Let me paint you a picture, because there is no evidence of this event:
As I guffawed heartily at her remark my merriment evaporated, immediately replaced by mortified embarrassment. I was an awkward, chubby, coke-bottle glassed 12 year old with red slushee spraying out my nose and mouth, all over the beautiful white dress of the “popular girl” in our class. She was one of those girls who was popular for being truly sweet-natured and an all around good person; while I, I was the resident shy, bookworm who frequently hid in my teacher’s room during lunch to avoid bullies.
I stared at her in horror and misery as I realized that we were surrounded by a cafeteria line full of laughing, cruel teens and that she would have to wear my red snot stained clothing for several hours yet. Shame and embarrassment followed us both for several days as the story spread and laughter accompanied us down the school halls. But, as the memory faded so did the teasing and embarrassment.
I shudder at the thought of experiencing this same event as a teenager today.
Today, there would immediately be several pics and perhaps a video, instantly uploaded and shared to the full extent of each witness’s social network. Today, photographic evidence would eternally follow our lives. This event, while relatively minor, was still an embarrassment and ultimately a learning experience (note to self: avoid fully belly laughs when your mouth is full) that passed in relative privacy. The incident was quickly forgotten and our lives moved forward.
Now though, teenagers and young adults are faced with challenges in filtering and self-restraint that many adults still struggle to control. The worst part is that they are incapable of truly understanding what long-term ramifications can result from the wrong item uploaded and shared. These incidents are now public and permanent.
Failure is an inherent part of life, growth and the learning process.
My example above is innocent, an uploaded pic would do little to damage my ability to attend my college of choice, alienate a relationship or diminish my chances at career advancement. I have done some very, very stupid things as a teenager. No, I’m not going to share them with you. They were failures that passed in relative privacy and I’m lucky enough that they will stay largely buried, forever enshrined in my head but no where else.
Today we are all living far more public lives. The advancement in digital media makes the creation and distribution of almost anything near instantaneous. How often have we hit that status update, shared that pic or sent that email and immediately regretted it? Now add in the impulsiveness of a 15 year old! Thoughtless pics, viral through a social network, can provide deeper fodder for bullies and the permanence of it all can have consequences impossible for the average teenager to even comprehend.
I’m saddened that my children will now have to learn to self-control and filtering at a much earlier age. Kids, by their very nature, need to make social blunders, mistakes and yes, fail, in order to figure out what kind of person they want to be. The fact that they can no longer do so privately robs them of something crucial. I wonder if our kids today will become 100% public, losing not only their own ability to filter, but also caring about others filters? Or will they retreat into private shells, housed by digital walls? How do I, as a parent, guide them?
Even now I consider the family videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’ve got some great little clips of my son, dancing horribly. I even titled it, Blackmail Material For His First Girlfriend. I uploaded it so my family could stay in touch with the small moments that connect you to each other. At 5, he loves showing it to people and watching himself online. But I stop to think, how would I feel about a similar video of me? Do I teach him to have a thick skin and broadcast a public persona or do I restrict the viewing? He’s a little young to decide for himself if he’d like to have a public presence online. For the time being, I’ve changed the privacy settings. I’ll let him decide for himself when he’s a little older.
But, back to my point: today our youth can make some very profound missteps. Perhaps they have a wild moment, as many do, and it’s forever documented. For some of us, those wilder times were defining moments in our lives and today we are enriched and a better person for having learned some very hard, difficult lessons. But for us, the past is in the past. Our youth today, the past will forever be attached to them. They’re going to learn some much harder lessons at a much earlier age and for that, I am a little sad.
But, here’s a video I’m sure my son will enjoy: