The Dark Side of Teenager-Generated Content

I am the father of two young children and I frequently speak with them about bullying.  Schools seem to take it much for seriously than when I was in junior and senior high school.  These days, there are all kinds of acronyms, programs, guidance counselors and other resources designed to reduce or even put an end to one child (or childrens’) cruelty to another.

Back in the day (which is what middle-aged people like me use as a euphemism for when we were younger), it was a dog-eat-dog world in junior and senior high school, a caste system in which you were to assume your rightful place.  Jocks, nerds, “popular” kids, you name it.  There seemed to be a category for everything.  And you had to conform, or else.

And there were the weak.  The kids who got picked on incessantly, and often times, got beat up.  That was bad, humiliating and worse yet, that reputation followed kids around high school.  “Hey, Danny got his ass kicked the other day by Chris.  You wouldn’t believe it!”  Being a “wimp” was a moniker that followed kids around like a dark shadow that they could not outrun.

What sparked my thinking on this was a disturbing Washington Post article, “When school fights land on YouTube.”  The premise of the article is that one poor kid was on the losing end of a fight, but this one-sided brawl was captured on a cell phone, uploaded to YouTube and garnered the wrong sort of attention:

Two boys are fighting in a Calvert County middle school. A crowd of students laugh and jeer until a teacher arrives to break it up. Later discipline is meted out.

But the fight is not nearly over.

A video goes up on YouTube — 32 seconds of personal humiliation for the boy who is taking most of the punches. He has often been bullied in middle school, according to his family, and now is shown being hit in the head and side and placed in a headlock.

There is no apparent serious injury, and the clip is posted as “Weak People Fighting.” It is uploaded onto Facebook, tweeted, shared and commented on.

Embarrassing or humiliating incidents caught on YouTube are nothing new (ask Giselle Brady, Tom Brady’s wife), but this sort of torment takes humiliation to a different level.  One’s supposed weakness/”wimpiness” is captured, recorded and spreads virally in the child’s community – that in which he has to live, go to school and just survive.

The article goes on to state:

The episode Feb. 8 left 14-year-old Darin King feeling too taunted to continue at Windy Hill Middle School in Owings, his family said. For now, he is being home-schooled. “This took it to a whole new level,” said Vicki King. “This was for the world to see.”

I wish I had an answer for this, some strong condemnation coupled with a call to action to keep this thing from happening.  I don’t and I don’t hold YouTube responsible either. There will be fights for sure, but the humiliation should not go viral.  When YouTube was contacted (by the Washington Post, no less), they pulled down the video.  But the damage was done.  It was shared on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Read the article, but the usual cast of characters (school officials, think tank people, privacy “experts”) were interviewed, but the bottom line is this:  it’s not right, it takes cruelty and humiliation to a new level at the time at which kids are forming their own sense of self – and having it severely damaged in the process.  It is so, so sad.

When I was a kid, I was in a couple of fights and ended up on the losing end.  But as I watch what happens now when kids film just about anything on their phones, combined with a a teenager’s lack of judgment, I have altered my stance on fighting.

I may get flamed for this, but I have repeatedly told my son, “Don’t ever start a fight, but if you are in one, finish it.”  This may encourage violence; it may be Neanderthal “guy speak”; it definitely runs counter to all of the counsel that the school provides.  But I would rather he go down fighting than have to be faced with an “Internet is forever” clip of being humiliated – that will follow him throughout his time in school.

Primitive?  Probably?  Protective? Given every kid with a camera phone, you’re damn right.

Mark

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