Take a random text from Mom, add the creativity of a jobless Smith graduate, and what you get is one highly entertaining (and lucrative) Web site.
Whenparentstext.com is the brainchild of Lauren Kaelin ’10 and Sophia Fraioli, a 2010 graduate of the University of Vermont. The Web site, which has drawn considerable attention, showcases humorous and random text message exchanges between parents and their bemused children. According to Kaelin, whenparentstext.com—with its tagline “small keypad, old hands”—attempts to capture the wide range of “trials and errors that come when a parent handles a cell phone.”
A revamped version of the site launched on April 5.
But whenparentstext.com is not simply a joke at parental expense. The Web site is evolving from poking fun at some parents’ technological illiteracy to highlighting the hilarity—and at times utter hopelessness—of parent-child communication.
“In the beginning the Web site was about the errors of technology—T-9 word entry, abbreviations and ‘liking’ things on Facebook,” Kaelin explains. “But more and more, the Web site has become less about technology and more about relationships and about (sometimes failed) attempts to communicate.”
The project emerged out of amusement and a bit of desperation after Kaelin’s graduation from Smith. “I realized I was left with no immediate job prospects and looming student loans,” she remembers. “One night, I showed my childhood best friend, Sophia, a text from my Mom (now titled ‘Tacos for Dinner’ on the site). And we decided there should be a Web site dedicated to these text exchanges.”
Little did the women know that in a matter of months whenparentstext.com would receive millions of hits, start a Facebook frenzy, and attract serious attention from publishers and media groups.
For Kaelin and Fraioli, their joint enterprise is a quirky intersection of friends, family and business. “Sophia and I are best friends-turned-business partners. We both had to move back home after graduation and were both struggling with redefining our relationships with our parents—as roommates and as adults. Now, we jokingly call each other BPs and have business meetings in my living room.”
The next big step for Kaelin and Fraioli is the compilation of a book that will follow the eccentricities of the two founders’ families and the origin of the Web site, featuring never-before-seen texts and anecdotes. “We’ve been saving gems for months now, so the book will end up being about 50 percent new material,” Kaelin reveals.
The popularity of the Web site, which receives nearly 10 million hits and views a month, did not escape the notice of publishers. A bidding war in New York City ended with Kaelin and Fraioli signing on with Workman Publishers, a small, privately owned company. The book is due for publication this fall.
The premise of whenparentstext.com has proven versatile. In addition to their book, Kaelin and Fraioli are exploring the possibility of a TV series focusing on life after college and the complexities of the “modern” family. “It’s in the very early stages, but there has been some interest from some amazing people,” says Kaelin.
The wild initial success and rising popularity of the Web site still comes as a shock for Kaelin, so fresh from graduation that she still identifies as a Smithie, loyal to Morrow House.
“Did I ever expect this?” she muses. “No. It’s crazy, a lot of fun, and truthfully, sometimes really overwhelming. I never thought it’d be doing this, and I pinch myself every day.”
Kaelin is dedicated to the constant improvement of her Web site and the concept behind it. The revamped site retains the features of the original, launched last year, such as allowing visitors to submit texting exchanges with their parents, view the daily uploads, and search the archived posts. But it has an improved format and contains new material as well.
“The goal was to perfect the site and make it as user-friendly as possible,” Kaelin explains. “The biggest addition is the picture messages, which we’ve been saving from the beginning, and which are absolutely hilarious.”