to determined indifference. But on one thing they all agree: define boundaries. Teenagers want to rule their bedroom like a kingdom. In exchange, parents should insist that the mess not creep throughout the home."), then coming in and photographing it and publicizing it violates that agreement. The parent has decided to cede that space as the child's domain, and can't arbitrarily violate that.

I'm puzzled by the family dynamic in which a non-rent-paying minor actually has leverage with which to negotiate such agreements in the first place, but it's certainly a rational compromise. I was much messier than my first post-college roommate, and she didn't care about my bedroom so long as I kept the door to it closed when she had guests and we kept the common areas tidy. (Although even if I had such lack of authority as a parent that I had to negotiate that compromise with my kid, I'd still have a ban on leaving bits of food and drink in the bedroom, because that's just gross and unsanitary. It attracts pests that will then infest other parts of the home.)

Phoebe said...

PG,

I'm not sure I agree. For one thing, there are reality shows (RHONY, and you're better off if you don't know what that stands for) that have people sitting on the toilet, but that doesn't mean the bathroom is no longer private, that in life, if you go to someone's house, they pee with the door open, or, moreover, that you can take a picture of them doing so and post it to Facebook. Why is some parent putting a shot of the daughter's bra poking out of a drawer? I mean, yes, social norms shift, and we are in an age when the sleeping quarters are not some ultimate taboo, but generally when one, for example, drops off a coat in a bedroom at a party, this is only after the room has been given a once-over by its owner(s), and access to the room isn't interpreted as the right to inspect/photograph.

But then, more specifically, a teenager's room is, as with all aspects of parenting-of-teens, about a transition to adulthood. So there should be some restrictions (a line might be drawn at ashtrays and animal cages, and same deal with food mess; there's obviously no unlimited decorating budget!) but an ideal regime is probably one of, unless there's a reason to be suspicious, it's left alone. (If the rooms tend to be messy, it's probably in part precisely because teens don't own/rent their own homes, and thus don't feel the pride/protectiveness one does when paying the bills. But mess=/=filth.)

In other words, it's not about a teen "winning" some kind of argument, but rather about parents intentionally letting near-adult kids figure things out for themselves, as preparation for living on their own. If a kid realizes bed-making is pointless make-work, so be it. Just as a parent might allow blue hair but not tattoos, mess but not filth strikes me as reasonable, assuming nothing is left around specifically for the parent to clean up. (How do families with maids deal with parenting? I digress.)

The social norm might be to present this as a parent-child struggle, and it may feel like this a bit at the time, but the optimal situation is the kid having a good amount of freedom when it comes to things that ultimately don't matter in the least. But if you're going to interview "professionals who specialize in adolescent mess" (!), it needs to be presented as a really big deal.

PG said...

But then, more specifically, a teenager's room is, as with all aspects of parenting-of-teens, about a transition to adulthood. So there should be some restrictions (a line might be drawn at ashtrays and animal cages, and same deal with food mess; there's obviously no unlimited decorating budget!) but an ideal regime is probably one of, unless there's a reason to be suspicious, it's left alone. (If the rooms tend to be messy, it's probably in part precisely because teens don't own/rent their own homes, and thus don't feel the pride/protectiveness one does when paying the bills. But mess=/=filth.)

Mess =/= filth, and despite being very messy (especially with books and papers), I was pretty clean as an adolescent/ teenager. I think once forgetting a mug of milk in my room before going on a two week trip to India, and coming back to some kind of horrible yogurt, traumatized me into being careful about leaving any bits of food or drink out. Nonetheless, I had many battles with my mother that included her screaming, "I can't stand to look at your room" and my screaming back "Then don't look at it!" But as with most of my fights with my mom, when I look back I don't think she was substantively wrong to say that she should be able to expect her and my father's house to look a certain way and for me to do my part in that; I just think her methods were more emotional and inconsistent than was useful to achieving the goal. It would have been more rational for her to have a standardized "I expect your room to be in order when I do an inspection every Friday morning in preparation for possible weekend visitors, and for it to stay that way until Monday morning. During the week while you're in school and busy, if it gets disorganized I'll live with that because I know there's a deadline for tidying it."

My parents were very proud of the house they built when I was a teenager and visitors always wanted to see it all, so it was embarrassing for them to either show them messy bedrooms or have to keep the doors to most of the second floor shut. I suppose this argues in favor of not having a showplace home until your kids are all out of the house, but then it seems kind of ridiculous to give the kids their own bedrooms and baths if the space only ever gets used when they're home on holiday.

We didn't have a daily maid, but we had a cleaning lady once a week and she would toss any clothes that were on the floor into the laundry hamper, and sometimes her laundering was not tag-compliant. I still remember a red sweater I loved that got shrunk to dwarf-size when she put it in the dryer. Life lesson learned: if you want something done specially, do it yourself. She also would launder sheets and towels and make the beds, but she didn't essay organizing beyond that and my mom didn't expect her to do so -- actual cleaning was enough of a full day's work.

When I have kids, I'll probably expect them to keep a certain amount of order as well as cleanliness while they're living at home. They can transition to adulthood during the first year in a college dorm when I'm paying their rent without having to live with them.

Phoebe said...

PG,

These are separate issues - whether a parent can enter a teen's room, whether a parent can snoop in every part of the house s/he pays for, whether a parent can demand something beyond basic-sanitary-conditions of said room, and whether a parent should be able to send photos of said room for publication in a national newspaper. The last of those strikes me as an obvious no. Indefensible.

The first three are less straightforward. It would be odd indeed if any room in the house were this ultimate taboo, where guests couldn't see it. A teen's room is a bit different from the other rooms in the house, because there's generally some acknowledgement that a teen feels much like an adult, but lives like a child. The transition to adulthood is gradual, and maybe it's best if there's some quasi-monitored step. I'm not sure why a teen's room would need to be neat and tidy for the parents to have houseguests, unless said guests are staying in that bedroom. I'm not seeing why these visitors would demand to see PG-the-teen's room, or why, if they did, a casual remark about you-know-how-kids-are wouldn't have excused a coat on a chair or whatever. Unless the mess is indicative of a really troubled kid, in which case there are bigger problems than the neatness of the bedroom, this seems like the kind of issue that only matters if parents decide they want it to. But if what you want is a successful kid and a house free of infestation, demanding bed-making-level neatness is demanding make-work.

But all of that is about glance-into-the-room rights. Do parents, then, have the right to look at every nook and cranny under their roof, including inside every drawer, every folder, every backpack, every computer history (assuming parents as computer-savvy or more than their kids)? What seems important to me, transition-to-adulthood-wise, and which really does need to begin before college, is for a teen to have some idea of a physical zone of privacy, a zone that can only be violated if the parents have some serious, kid-may-be-in-danger concern. Whether that's the entire bedroom, or part of it, isn't so much the issue.