There’s An App For That: Castle and Teen Privacy

One of my favourite television relationships right now is that of Richard Castle and his daughter Alexis. First of all, I like seeing single dads on television. I also like that his mother lives with them and they have three generations under one roof. Castle and Alexis have an interesting, dynamic, and complicated relationship and I feel like the show explored that much more this season. I hope that’s something they continue to do, because Alexis is an awesome character.

Alexis benefits from her father’s privileges; she goes to private school, and she doesn’t appear to want for financial support, although we also see Castle laying down the line in terms of not endlessly forking out money. She’s sassy and smart and it’s easy to read her as another adult on the show, and to play her that way, except that sometimes her vulnerabilities break through and we are reminded that she’s a teen girl, going through the things that people go through at that age. We see her struggling with shoplifting friends and boyfriend stuff and backstabbing drama.

An interesting storyline came up in March where Castle realises that she’s sneaking around, and uses an app to track her cellphone. He proudly talks about this to other characters on the show and they seem kind of dubious and horrified about the idea, reminding him that it’s a pretty gross violation of privacy. When Alexis finds out, she’s understandably enraged, and the show brought up some interesting issues around teen privacy; Alexis talks about the sense of feeling violated, telling her father that he doesn’t own her, even as Castle talks to other characters about wanting to do anything to protect her. In the end, he deletes the app, saying that he realises what he did was wrong.

I liked this storyline because those apps creep me out, big time. I think they’re incredibly violating, and the ease with which parents can overstep the boundaries of autonomy really appalls me, from monitors to tell whether kids are speeding to geotracking your children. Locking phones and computers to prevent teens from utilizing them to their full extent. And doing all of these things in sneaky, hidden ways so people don’t even realise they are happening until after the fact. Who wouldn’t feel violated by that? Indeed, I feel like this is a topic that comes up a lot with privacy breaches in the news and legal adults howling about how upsetting it is, but some of those same people would turn around and do the same thing to the teens in their lives.

I haven’t raised a teenager, so I can’t speak to the experience from that end, but I have been a teenager, and I feel like the experience of rebelling against restrictions is pretty universal (though not entirely, of course). My father trusted me to make reasonably responsible decisions and he didn’t violate my privacy (that I know of), and it meant that, for the most part, I didn’t do anything particularly dangerous as a teenager. I’m sure he wouldn’t have been exactly stoked about some of the things I did, but, you know, he probably did them himself and he turned out ok, so glass houses, stones, etc.

Whereas the friends I had who were oppressively tracked and monitored by their parents tended to blow up explosively, and sometimes very dangerously, because they had no real outlet. Living in a state of constant distrust from their parents, a state where they weren’t allowed to do anything, there was the obvious allure of the forbidden and it sometimes ended very badly. Things like drinking never appealed to me because I’d been having wine with dinner from a very young age; it didn’t occur to me to sneak out because I could just shout upstairs that I was going out for a few hours, I didn’t hide relationships from my father just as he didn’t hide his from me. We were really more like roommates by the time I got to high school.

Sure, we hid things from each other, but that’s the way with almost all the human relationships I know. Some things you just don’t talk about with certain people. I’m sure he sometimes wondered where I was and what I was up to, but he wouldn’t have used an app to track me even if such a thing had existed, just as I didn’t snoop around in his personal life. He respected me as a person with autonomy who would come to him if I needed help. And he also made no bones of the fact that he was legally responsible for my actions, that wrongdoing I committed would come back on him as much as me, and that was the deciding factor in a lot of my behavioural decisions as a teen. I understood the consequences because they’d been explained. He didn’t sugarcoat things and he pointed out that, for example, being caught doing certain things might result in him being called a neglectful parent, could result in being taken from him and placed in foster care. So I have a real incentive to, you know, not do those things.

Or, at least, to be sneaky about how I did them. And I felt like many of my peers weren’t aware of the consequences of some of their actions not because they were inherently reckless or silly, but because no one had bothered to tell them. With Castle and Alexis, I feel like I get some notes of my relationship with my father, at the same time that the relationship feels kind of alien in other ways. One thing I particularly like about it is that Alexis is a sharp cookie who defies authority and isn’t afraid to tell her father when he’s being a bit of a prat; that, to me, rings particularly true.