As a two-toned jean and Bonnie Bell lipgloss wearing 16 year old: my grades, my clothes, my boyfriend and my friends were essentially all I cared about. Lunchtime at school was where all these things intersected. It was where you “spilled the juice” (the equivalent of the current “sipping the tea”): who was going with whom, who got caught skipping or a bad grade, who got into a fight, who got a jherri curl, who beat whom with a spin-on-the-head amazing break dance move. We would observe the goings on in the lunch room, jones and spill a little juice if we had some. If I had shared (or spilled) that my mom beat my butt and cursed me out because she found naked Polaroid pictures of me with my teenage boyfriend and found out that I had sex in her home, you know what my friends would say: “you took naked pictures??!” Unquestionably, THAT is the part of the story that my friends would’ve reacted to. There is no doubt.
That I was 16 years-old and having sex would not have been startling news (the average age a girl breaks her virginity is 17 years old). That I snuck and had sex in my mother’s house – well—that’s what we teens did –sneak. But, to record my crime? To give my boyfriend something that he could show his friends? No, my generation didn’t do that. The most damaging evidence you could find on someone back in my day was a carefully and expertly folded love letter.
Whether it be wrong or right, a teenage girl having sex in her mom’s home is not news. Wrong or right, a teenage girl getting cursed out and repeatedly hit by her mom is not news (I am assuming that the girl suffered no physical injuries). It’s only news in this case because the mother broadcasted her actions and made it clear that she wanted the video to go viral.
My generation didn’t do things for fame; but in this celebrity-obsessed world, I believe that Nia Green and her mother acted foolishly for notoriety. Nia Green wanted to advertise her sexuality. It wasn’t something that she wanted shared between just she and her boyfriend, she wanted others to know (rival girls, friends, other boys). This says something about our world where a woman sexiness is so hyper-lauded that a 16 year-old girl feels more compelled to brag about it than her report card.
Please understand that I am in no way suggesting that Nia should be ashamed of being sexual because it (as much as we parents of children don’t want to think about it) is normal and human. I’m frankly sick of the outdated mindset that females are immediately tagged with “whore”, “slut”, etc. for the very same desires and behaviors of men. As a matter of fact, I worry as much, if not more, about Nia’s mother’s repeated calling of her daughter a THOT and whore than I do about the beating. If Nia feels ashamed about having sex or wanting to have sex, she will continue to hide, feel dirty, have low self-esteem for many years, if not forever.
So understand, I was repulsed immediately upon watching the video. It is not comfortable seeing anyone get hit, called names as they cry out in pain and whimper in sadness. My gut reaction was to grab the mother and to protect the child. I also was quick to judge the entire situation. We are set-up that way – to judge. Videos allow us to sit on our high horses and to proclaim who is right or wrong and then to declare how much better we would’ve handled the situation.
I’ve seen loads of this judgmental arrogance in online comments about the video. And I wanted to laugh aloud at some of the people’s reactions. In summary they said something similar to:
The mother should have sat the teen down to discuss the responsibilities of having sex; or
Upon discovering the inappropriate FB post, the mother should have scheduled counseling for her daughter or
Spanking has been repeatedly proven to be an ineffective form of discipline and to cause more harm than good.
These people either don’t have kids, don’t have teens, have teens who don’t live in their household, or are raising teens while taking medication that numbs them. I was a great mother too, before I had kids. Sometimes we, parents, mess up.
Before anyone suggests that I am condoning the mother’s behavior, please understand that I am not at all. I just get tired of how mothers are so hard on one another. My guess is that many of us are trying our best; and most of us aren’t as great behind closed doors as we are in public. I have made my worst mistakes, and seen the worst of me as I’ve parented my kids (I’ve also seen the best of me). Raising successful kids, when the waters are smooth, is oftentimes tiring, but doable, fulfilling, and enjoyable. It’s those moments during the teen years, when you are fighting for them not to even do exceptionally well, but simply not to completely fuck up their entire lives that makes you lose all sensibilities.
See that’s the problem with the teen years. Your kids, for approximately 4 years posses the following: the belief that they know more than you, the belief that you are out of touch and out of your mind, some independence, adult bodies and raging hormones, friends as ignorant and arrogant as they are, perhaps a little money and a car– at the exact time that they can make decisions (sex, drugs, alcohol, driving, school success, social media behavior, etc.) that can have long term effects on their lives. And you, as the parent, have to somehow steer the boat through these rough waters though they keep attempting to throw you overboard.
Nia’s mother saw that her daughter was on a dangerous course. One, it appears, that she may have already trekked (my guess, from looking at her, is that she was a young mother). I think that when she saw what Nia was doing, she saw herself. The mother felt each tear and hole she got on and in her heart from being a young, single mother; every night she sobbed, every night she was scared and lonely; every night that she didn’t have $2.00 but still had a kid to feed. And she was desperate for her daughter not to experience what she did. I believe we act our worse as parents when we are scared.
I’ve been there—first as the recipient—as a kid. There were times my mother had to fight passionately to make me not ruin my life when I was a teen. My 5’4”, classy accomplished mother acted a stone-cold fool sometimes to keep the teenage me in line. And I was even more strong-willed then than I am now (which trust me, says a lot). I absolutely needed someone who was willing to fight to save me from my know-it-all self. With me, gentle wasn’t the way.
My mother didn’t beat me, but she definitely made me think that she would. I’ll never forget one time that we were in an argument about something and I had the nerve to grab “my” car keys to storm out of the house. My mom grabbed a broom a got outside before I did. I was not going to leave in the car she was paying for.
And my mom certainly did not hesitate to embarrass me. I would dare say that it was her strongest tool of discipline because teens hate nothing more than to be humiliated in front of their friends. There was the night that my mother told me that she would pick me up from the school’s Homecoming Dance at 11 sharp. At 11:10, when I was still inside and chatting with some friends, who shows up, but my mother in her rollers and house dress yelling my name. I hated her at the time, but I was rarely, if ever, late again.
My mother also called me out of my name. I had only heard her curse once when she told me directly that I was being a bitch. I was—no doubt. And she needed to call me on it.
As a parent, I have one child who is like Denzel Washington in the movie Glory—ain’t nothing going to break him, so you gotta come strong (mentally). And another one who is corrected easily with a strong stare. I’ve had to use different methods to deal with their differing personalities, but I have with both been at a point where I didn’t act in any way I’d want to see replayed. I’ve used my mouth as a weapon. I’ve called the kid sitting on the couch all day—a loser. It pains me to type it. I am embarrassed and regretful; and I’ve let my kids know so. But, you know what, I’ll mess up again. My kids –all those who are closest to me–will get the best of me and the worst of me. But I think that they know that they always have me.
But we all mess up, especially with the people we love the most. But we want people who hang in there with us; who fight for us; who fight against us when we are being foolish; who care more than we care about ourselves; who see more in us than we see in ourselves; who are willing to give all they have and know to make us our best selves. I don’t know about the rest of you but sometimes with this parenting gig–I feel like I’m in a battle; but my kids clearly know whose side I’m on.
Sometimes the battles get ugly (in a different way than if did with Nia’s mom, but I’m definitely not going to earn any medals for some of my behavior at times). The only thing I have (before this article) is anonymity. I didn’t make the choice to put my mistakes on camera for everyone to judge. Nia Green and her mother did that. They’ve bought into our new societal need to be seen and talked about. For this notoriety, they wrote their own bill. And you know we judgmental Americans are definitely going to make them pay.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more