Yesterday two teen boys in a town outside of Boston were arrested after posting what seemed like a credible rant about going to the local high school, killing the "school cop" and "front desk" people and do a "columbine all over again." A facebook "friend" saw the this conversation on facebook and notified his school counselor at the high school. The boys were promptly arrested and held on $10,000 cash bail. If they are found guilty they can face 3-20 years in prison and fines up to $50,000. Putting up a rant on facebook is SERIOUS business.
When kids at this high school were interviewed about whether they thought these guys were indeed planning a killing spree, comments like: "they were just blowing off steam" or "they were just trying to look tough on facebook" abounded. Tell that to the friends and families of the students from the high school in Ohio that were killed several weeks ago!
This story is a must share with your teens for all of you whose kids are on facebook, which I'm guessing is 99.9999% of your kids. Kids love talking "sh*t on facebook. They use facebook as a performance space. Imaginary Audience, a term coined by psychologist David Elkind refers to the sense of hyper self-consciousness that teens feel. This drives so much of teen behavior. Sometimes it makes teens conform to whatever norms are prevalent in their community; carrying the backpack everyone else is carrying, wearing the same styles everyone else is wearing, listening to the same music, etc. It also drives much of the behavior you see on facebook and cell phones. If their friends are saying outrageous things on facebook, then they will try to "out outrageous" them. The audience awaits their "performance". Thank god, this conformity is short-lived. And as teens get older, develop their own sense of personal identity and confidence this posturing and need to "be like" evaporates. But it takes awhile, and as a parent of a teen you have got to understand how powerful this need to conform and "be like" is. You can not lecture them out of it, it is part of development, just think about your own teen years. But life in this century is scarier, and conforming is not just about clothes, and facebook and cell phones are very public. Teen posturing on the field behind the school with their friends is very different when it's on a computer for thousands of people to read. It might be taken at face value. Is a threat a threat, or a joke? That is the million dollar question. And given the number of school shootings, suicides, and bullying over the last few years, it's no joke!
Here is the conversation you NEED to have with your teen. First tell them about this story, and the consequences for these two boys, just "letting off steam" on facebook. " I get kids use facebook to be outrageous, but they often forget that once something goes on that page it is in the public domain, and even if you were only "fooling around" someone else might not read it that way. If you see something on facebook that crosses a line, I hope you will tell someone.You can do it anonymously if you want. But any threat could be a real one, and knowing that you could have done something and didn't is a lot of guilt you would live with. Posting something just cause it sound good without thinking it through can get you in alot of trouble. Just ask these boys who are facing 20 years in prison. Here are some guidelines I think will help you in the thinking through process."
Here are my four golden rules for using facebook. Go over them with your teens, and post them near your computer as reminders. Tell your teen they are as important as the rules you have to learn before you can get your learner's permit.
Can this post be misinterpreted by anyone?
Does this post intentionally hurt someone's feelings?
Does this post give out too much personal information?
Can any of the photos or videos posted come back and bite me in the a**?