The Ultimate Wake-Up Call to Parents: Want to Go Private?

I’m going to be honest, I struggled with reading Want to Go Private.  Not because of the writing, but because of the content.  And because I’m a mom with a daughter, and the mother of three sons.  Also, because in my career as a child advocate I’ve seen first hand the impact that poor choices have on a teen’s life.

Want to Go Private?

Those very words strike fear into my heart, and have since my (much younger) brother and sister caught the first wave of internet chat rooms.  After reading Sarah Darer Littman’s YA novel, these words rip me apart.

If ever there is a call to challenge books, this would be it.  It’s graphic enough to make me queasy and personal enough to make people extremely upset.  Yet for all that, I applaud Ms. Littman for writing a book that needs to be available to a generation of children who live and die (sometimes literally) by the rulings of the internet.

What am I talking about?  Sexual predators who have easy access to our children’s innermost thoughts, fears and information.  But before you shake your head and say, “Impossible.  Not my children.  They know better,” hear me out.  Or rather, read Abby’s story yourself.

Starting highschool is difficult in the best of times.  For shy, fourteen-year-old Abby, being on the bottom rung of the social ladder is the catalyst for engaging in online chats with a “boy” named Luke.  As she struggles with a failing friendship, an unrequited crush, clueless parents and an annoying little sister, Abby retreats into a cyber friendship with the one person who actually listens to her.  Cares about her.  Accepts her.  And, eventually, loves her.

The first part of Want to Go Private? was frustrating to read.  Abby’s a smart girl.  She knows all the reasons to stay away from strangers.  She’s a good kid–just like yours and mine.  I wanted to shake her back to reality whenever she fell for Luke’s game.  I wanted to ground her for life when she began sharing far more than her thoughts.

At times, I felt like Ms. Littman rushed Abby’s physical responses.  Yet, the emotional ones were spot on.  In a few short months, Abby had believably become addicted to her relationship with Luke.  Ms. Littman’s execution of it will help parents and teens understand just how vulnerable kids are when it comes to their emotional attachments, how easily they are swayed by seemingly inconsequential events and how fiercely loyal they are to those they trust.

And so ends the first part of the book.

The second one had tears streaming down my face.  My heart literally ached for the anguish and uncertainty brought on by Abby’s careless behavior.  In this section Ms. Littman masterfully unravels the layers of a teen’s me-centric world in a way that should help teens understand their every action does, indeed, affect others.  It also proves just how easily we can lose control of our lives.

Logically, I feel like every teen and every parent should read this book.  Emotionally, I struggle.  I don’t want my daughter exposed to some of the content.  Particularly by my choosing.  And yet, it tells a tale of misplaced loyalty and betrayal far better than any lecture by any adult will ever be able to.

Kids tune parents out.  Kids listen to other kids.  My daughter will hear Abby’s words in a very different way than she will ever hear my own.

This book needs to be read.  It also needs to be discussed.  Before handing over my copy to my Dear Daughter, I told her that it was one of the most difficult books I had read.  I explained that it was graphic, though not gratuitous.  I told her parts of the book made me want to throw up.  I also told her I loved her and wanted her to remain safe.  She knows I’m here for her when she gets to the tough parts.  She knows, from past experience, that we’ll discuss the book when she’s done.

For the record, we have.  You can read our MAD Review of Want to Go Private? here and see just how much this novel affects teens.

Parents, if you have a child active in social networking, this is a must-read.  Before your child ever picks it up.  It is an amazing tool to open the door to the emotional side of our lectures.  It will help you remember what it was like to be a kid and how uncaring your parents sounded when they harped on you about things like grades and sports.  How you simply wanted somebody to see you, understand you, listen to you and love you.  Anybody.

Even a boy like Luke.

15 responses to “The Ultimate Wake-Up Call to Parents: Want to Go Private?

  1. Jodie, Read this blog and now I want to read the book. Thanks for the share. My play will debut in October 2012 in Madelia, MN at the clubhouse. More to come eventually, but for now immersed in my freelance interpretation life. Seems you are doing well with the writing. Hats off to you!
    Joeleen Krier

    • You absolutely need to read it! It’s amazing in its honesty. Which is what makes it hard to read at times.

      I am so excited for you and your play! You HAVE to keep me informed. Dear Hubby and I will definitely pop over and see it. And you. I miss you so much and hope all is going well.


  2. Thanks, Cat! My 5-year-old doesn’t need to be concerned with this, by my teenage nieces are another matter. I forwarded your emailed blog to my sister. 🙂

    • Thank you for spreading the word. It is such an important message for parents and kids to hear, read and discuss. Sometimes I think it is too easy to “know” our kids would never do something like that. We don’t realize how easy it is to push our kids into situations they truly do know better than to engage in. By logic and teen emotions are two vastly different things.

      I hope your sister finds value in the book and that it can open an honest conversation between parent and children.

  3. Books like this can help make a difference in someone’s life. Thanks for the review and the heads up. I don’t have teens yet, but I know someday I will get there and I’ll have to do all I can to protect them and help keep them safe.

    You are an awesome mom. ❤

    • Thanks, Cherie. I try, though I know I make mistakes every day with my kids.

      Maybe by the time your kids are (here and) at the teen stage, things will swing back from the age of blame that we now find ourselves in to parenting that is a bit more deliberate.

      Books like this should surely pave the way.

  4. Thank you for the review of this book. My children are still a bit young for this. However, I have some pull with the librarian at our school and teach teenagers. Maybe this is something I can get in the hands of many others who I consider “my kids” – review much appreciated.

    • You’re very welcome, my dear. I think there is so much value in this book.

      Thank you for caring enough to pass it along. If we can only help one child, right?

  5. Oh Cat, I so applaud you for taking something that is hard for you and sharing it with your daughter. That takes a lot of courage, and I know your daughter will benefit from your bravery.

    • Thanks, Michelle.

      It makes my stomach hurt to know she’ll be reading some parts, but those parts are exactly why she needs to read the book. They are why all teens and their parents need to read it.

  6. I agree completely – this kind of book is hard to read, but it’s so important that it’s there. As a teacher, I’ve taught kids touched (metaphorically and literally) by sexual predators they met online. I hope this book helps stop it happening to more kids.

    • Jemi,

      This is exactly why you are such a great teacher. You take the time to be there for the kids in your life. Topics like this are gut-wrenching to think about. Helping kids through their childhoods is nothing short of amazing.


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  8. I too grew up during the first wave of the online chat rooms in the late 1990s and I didn’t totally go on chat rooms until I was 18 ten years ago. I am sure this book is worth a read and an eye-opening one for both parents and younger kids because kids in this day and age are surrounded by all things digital and online.

    • It is an incredibly difficult book to read, but one I think every parent/child combo should. It’s a scary world out there, and Ms. Littman does a fabulous job of showing how easy it is to relax our personal safety standards when we are in the safety of our own rooms. Simply being in a place of comfort when chatting breaks down our defenses and makes us far more vulnerable. And I’m willing to be the majority of chat room conversations take place when kids are tucked away, out of their parent’s supervision.

      Terrifying is a good word to describe the truth behind this novel.

      Thanks so much for your perspective on this.

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