Surely you heard about that brief and lively brouhaha over a congressional staffer’s criticism of President Obama’s adolescent daughters. Her idiotic remarks on Facebook reminded us of what not to do on social media.
Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), scolded Sasha and Malia for behavior displayed during the annual turkey-pardoning ceremony at the White House. The girls’ conduct was typical and unremarkable in the scheme of teendom, and I venture to say that most parents winced or chuckled in recognition.
I did. That’s because I survived five teenagers. To this day, I pat myself on the back for that exhausting and terrifying swim upstream.
But back to Lauten, who sounds like she has a lot to learn about teenagers. "Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar," she wrote.
And this other doozy when she was apparently beside herself watching the two Obama girls roll their eyes: "…try showing a little class."
Lauten’s true wrath, however, was reserved for her actual targets, the Prez and the First Lady. “Then again,’’ she continued, ever so blithely, “your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model department.’’’
Talk about class. Lauten displayed as much as a junior high girl in a cat fight. I’m surprised one of the objects of her disaffection didn’t post her own snarky comment: "How’s your diet going, Lizzie?"
But this isn’t about how Lauten failed so miserably at her job. Other outlets commented on how the girls looked bore and exasperated without receiving any flak. USA Today, for instance, had this headline, Malia and Sasha Obama are so done with their dad's turkey pardon, but the story hit all the right notes.
As a communications director, Lauten couldn’t even manage that. Too bad. She should’ve understood the power of social media way more than the average congressional peon. And yes, at the very least she should’ve known not to violate one of the few rules both political parties adhere to: Leave presidential offspring alone. (Or at least look the other way until they leave the White House or become their own foolish adults.)
For me Lauten’s misstep goes beyond her ignorance, willful or not, of social media etiquette or of an unwritten Washington tenet. Lauten’s far more serious sin was her lack of compassion and perspective for the most difficult job of all: parenting through that that gawky, pimply, insolent stage of adolescence. You can say what you may about the exhaustion that accompanies caring for a baby, but rearing a teen can be as soul-sapping as it is physically debilitating.
A few days before Lauten stuck the proverbial foot in her mouth, I ran into one of my son’s English teachers at the Miami Book Fair. We hugged like former soldiers in arms. Together we had tried to steer a rambunctious, rebellious boy through 11th grade, with minimal shrapnel damage to our hearts. She was not a bit surprised when I brought her up to date on his educational and career triumphs. Back when I doubted my own judgment, this teacher had seen through the eye-rolling and the attitude straight to the potential.
Lauten — all of us, really — should take that lesson to heart. Adolescents are a work in progress, and those teen years are but a dress rehearsal when speaking lines are forgotten, cues are missed, and the family stage becomes way too confining. This is true whether the source of our irritation lives on Pennsylvania Avenue or on Avocado Drive.
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