What Judd Apatow's kid can teach us about the Twitter generation

By Sarah Lacy , written on December 7, 2012

From The News Desk

My day has become a carefully orchestrated symphony: waking up around 6 am, picking up my phone, typing out emails and Yams as I walk into the kitchen and groggily make green tea. I drink an alarming amount of green tea.

I then Yam and email my way into the living room where I open my computer and work straight until a phone call or meeting. Once said phone call or meeting is done, I'm back editing posts, Yamming, or emailing as I walk to my next meeting, to the kitchen for lunch, to hug the kid, to the bathroom, all on the way back to the computer to write more.

By about 6:30 pm I close the computer and play with my son until bedtime. As he drifts to sleep in my arms, I start emailing again with my free hand. I put him in his crib and climb into bed with my laptop where I work for a few more hours.

In other words, I don't have a lot of time when I'm not talking, interviewing, planning, editing, or typing. Last night I went to a dinner down in Atherton and it was probably the first time I just sat in a car and listened to NPR in, I don't know... a year?

It didn't turn into much of an escape from the tech world for long.

Judd Apatow was on "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," and Apatow shared an interesting story about his 15-year-old daughter Maude's use of Twitter.

I was expecting the usual reactionary stuff from people outside the tech world about how their kids use the Web. You know: The concerns about privacy, pedophiles, cyber-bullying, exposure to too much adult content, and the like. Particularly, since this is a celebrity. Celebrities doggedly control their image even when they're adults. The control over what your teenager Tweets seems like it would be overpowering. This was definitely the direction that Gross assumed the conversation would take as well.

But no. Apatow said that in the beginning he and his wife looked at what Maude was Tweeting and how people were replying to her. They gave her a few tips like: Block creepy people and don't say judgmental things about people, because it'll make you look a certain way. And then they just kind of let her get on with it.

What Apatow observed about her life on Twitter was remarkable. She grew up a lot. She found her voice. She matured. As he put it:

Very quickly she learned how to be polite. She learned how to express herself in a way that was not cruel and judgmental of other people. ... [I]t's more about her and about our life, and people really respond to it in a big way. What's interesting now is we're all nervous about the kids being on the Internet. They see everything, so this idea that you're going to prevent kids from seeing things — yeah, good luck with that. All you can do is raise a kid who will talk to you if they see something weird.
Basically Judd Apatow accepted what most parents should probably accept: Any control over privacy or what your kid consumes is at best illusory.

He went on to talk about how her life growing up on social media had also made her considerably more resilient when it comes to professional criticism and haters. Apatow's daughters are in his films, and he says when he sees one critical comment or review he's crushed. This, from the adult man who's been wildly, wildly successful. Meanwhile, Maude can look at 100 comments, and if 80 are positive, she's thrilled. She shrugs of haters as an inevitable part of her everyday life in a way that people of our generation do not. He's been stunned -- and a little envious -- watching it.

Now Maude may be an exceptionally mature 15-year-old. And we have all seen examples of when cyber-bullying and hate can't be brushed off. But it was an interesting argument for how letting your kids engage with the world in a protected way can prepare them for the world.

A few years ago when I started to be more public and started getting a lot of hate, I noticed a similar effect it had on me. The deeply personal way that a one-off comment from someone I'd never met hurt me, made me rethink how I talk about celebrities, politicians, what another girl at the coffee shop is wearing, etc. It became pronounced to me that no matter how horrible a movie was, good people probably worked really hard on it. And they probably didn't need to know that I hated it. I greatly curbed how I spoke about everything on social media. Now, I reserve my derision for things that I think are actually harmful. But if I simply don't love something, I usually don't share that. Because I know there's always a person on the other end, and I know how it feels to be that person.

It's like how parenting books advise you to bite your kid back if they bite you -- so they can see what it feels like.

There are awful things about how Twitter has made us all into mini-celebrities. The non-stop emo self portraits. The carefully constructed Facebook pages of who we like to think we are. The over-sharing of "Does anyone really care?" details. The lack of being able to turn the persona off and just be real.

But if social media gives us more empathy and more resilience, it may not be all bad. Go here to listen to the whole interview.