Last year my young teen daughters and I watched all three
seasons of Veronica Mars on DVD. If you’re not familiar with the short-lived
television series, it’s essentially a smart, modern-day Nancy Drew with wry wit
and sharp dialogue. It’s one of the few shows that appeals to both adults and
teens and the single best series I’ve found to stimulate conversations with my
older kids about the real, everyday dangers they face as young people in the
world today. The cancellation of this show was truly sad-the stories were
fantastic, the acting terrific, and it tightened the generation gap.
“Veronica Mars is . . . a balance of murder mystery,
high school and college drama . . . featur[ing] social commentary with sarcasm
and off-beat humor in a style often compared to film noir. Set in the fictional
town of Neptune, Veronica Mars starred Kristen Bell as the title character, a
student who progressed from high school to college during the series while
moonlighting as a private investigator under the wing of her detective father.
Episodes have a distinct structure: Veronica solves a different “case of
the week” while continually trying to solve a season-long mystery.”
The show didn’t sugarcoat conflict, though humor and
irony were often used. Topics like date rape, cheating, drugs, child
molestation and teen-age drinking were handled in both an entertaining and
For example, part of Veronica’s backstory was that she
was drugged with GHB the year before the show began. She never told anyone
about it, because she didn’t remember anything-except that she was no longer a
virgin. As the story unfolded over the first season, we learned that someone slipped
the drug in her drink and handed it to her. At a big party, you often don’t
know where your drinks are coming from. My oldest daughter was floored, and
said she’d never accept a drink from anyone again-she’d open the can or bottle herself
and not let it out of her sight.
In one episode, Carmen comes to Veronica when her
ex-boyfriend Tad blackmails her with a video he took with his phone of her
sucking a popsicle in a sexually explicit manner. She’s terrified he’ll follow
through with his threats to post the video on the Internet. After watching this
episode, my oldest daughter finally got it. She was nearly 14 at the time, in
8th grade, and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her have a MySpace page or
a computer in her bedroom.
It’s not about trusting my daughter-who wants to be a
cop, is a dedicated athlete, and lives by the mantra: “my body is my temple”-it’s
about everyone else in the world. Even your friends. Because all it takes is
one pissed off friend to take an innocuous (or not so-innocuous but ‘fun’)
image or video and send it to everyone’s cell phone, or post it on the
As I told her, “Once it’s out there, you can never
get it back.”
They’re kids. We hope that we raise them with enough
common sense and street smarts so that when they’re eighteen they’ll make the
right decisions. They’ll screw up sometimes, but until they’re eighteen parents
need to establish some ground rules because some mistakes have
long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. And today, if it’s caught on camera, everyone in the world will know about it in eight seconds flat.
Kids don’t think parents know anything. We obviously know more than they think, but times
do change. When I was a teen, “date rape” was essentially pressuring and manipulating girls
to have sex–not drugging them into forced compliance. Alcohol, marijuana and
occasionally cocaine was the drug of choice in my high school, not heroin and
meth and eXtasy. I never had to walk through a metal detector at school; now more public high schools in major cities–and some in suburbia–have them than don’t. Even many younger grade schools. I had earthquake drills; my kids have lockdown drills.
This is why I miss Veronica Mars. It connected me with my
teens in a way no other television program has done. When we talked about
Carmen being caught on video, my oldest daughter finally understood why I didn’t
want her photos posted online. Why I didn’t want her to send her best friend a
completely innocuous picture on her cell phone of her in three different
bikinis when she couldn’t decide which one to buy. Do you want that picture
sent to every boy in your school? Forwarded to every friend with a cell
phone? Do you want people you’ve never met to see you at the movie theater or a
ballgame and know your name and how you look practically naked?
We have to take charge-parents and the teens of today. The
police have more than enough on their plate to not add to it teens voluntarily
meeting up with predators and being manipulated into sex, raped, murdered, or
trafficked. Honestly, they have to prioritize their cases and focus on the hard
core child pornography–kids under the age of 14 who have been sexually
exploited and abused. Even then, the caseload is staggering: an April 2008
Washington Post article revealed the results of a thirty-month long sting in
Virginia where child pornography-explicit sexual material with minors under the
age of 14-was found on 20,000 private computers. Those computers were
responsible for over 200,000 individual transactions. In one state alone. And only the public files shared with undercover cops. These are a small percentage
of the hard-core child pornography out there being shared by pedophiles and
perverts, estimated at less than 20% in just this one operation. Extrapolate
that to fifty states and you can see there is an epidemic of such huge scope
When you add in the sexual harassment of teens online,
the numbers are even more terrifying. Law enforcement can’t take care of it
all. If every cop in the country
worked 24/7 stopping online child pornography, they still wouldn’t be able to solve a
fraction of the hard core cases.
