Internet Fail

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:

    • John Sandoval
    • January 24th, 2012

    Very true. Had cameras been on me through middle and high school I’d be living in a van down by the river…

    Seriously though, a valid point and very well written. I think there’s so many facets of our children’s lives that will be completely and utterly different from ours thanks to networked technologies. I tell people this story all the time: Back in the early ’90s when I was stationed in Germany, I would leave the base in my car with nothing but a map, a full tank of gas, and maybe 100 DM in my pocket. Didn’t tell anyone where I was going, when I’d be back, and the only way I’d get back is if I could read a map in German and navigate. Fast forward 20 years, I won’t leave the house without my phone with built-in GPS. I can’t remember the last time I unfolded a map. My son will likely never experience maps, or traveling without communication, or use a pencil to take up the slack on a cassette tape. Twenty years doesn’t seem that long ago…makes you wonder what the next twenty will bring.

    • Thank you! It’s amazing how much technology has changed and grown. On many levels it’s all really great & awesome but brings with it a different set of parenting challenges.

  1. I think we all had horrible moments like that as a young teen. Honestly I don’t know if I could handle that kind visibility of my awkward teenage moments. I don’t think any child should have to worry about anything but being a kid.

    Last year, I found out the my youngest has been teased and tormented by the same students for more than 3 years. She is now 13, so this started in elementary school. I think there is a generation of bullies being raised, look at some of the things posted as humor by adults, those are the same people raising kids and teaching values.

    • I do see how, even adults, cyber bully. I also think about if there’s a picture of something – it’s harder for the bully to lose interest and move on. There are always constant reminders and instant gratification.

    • Anonymous
    • January 24th, 2012

    Scary, isn’t it?

  2. I kept a public online journal from age fourteen to… twenty-five-ish. It’s all still available and there’s a lot in there that I’m not proud of and would rather not ever be reminded of. But I’m glad I did it. Writing about my many failures was helpful to me, and it led me to make a lot of internet friends who helped me cope. I guess my answer to the problems you brought up was to just go as public as possible, with the theory being that people couldn’t use it to humiliate me if I was the one putting it out there and was open and honest about it.

    That’s worked out fairly well for me so far, but it’s not for everybody. My hope is that eventually, there will just be so much of that sort of material out there that any one instance won’t be particularly interesting, and trying to use it against someone will just result in a big “so what?”

    • And some kids have thicker skin than others, and some kids do stupider stuff than others. I think of some of the things that happened during high school and college parties and know that if there had been pics posted to the web, well some of my friend would never have landed the jobs they have now. Are they doing that same stuff now? Nope, but many employers don’t want to see any association with questionable content – no matter how far back or how far we’ve grown.

      That being said, clearly I’m a bit public. I also find writing cathartic and cherish the online relationships I’ve cultivated. Actually, it’s the topic of my next post.

    • Simon
    • January 24th, 2012

    You’re right, it is tougher to grow up now. Children need to share bad experience with their parents and close family, and receive support. Plenty of hugs.

    • It’s tougher and it isn’t. I just think it’s a different set of circumstances that many parents haven’t had to face yet. I’ve watched my cousin’s daughter (who is almost 15 and much older than my kids) and had a preview of what’s to come.

    • Anonymous
    • January 24th, 2012

    I don’t know. Whenever we use a WAN there is always a chance of being hacked. My theory as to questionable postings would be don’t post if you are in question about the possible outcomes in the future. It’s very easy for people to get around privacy settings.

    Here’s an example: A friend of mine called me 2 nights ago. Her daughter forgot her password to get into windows on her laptop. within 5 minutes I worked around it over the phone and showed her how to get in.

    Kids are growing smarter at younger ages these dasy, and if a ‘bully’ wants to hurt someone, they will find a way.

    Nothing online is bullet proof. Use email to update family. It’s much safer than social networking.

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