As a parent of teens, both male and female, I usually try to avoid the heartbreaking stories that have been hitting the news lately regarding teens getting raped by other teens. The world is dangerous enough without having to be careful about one’s own peers. It makes me ache with grief knowing that dangers are so present at events such as high school parties that are meant to be fun.
It became important for me to write about the recent cases with a focus on the tragic story of Audrie Pott. The 15-year-old Saratoga High School student killed herself days after being sexually assaulted at a party by three of her peers. What made it worse for her was the humiliation that followed as images of the assault were posted on social media sites and shared amongst her peers via mobile devices.
Social media and the always-on connectivity of mobile devices have allowed people to maintain a state of constant communication. News travels faster today than ever before. Local and personal events are moving just as quickly.
Teens have, for the last several decades, been a part of a battleground age. It isn’t that teens are worse people today than they were before. The activities available to them as well as the sentiment of this generation are simply different. Teens sixty years ago had a higher likelihood of being racist and participating and the types of negative activities that were acceptable in those days, for example.
There is, of course, the struggle that’s associated with raising children as Christians. It isn’t as acceptable today as it was two decades ago. There was more of a focus on faith within families, school events, and extracurricular activities than today. That point is another post altogether. Here, we’re going to focus on the social media and mobile device aspects of parenting.
Nobody knows for sure if Audrie Pott would have killed herself had her sexual assault not been broadcast to her peers, but few would argue against the notion that it clearly antagonized her reaction. Parents must be mindful of their childrens’ actions on social media. To do this, they must be watching. The same holds true for mobile devices. Children share texts and pictures with each other regularly. Too much emphasis is put on privacy in this regard.
It’s up to parents to decide how much privacy they’re willing to give to their children, but when it comes to communication that can affect others, parents should take a measure of responsibility for holding their children accountable. For parents to sit back and allow their children to share images of a girl being sexually assaulted is despicable. It’s irresponsible and the parents of those children that participated in the shaming of this girl should be punished.
There is something that can be said about the empowerment that is inherent in today’s digitally connected world, but parents today are faced with double duty as a result. Because the digital age is in its early stages and is ever changing, parents must both learn about it all themselves and determine how to handle it with their children. Today’s children will be better equipped as they will have been teens during the digital age, but this in-between generation that is raising the teens of today have no precedent to go by. We must be ever diligent, constantly learning, and willing to make adjustments as both the technologies and our children grow.
The biggest problem with social media and teens is that it’s a public show of bad activity. The Steubenville rape case showed just how public it can all be while a tragic event unfolds. In some cases, the posts that teens put on social media are worn like a badge of honor. They do crazy things to get attention from their peers. That has always been the case, but social media gives the proof. It has given rise to phrases like “pics or it didn’t happen” which means that any story told by someone needs to be verifiable with visual evidence.
This is where social media encourages sin. It can be a force for good, but it can also be a venue to promote bad. Parents must teach their children to differentiate between the two and avoid the latter at all costs.