It’s up to parents and teachers and communities and
churches to educate our kids and hope that they get smart. Many of the assaults
that result from online chats or places like MySpace are because a victim
willingly agrees to meet their attacker-thinking that they’ll be safe. We have
to teach them to protect themselves and make smart choices.
The FBI produced two public service announcements. They
don’t have the money to pay for the advertising, so it’s up to individual
television stations to play them as PSAs-which is usually in the wee hours of
the morning. They’re each only 60 seconds. They’re worth watching. They’re worth sharing with your kids. (I posted the links in case I messed up the YouTube embedding thing.)
Everybody Knows Your Name
I’m not the strictest parent on the planet, but there are
some unbreakable rules in our house:
1) No computers, tvs or video games in the bedrooms. We
have two computers in the den which the kids can use, plus my computer and my
husband’s computer. It benefits parents to learn technology and learn how to track histories, even when kids learn how to delete history.
2) I get all passwords to all accounts, email or
otherwise. Cell phones are a privilege. Abuse of cell phone texting, i.e.
anything profane or sexually explicit, the phone will be disconnected. I don’t
check daily, but I spot check. Sort of “surprise inspection” time. I have taken away the cell phone before. And my kids know I will do it again.
3) No personal information on line. No chat rooms or IM with anyone they do not personally know from school or sports.
The last is actually the hardest to enforce. Even if your
kids obey, you have no control over what their friends post. This is why
education is so important. Even if your kids are being 100% safe, you can be
assured that either they’ll mess up (deliberately or by accident) or their friends
aren’t being safe. I have no qualms talking about these subjects with my kids’ friends. If their parents have a problem with me discussing it, they’re welcome to call me and I’ll be happy to share statistics and facts of which they’re likely not aware.
One last story . . . my oldest daughter accidentally switched two numbers when texting a friend of hers from school. Someone responded. They went back and forth 2 or 3 times, then she said, “Who’s this?” because she thought something was off. The other person teased back without telling her, so she typed, “I thought you were someone else. Don’t text me again.” He persisted. She ignored him. Then she gets a call from the number and doesn’t answer it. She’s scared. She has a voice message. She listens to the voice mail–it’s a mother yelling at her for texting a nine-year-old boy.
I called that mother. I explained what happened, and that my daughter is a minor in high school and didn’t know she’d typed a number in wrong. At first the mom was upset, then she calmed down. She didn’t cast any blame on her son, however; she was certain that his older step brother was somehow responsible.
I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, why does your NINE YEAR OLD have a cell phone with TEXTING??? Okay, maybe I’m being judgmental, but I don’t see the purpose. There are phones that you can program to call only a couple numbers if you’re really concerned about reaching your younger children. But seriously. Nine? And I thought my second grader was exaggerating when he said half the kids in his class had cell phones. Maybe he wasn’t.
Okay, now this really is the last story . . . when I was at the FBI Citizen’s Academy, the SSA in charge of child cybercrime said that if you let your daughter have a webcam on her computer, in less than six months there will be naked pictures of her on the internet. Predators are good at lying, manipulating, and convincing teens to do almost anything in the “privacy” of their own bedroom.
Talk, listen, and enforce. As I tell my kids–take everything you read online as a possible lie–if he says he’s a 17-year-old high school junior from Texas, it’s a 50/50 chance he’s not.
And maybe someday, a show like Veronica Mars will return. But until then, don’t wait to talk about the tough subjects with your teens.
What a great, vital post, Allison.
Now I’m mad that I missed Veronica Mars. If a TV show can get teenagers to GET IT, like your daughter did, it should have been subsidized by the government, because it gets scarier and scarier how quickly kids’ and teens’ lives can be ruined by these new capabilities. Being publicly humiliated by compromising photos that can never, ever be retracted is about the least horrible thing that can happen, and everyone who cares about children needs to know it.
