One Sunday, the text from Ephesians contained, “… let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. [ …] Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Maybe because the baby behind me was screaming and I couldn’t hear well, my mind wandered from Fr. Mark’s sermon to a day just before the end of the last school year when someone was making room for the Devil.
In my mind’s eye I see two tall, African-American, beautiful teenage kids: the girl, Marissa*, is at my desk, her finger flicking at her phone through a stream of personally insulting Twitter posts. This is why she is in my office, having been ejected from her class when she posted up on the author of the tweets – another girl in her class.
Because her mouth is running almost as fast as her flicking finger, the young man entering my office hears every word. Both are well-known to me, they’re my babies, the kids who become frequent fliers through the Discipline Office, though Steven far less frequently this year. What he says now proves the strides he’s made, “You know what that right there is, Miss?” Marissa turns and shoots him a look, “That’s the Devil right there, he’s always creeping around, waiting to cause trouble between people and YOU” here he points a dramatic finger at Marissa, “YOU let him in!”
I don’t believe (much) in unseen demons flying around, waiting to strike the hapless Twitter user but on this occasion, I have to agree with Steven and even Marissa grins a bit sheepishly at her own culpability. No actual violence occurred in the classroom and the teacher hasn’t sent a referral, so I park her in my office and let Steven run with it since he would give Marissa much more grief than the Principals are allowed to; I save them time and a fellow teen teaches Marissa that no one can piss her off without her permission. It’s a win-win situation, all around.
Social media may not be an actual demon, neither one of the “lesser demons and imps” nor “… the great Satan hisself…” , but it caused me more work during the last two years than any other single thing. Based solely on my anecdotal evidence gained working in the Discipline Office of a 5-A high school, I will bet you dollars to donuts the use of social media caused 98% of the fights, either verbal and/or physical between girls and about 50% of the boy fights on the campus last year. Note I said the use of social media, because while I might hate the havoc it wreaks, without our fingers on the keys, social media itself is inert.
Social media takes the usual, vicious teenage gossip and broadcasts it to the entire world. Thinking of all my teenage crushes, foibles, horrible outfits, questionable hairstyles, acne, and general idiocy broadcast by my enemies to the entire wired world to live there forever fills me with a horror generally reserved for trying on swimsuits. It’s no use telling a teenager it will all blow over; remember your pimply, teenage self, who could be crushed by a single word or frown from the school bully? Now magnify that by about eight bazillion and you have an idea of what our teens today are facing, so many of them without a parent teaching them “…Let no evil talk come out of your mouths… (or fingertips)” or having a helpful Steven appear at just the right moment to point out their own culpability in a Twitter-feud.
And parents…. you’ve got to weigh in here. Nothing replaces a parent’s awareness of what their kids are Tweeting, or snap-chatting, or whatevering on-line, somehow without being creepy, over-involved helicopters about it. I’m not sure what the formula is, but I can tell you what it is not: it is not dumping it in the school’s lap come Monday morning when your teenager has been waging a Twitter-fight all weekend; it is not holding the school responsible when your child punches the other social media combatant, so please stop assuaging your conscious by blaming the school when you fail to shut down the fight before it happens with, I don’t know, maybe some parenting? The first time I took such a call, my Personal Cognitive Dissonance Meter (PCDM) blew several gaskets and had to be sent out for repair; it became so commonplace, I began to question my own sanity and parenting. In loco parentis means In Place of Parent, yes, but applies only to school and school-sponsored events. They’re yours on the weekend, folks, and it keeps your child safer when you establish rules when you hand them those Smart Phones, rules that are reviewed and revised as your child grows.
I’ve tried many times (always unsuccessfully) to explain to both parents and students that if another student is posting crap to someone else’s page-of-any-sort, they are in violation of the agreement they didn’t read when they set up the account, and can be shut down. They don’t want to hear this, they want the school to handle it, and in the interests of a safe learning environment, schools do. I just can’t help thinking how much more uninterrupted instructional time would result if parents established clear rules and consequences for using (and abusing) social media before the first Snap-chat set-to.
Which is a long way round to saying this school year, Parents, pay attention to what’s going on with your kid’s social media life, somehow, without being overbearing. Listen to your child talk, and who he or she is complaining about. Try hard not to be blind to your own child’s guilt when necessary. Teach your children that what happens on social media, stays on social media. Forever. I recall my Developmental Psychology professor telling us, “Your job as parents is to prepare your children for life…. without you in it,” and this along with teaching something along the lines of “…lets no evil talk come out of your mouths….” will go a long way to helping your student navigate the coming school year, and all those to follow.
*I never use the real names of Students.