Back in the 1950s, “Little Joe Cartwright” starred in a movie called “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” That’s right, after seeing a full moon, Michael Landon ran around a public high school foaming at the mouth and pretty much out of control. Since there was little difference between his behavior and that of the normal students, he got away with it for two semesters.
As I watched the film, I remember thinking that it was going to be tough for Landon to get into college with that on his resume. But then the 1960s happened, so that was that.
This brings me to the present. My life these days is largely confronting political and social madness on television and then going home to deal with teenage drama from an almost-14-year-old girl. I vaguely remember being 14, because I was ensconced in a Catholic high school that gave out homework assignments like they were M&M’s.
Believe me, I had plenty of angst. But nobody paid much attention to it.
Like today, many teenagers back then brooded full time. Check out James Dean, an outstandingly cloudy guy. But now teens have two things that embolden their disenchantment: the Internet and permissive parents.
Earlier this week, I was encouraging my urchins to speed it up because the bus was coming.
“I can’t go faster ‘cause you’re staring at me,” the teen wailed.
“I’m not staring at you. I just came into the room.”
“But I can see you!”
You get the idea. My daughter also did not want to wear anything that covered her legs -- even though it was 39 degrees outside. She wanted to wear shorts. At that point, I started wishing she’d turn into a werewolf. At least the fur would keep her warm.
But it is the Internet that is truly changing the teenage dynamic in America.
It used to be that teenagers would hang out together and swap stories of woe. I remember seeing Billy Joel and his crew at stores on Levittown Parkway. They were just slouching around the same as my guys were. Just being with other teenagers was comforting, but we actually had to leave our houses to do that. Now, teens can gang-brood from their rooms on the Net.
Because nearly every awful occurrence is highlighted on various Facebook pages, teenagers now find it easier to justify their own craziness. “How can you criticize me for getting a C when Shelley got all F’s and crashed her dad’s car?” That kind of thing.
Nothing is private anymore. Teenagers are subjected to (and some participate in) incredibly destructive behavior online.
And parents have few options.
Even if you ban home computers, hand-held devices are all over the place. You’d have to put a full-time bodyguard on the child in order to provide complete protection.
In the end, all parents can do is try their best to impose a sense of responsibility on their kids. But don’t expect any appreciation, and be watchful at all times. Kids today are growing up at warp speed; the machines march them into adulthood way before they’re ready.
Even with fangs, Landon had it easier.
Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and is an author and columnist.