First part: I didn’t watch Veronica Mars in first run. I’ve heard many good things about it. During my current unemployment and having a birthday somewhere in there, I gave myself the gift of Netflix to help get through the slow times. Veronica Mars is in my queue (along with a bunch of Brit crime shows).Second part: The Internet is a passion of mine. My MBA is with an emphasis in e-business and my MNM thesis was about nonprofits and the Internet. One of the jobs I interviewed for recently (but didn’t get) was for exec dir. of my town’s Education Foundation. One of my proposals was to implement Internet safety programs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that job. Internet safety for kids to teens is SO important. The Internet is a great resource that some take advantage of beyond evil.
Excellent post, Allison.
I was a little leery when my daughter asked if she could have a MySpace page, like all her friends. But then she made me her first “friend” and I let her know I check it frequently. The Boy spends all his time on D & D boards and Webcomics, which he often calls me over to share. I’m actually the biggest Net junkie in the house, so we actually bond some over that.
I do not know why I couldn’t embed the YouTube videos . . . I wonder if it’s because of my Mac. I’m going to try on my husbands computer when he gets off it . . .
Alex, you’d like Veronica Mars. It’s only three seasons, though season one and two are the best.
PK, I’m sorry you didn’t get that position because we need people like you fighting to educate kids. That was the big thing I got out of my FBI class: the SSA said it’s up to parents and teachers and peers to teach teenagers how to be smart. These predators are sly, but they are EVERYWHERE. It’s a huge problem, bigger than people understand. Some people never try to meet the girls they talk to–they just get sick pleasure out of talking to them and getting them to say sexual things. But these predators escalate faster now that they have instant gratification. The SSA showed a graphical representation of historically, how long it takes a predator to first download pornography to attempting to meet with a child. In the past, pornography wasn’t electronic and there wasn’t “anything you want” — now, they get it instantly, they move up to more and more hardcore videos because the original “legal” porn wasn’t satisfying them. Suddenly, 10-20 years of creating a predator has been shortened to 6 months.
Dusty, I’ve been going back and forth on a MySpace page. My daughter did get one, but because I had said no, she felt so guilty she told me about it. We froze it, but now that she’s in high school we’ve been thinking about it. My husband wants to hold firm, and I think we should let her, so until we agree she’s off it. Fortunately, she’s so active in other things she spends very little time on the computer, anyway . . . which brings up another point. Kids who have extracurricular activities spend less time on the computer. A good thing 🙂 Even if I’m driving everywhere under the sun . . .
Allison,This is a wonderful post and I’m going to get those shows and watch them with my kids. I can’t thank you enough for that suggestions.
Right now, my older daughter has a cell phone with no texting capacity. The only reason she has one is that her school is far from our house — sometimes she takes the public bus — and I want her to be able to call us if she needs us.
Neither one of my children have email accounts yet. We’re still figuring out how to handle all of this since the rules are so different nowadays. And the public computer is in a corner in the living room. Believe me, I’ll have the same rules you do.
Re: online play communities such as D & DThe son of one of my dearest friends began playing in a virtual life kind of community. He’d been a straight A student at a tremendously competitive high school. Long, long story made short: he became addicted to the game, felt the people there were his only friends, and is now nearly flunking out of school. My friend is a computer expert and did everything she could to prevent this and he finds ways around it.
I’m learning from her — and his — ongoing struggles.
Your post also ties in with mine tomorrow about censorship and kids.
Excellent post, Allison. And the statistics are frightening. I met with a terrific team here–one man was the assistant atty general and the other the head of a very small task force–and they explained how bad the online predators were. When the cop (task force guy) went to a judge for a search warrant, the judge was skeptical and somewhat annoyed for being interrupted at whatever he was doing. The cop asked him if he had kids (he did, a teenage daughter), so the cop told the judge, “Sir, I could go in your chambers right now and go online as your daughter and within fifteen minutes, there’ll be a predator there. Within twenty, there’ll be some sort of sexual act either being shown or mimicked.” The judge took that bet and they went into his chambers. The cop logged on as the judge’s daughter on her MySpace page and he surfed around on groups that the girl *already belonged to* and within ten minutes, there was a predator there sending photos of him masturbating to her account. And the cop had posed as her, had not solicited the action–but had said something ‘innocent’ in an IM with the predator, who then took advantage.
