You know how you just know certain things about your kids? Like, your daughter may be delightfully quirky, but she simply wasn’t born with the grace to end up as an Olympic figure skater? Or your son might be the next Jay Leno, but chances aren’t good that he’ll win a Nobel economics prize? We all make certain assumptions about our children based on the reality of who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Take my eldest, Levi, for example. He’s unusually bright, brimming with kindness and one of the funniest 13 year old boys I’ve ever encountered. Barring some unexpected psychotic break in his early twenties, (God forbid a million times), I feel fairly confident claiming that he is not and never will be a stalker, terrorist or mass murderer. But we live in unthinkable times where kids aren’t allowed to keep score in flag football leagues, lockers have been outlawed at most middle schools and bringing a PB&J sandwich to school can get a kid expelled for attempted homicide.
So when the fill-in vice principal at my son’s middle school called me today, I was a bit taken aback. He gently introduced himself and I immediately went into panic mode. “Is everything alright? Is Levi okay?” I asked with a tone of terror in my voice. Clearly he hadn’t spoken to enough parents in his early tenure to know that one must always begin the unexpected parental phone call with the obligatory, “Hello Mrs. Gettleman, this is Mr. X from your son’s school and EVERYONE IS JUST FINE.”
Turns out he was calling because of my son’s inquisitive mind and untraditional interest in real estate. Apparently, Levi and his classmates were sharing home addresses on googlemaps and Levi, imbued with curiosity, checked out their living quarters on Zillow.com. I cannot tell you why my son is fascinated by Zillow. Perhaps it has something to do with his unusual interest in HGTV and the myriad of home-buying programs they air. While it doesn’t float my boat, he loves watching “Love it or List it,” “House Hunters International,” and he’s entered to win the 2014 “HGTV Dream Home” at least a thousand times this year. I’ll admit it’s not typical, but I’d hardly call it risky teen behavior.
But of course, what one sane parent sees as idiosyncratic and amusing, another parent might judge as dangerous and threatening to their offspring. So I sat, slack-jawed, as I listened to this man’s explanation that a parent had called with deep concern about my son’s “inappropriate” behavior. After I determined that this was not a crank call or a set-up for an upcoming episode of Punk’d, I spoke rather tentatively. “Um…have you met my son Levi? I can assure you he’s not stalking anyone or posing a risk to other students.”
“Well, I did get a chance to talk to him,” he said, “And I too determined that he is a really sweet kid who just didn’t realize that looking up other people’s addresses on Zillow is a breach of privacy.” A breach of privacy? Really? Like every geographic, economic and political piece of information about each of us isn’t part of today’s public internet database? You’ve got to be kidding me. My kid’s in hot water because he Zillowed another kid’s house?
Maybe I’ve lost all sense of reality. Maybe I really don’t understand how dangerous the world has become. Maybe finding out that a 7th grader knew our address, square footage and Zillow Home Value Index would actually freak me out enough to call the principal and complain. Or maybe…maybe…I’m a little less neurotic than the average parent today. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?