Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Scary Story

If any of you have been to one of my seminars you will have heard me get down on my (metaphorical) knees( I would actually go down on them if I didn't have bad knees) begging parents not to buy their kids SMARTPHONES. It fits into the too much too soon category. This should be a rite of passage gift at high school graduation for a job well done. There is absolutely nothing on that phone that a teen needs. They do not NEED to have unlimited access to the Internet 24 hours a day. They do not NEED to download their favorite TV show or movies to watch when they want to avoid homework, chores, cleaning their room, or boredom. They do not NEED to have access to their facebook accounts while they are in school, giving them opportunity to be even more distracted by wondering what next to post on their wall that will provoke and titillate their 1000 friends.

To this last point I want to share a story. Though it makes me terribly unhappy, it seems many high school students sport the latest IPHONE or comparable smartphone. It has become derigueur apparently for the well-connected teen. A high school student was sitting in a class in which the teacher was apparently new and a bit green, and often lost control of her class. Because of this, the inmates were running the prison, if you know what I mean. It was a little like the movie One flew over the Cookoo's nest.  I know that feeling having worked in a High School for 14 years. Running many groups with teens I often found myself being that teacher on Ferris Beuller, yelling "class!, class!" to no avail. There is no worse feeling. One of the students in this class, decided to secretly tape using an IPHONE, this teacher's inability to get her students to pay attention. The video was "shared" with other students. From there it appeared on facebook where it became available basically to the entire high school. You can imagine the humiliation this teacher must have felt. Committing to the teaching profession is not an easy decision these days with lowish pay and little job security. Young people who go into teaching do it for the love of the profession and the desire to do good. How upsetting for this teacher to be so betrayed and disrespected by her students.

Having said that, I think I understand the motivation of this student. First of all, availability and temptation. Clearly there had been discussion amongst the students about this teacher. In the old days they would have just talked behind her back, maybe told their parents, and maybe the parents would have voiced their concern with the principal who then might have voiced those concerns to the teacher,  and maybe provided the teacher with more supervision, and mentoring. Problem addressed, check! Now that kids have phones in the classroom, that have video cameras on them, it is way more fun to actually have a permanent record of this teachers performance.  It becomes more about the video piece than about the teacher. It is fun, it feels powerful, other kids will think its funny and outrageous that this teacher didn't "catch" this student filming her. It is an exaggerated version of the "class clown.  Needless to say, if the IPHONE was not in this student's possession this whole incident would never have happened. This is not a story about a bad group of kids, it is a story about teenagers, who in general lack impulse control, get caught up in the possibility of "awesomeness" and who are given too much technology without the training and understanding of the "awesome" responsibility that goes with us. That is on us, the adults.
So when the video got posted on facebook and was seen by the school community, it was brought to the attention of the principal. It turns out that in many states, it is against the law to video or tape someone without their permission. I know you have heard this a zillion times: "this call may be recorded for training purposes." This law is why they let you know that. Because of the facebook posting, the authorities were able to deduce the origin of the video. We're talking police here now. This fun prank has now become a criminal offense!!!! Who knew???? The student who took the video and the student who posted the video were both read their rights and arrested!!! This is serious stuff, that of course the kids are completely unaware of. To them, it was just a fun prank.

 Kids do stupid things without thinking. As adults we shouldn't set them up to screw up by giving them things that they are not yet ready to handle, ie technology, empty houses ready for a party, alcohol available at home, no limits around computer and cellphone use, etc etc. We have to get that our teen's decision making capacity is not at its best...yet. It is not about trust, but about temptation.

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