The judge signed the warrant and told the cop that any time they needed one, to come in and interrupt whatever he was doing.
Luckily, that judge knew his daughter’s password to her MySpace account. He’d been an actively involved parent. But if it had happened to the daughter, would she have told him? Or just been humiliated? And that was just after ten minutes. Give a predator a few days or weeks, and the desire to lure a victim and they could be very subtle and slow and thoroughly successful.
The assistant atty general guy explained that most parents don’t want to talk about sexual predators because it’s (a) talking about sex with their kids, which makes them nervous, especially if they have trouble talking about the positive aspects of sex and (b) it’s talking about the really negative things that can happen using sex and (c) that somehow talking about how predators get titillated with sex with minors makes the parent feel dirty for bringing it up. If they don’t talk about it, it can’t really get to their children, because it’s not real. Most parents give vague warnings, “He’s not saying something inappropriate, is he?” and the kid’s hearing, “Wow, you have the most gorgeous eyes,” so of course, she thinks, “no, Mom, nothing inappropriate.”
Allison, thanks so much for this post. You have surely prevented some unfortunate –or worse–things form happening by alerting parents and other caring adults to this.
My kids swear they’re the only ones without computers in their rooms. We have one family computer, and my laptop. Too bad.
These stories, whether relayed from Veronica Mars or your own tales, are frightening. We had it so much easier when we were kids. And parents back then had it easier too, no?
Pari, I think we’re on the same cosmic wavelength. I can’t wait to read your post tomorrow! My two oldest (nearly 15 and nearly 13) have email accounts through yahoo.com. I’ve considered putting them on my allison brennan account, but since I have their passwords and I can go in whenever I want, I’m okay with it. Also, they’ll tell me if something gets weird and have me check it out for them. So far, they’ve proven to me I can trust them — and as I pointed out, it just takes one time before that trust is destroyed–and months, if not years to earn it back. At least for now, they care about that.
re: the online communities, that’s very sad. I think some personalities are more drawn into online friendships that take over their life.
My oldest was at a friends house over the summer and asked if she could go to the friend’s cousin-the mom would drop them off and pick them up. I was a bit nervous because they were older high school kids, and they weren’t from my daughter’s school, but I knew the family and they are great people and have similar rules to me. So I said OK. 45 minutes later, my daughter texts me and asks if I can pick her and her friend up (the mom was going to work for a couple hours.) I asked for the address and didn’t hear anything and panicked . . . then 5 minutes later she texts me and says the mom is picking them up and she’d call me. I learn later that there was no adult supervision and the kids were drinking, and my daughter remembered the episode from Veronica Mars about GHB and refused to drink anything. They just wanted to get out. The other lesson she learned? Sometimes people who act one way (i.e the cousin) and seem cool or nice can be completely different when around the wrong group.
Toni, I remember when I had “the talk” with Daughter #1. I was scared shitless, she was 10, and I had to talk about sex. (And no, she didn’t know *exactly* how babies were made.) But I started my period when I was 11, and I needed to make sure she was prepared. I had two drinks before I gathered the courage. Daughter #2? A breeze. Why? Because I gave Daughter #1 a couple books to help with questions she might have, and Daughter #2 read them.
I’m pretty upfront with my older kids about sex and drugs. I make it perfectly clear that they need to stay away from drugs because even “harmless” drugs lead almost always to deadly drugs. I showed my daughter a picture of a 25 year old meth-addicted woman–she looked 60. It pretty much cured my daughter of any thoughts there (though she’s the one who would most likely NOT do drugs because it would mess with her game.)
“I Miss Veronica Mars.”
Allison, I think your new mission is pretty clear. Write the book. Then pitch it as a pilot for a new series.
There’s much much more to this issue than meets the eye; criminal organizations are doing business online with nationless political entities. There really is a Second Life out there, nothing like a game. All kinds of predators – repeat, all kinds of predators – are out there.
I never knew VM was about anything except how stupid parents are compared to their cool and beautiful California children. We saw ten minutes of it one night and said, “Nope, not for us.”
Allison, the research you’ve done for your books and to raise your children is amazing. You should be speaking at schools. Teenagers think they are invincible, nothing can touch them. They are so wrong.
