I got a bit of inspiration tonight, and I’ve decided to share old teen Leah’s stories of how I kept my personal life privy from my parents during my teen years, when I was still living under their roof. It was pretty easy for me compared to most, because my mother and stepfather are computer illiterate, and they didn’t implement parental software or any of that high-tech invasion gadgetry I see advertised on parenting forums and in magazines.
For me, privacy on and offline was important because it allowed me to find a space where I could develop my outlook on life and find friends who understood the situation I was going through without being scrutinized and screamed at, as my parents were wont to do if they were to ever discover anything about my private life. I don’t know what kids these days do, but I remember my schemes fondly. So, here’s what I did to stay twenty steps ahead of my parents when it came to my teen hijinks:
1.) Two separate books for everything.
Yes, my parents (well, my stepfather anyways) were the type who wanted the password to my email and social networking sites (which back then, was myspace, xanga, and livejournal) The answer to this one was deceptively simple. I did the oldest trick in the accounting book and kept two separate books, or in this case, made up a myspace, xanga, email, and livejournal for my parents’ eyes which I handed the passwords to over, and kept my “real” email and social networking sites and passwords a secret. When I wanted to check the real ones, I went to the library or a coffee house with desktops. So, their overall impression of teen Leah’s online life was that it was as dull and lonely as her “real life” social life. Really, it wasn’t suspicious at all, when you think of it that way. When laptops come around in my life, well, that’s what two separate accounts were for, thank goodness they didn’t know about “administrator settings” or how to check keystrokes.
2.) Libraries and coffee houses were my friends
The public library wasn’t much of a library in Lahaina, it was a rather decrepit old building which had leering junkies populating the front lawn. But the library at my high school was a delight, and it was there that I found an intellectual sanctuary of sorts. Myspace (and the newly popular facebook) were blocked, but that’s what proxy servers were for, and I wasn’t interested in them as much as I was in forums. Like many a millennial, I cut my internet teeth on various forums, from ones on pop culture (YA lit, films, music) to more politically inclined feminist ones. They introduced me to a wide range of ideas and opinions which helped me learn more about my own presumptions and experiences and how non-universal they were. Internet cafes were also wonderful as well, especially the one near my house that had a desktop I could use after ordering a smoothie. I apologize, by the way, to the internet cafe for nursing two lousy smoothies and taking up so much time on the desktop…
3.) Hard-core privacy settings and permanently ambiguous personal information.
I’m considerably less strict about this now. I know that among other autistic bloggers, my identity, including my full name, is kind of an open secret. At this point in my life, my attitude towards privacy is more or less, “I don’t care what the world knows about me, just as long as my mother never finds out!” When I was a teen though, I was much more selective and didn’t care to post my real name, email address, or location until after I’d determined it safe to do so. A few times I even kept my gender and age anonymous, which added a layer of protection. It also meant that people took me a lot more seriously, because even back then I got mistaken for being a lot older than I actually am. But the hard core privacy settings meant that there was no chance of my mother or stepfather ever getting smart enough to google my name and finding my forum posts, and careful selective deleting of the history ensured they didn’t find that out either.
4.) I Kept circulating the books & music
I was a teenage metalhead who gobbled up “forbidden” literature. When my dad was alive, there were no forbidden books in my house, but after my stepfather moved in, possession of Das Kapital meant that for a while, the money that my father’s friends had donated towards my college fund was taken away from me (If my mother hadn’t reinstated it to me, I was planning on legally emancipating myself from my mother and then suing them both to get the money back) After that period, and after my stepfather began regularly rifling through my CD collection to throw away albums he disapproved of, I put all of my CDs into a plastic baggie (this scratches them, don’t do it now that we live in the age of the MP3) and put all my books in a backpack, and started up a roving library. My treasures were kept with various acquaintances, hidden in special spots around the school, and stored in various empty lockers and cubbies around town. This ensured that my intellectual freedom was never again threatened.
5.) Making friends with teachers and other adults kept me sane
Sometimes it’s hard to keep perspective on adults, if you have parents who are bossy and obsessed with keeping you “in your place”, you can forget that many of them are awesome people who care about you and can be interested in your well-being without being domineering and arrogant. That’s where a good teacher or a mentor comes in. I was lucky to have a wonderful librarian as a mentor to me, and many great teachers who loved me and helped participate in my schemes. How can I forget the teacher who gave me a copy of Breakfast of Champions to read on the day Kurt Vonnegut died, after my mother took away my funeral veil and asterisk sign I’d planned to wear to school that day as a tribute? Or the librarian who gave me tea and cookies to comfort me the day after I appeared in the laminating room crying because my parents told me I was forbidden from going to college because I’d been reading Marx? You don’t forget those tender moments.