Good idea, Tom, though not for me. One thing I learned early in my writing career was to know (and exploit) my strengths and know (and minimize) my weaknesses. Wit, sarcasm and irony are not my strengths. I think it’s going to be a cult classic series, and it’s still very relevant. It IS about teenagers more than parents, but one of the best characters was Veronica’s dad, the deposed sheriff turned PI who gives Veronica a lot of freedom, but expects her to respect it and not abuse it. When she lies to him and he finds out, he does what most (good) teens fear. He says the, “I don’t know how I can ever trust you again.” And it has a huge impact on her.
Thanks Jill. I’m not perfect in raising my kids. I yell too much, I’m too lenient in some areas and not lenient enough in others. But there’s no damn manual to parenthood, so I’m winging it. One of my favorite movies is PARENTHOOD with Steve Martin (hey, Alex, have you ever analyzed that one? LOL.) I loved the fears of Steve Martin when he does (or doesn’t do) something and he pictures his oldest son either a huge success (i.e. Valedictorian at college) or as a huge failure (shooting kids from a tower in college.) I’ve actually talked to the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni and because the FBI does speak at schools, but they don’t have enough people to do it everyone, they are thinking about training some Alum to go to schools and speak on this subject. I volunteered, though I hardly have the time! It won’t start until next school year if it all works out.
Great post, Allison. I adored Veronica Mars and was so sad when it was canceled. They were looking at having the show fast forward four years and putting Veronica at the FBI Academy, which would have been brilliant. Don’t know what happened.
This is such a great post. Personal safety – whether on the internet or the home or the street – is a subject very dear to my heart. But it becomes even more vital where children are concerned.
Meg Chittenden has just put a video of the self-defence demo she and I did at Bouchercon this year onto her website. It was supposed to be a bit of a fun with a serious message.
Like Veronica Mars, I’m all for wrapping up the pill in something you don’t mind swallowing. (No sniggering at the back, there …)
The link to Meg’s site is:
Great post, Allison, thank you!
And to embed the Youtube videos, you have to copy the embed code and then paste it into the body of your post in “edit HTML” mode, not text mode. Then it should show up when you switch back to the regular view.
JT, I heard the same thing but the new season wasn’t picked up but whatever IDIOT NETWORK didn’t pick it up. (Okay, they are still running SUPERNATURAL so I’m not going to publicly diss them.) Hmm, Alex has never talked about SUPERNATURAL and it’s her cuppa tea.
Zoe, thanks for the linkI I love it! I’m getting my girls into self-defense training. But I’m all for pepper spray on every key chain . . .
Thanks Cornelia, I FINALLY figured it out. And here I blamed my poor, innocent iMac. (I love you Mac, really, I do. Please don’t crash on me . . . )
I love Veronica Mars! That program was one of my favorites. And I agree with your parental tenets when it comes to technology. I really have to wonder when I see a preteen with an iPhone — yee gads, I don’t even own one of those!
And, looking forward to reading your story in EG’s anthology! (I’m one of the newbie authors she invited to participate.)
And and, glad I found this blog. Can’t believe I hadn’t previously.
A really great discussion, Allison, and powerful public service spots – I wish more networks would show them during times when parents and children could actually see them. I also wish someone would discuss the dangers for teen boys. I have one child, a 16-year old son, and although I try to take all of the necessary precautions, I admit to a vague worry. What other evil is out there for me to guard against?
This goes hand in hand with my general peeve about book publishers and puberty. When my son was 10, I went looking for a book to give him information about the changes his body was going to go through, and a way for me to discuss them with him (yes, I’m married to his dad, but my darling hubby is the walking definition of “laconic”). All I could find in the bookstore were books for girls. I finally found a unisex book called, “It’s Perfectly Normal” which gives a TON of information – more information than I thought he needed, but I figured it would be a good reference guide for him, explanatory more than explicit. It would have been nice to have more than one book to choose from.
This was just terrific, Allison. I’ll check and see if Veronica Mars is on Netflix streaming–my daughter is always asking if there’s something we could watch together and this sounds perfect!
My 16 year-old daughter has always been very sensible about these things, and I feel very blessed. She and her friends don’t drink or do drugs, and she looks at me and rolls her eyes every time I tell her to keep an eye on her drink when she’s out. And to not be texting or talking on her phone when she’s walking to her car at night. And…and…I can tell I’m not going to get much sleep when she leaves for college.