I was literally sick to my stomach reading the details of testimony in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that ended in a delinquent on all charges verdict yesterday. As a parent and a person who is involved in education, I am struck by the lose of potential any time a young person makes a bad decision. Do I think the defendants should have gotten off? Absolutely not. I do think it is a waste of potential, unknown potential, when a young person has to go to jail, or in this case juvenile detention.
There are some parenting lessons to be learned, though, for those of you out there who are parents of teenagers, tweens or even college-aged children. Bare with me as I tell you that I truly want to know where the parents were during this party. Where were the young girl’s parents when she decided to cross from West Virginia to Ohio to attend a party. Where were the parents who owned the homes that the partying took place in. Where were the parents of the football players as their sons drank at house after house.
Children, whether tweens, teens or college kids, still have not come to realize that the internet is there for everyone to see. Once you put something out on the internet, it is basically public domain. You can, although I see few teens that do it, protect your tweets and have your Facebook profile so not everyone can see it. The problem is just one subpoena and all that information is going to be turned over to a court.
On top of that, things from the internet never go away. You may think that people don’t see the tweet you made about that person you don’t like in school. It is possible that the entire incident has faded from most kids’ minds. Adults, on the other hand, can search the internet and find the words, find the taunting, find the, in the case of Steubenville, criminal acts. Just try searching your own name on Google and see what comes up. Sometimes it is a lot of other people with the same name but not always.
The internet is not the only place where there are records kept for what seems like forever. You may send a text message on your phone. You may only send it to your friends. You do not know who they send it to from there. You can delete your original but it can be recalled from your cell phone provider’s servers. It is never going away.
So what can parents learn? First and foremost – and having little to do with social media, the internet or cell phones – you are adults. As a parent, you are there to set an example for your children. You are there to set limits for your children. You are there to enforce societal laws, whether you believe them to be just and right or not, for your children. You are not your child’s friend. You are their parent!
Second, no teen or tween should be allowed to break the law. This goes for any number of laws. Federal laws around the internet require that users of Facebook and other sites be 13. Do not encourage your child to utilize these sites when they are not 13. Do not encourage your child to break the law. The age for legal consumption of alcohol is 21. I realize that your son or daughter can be sent to war at 18 but not legally drink alcohol until 21. That does not mean it is alright to allow underage drinking. In most states, a parent can serve his or her own child within the home setting. This is a responsible way to teach alcohol consumption without breaking the law. Letting a high school student go off to other people’s homes to drink – and knowing this is happening – is illegal. In my mind, it is endangering the welfare of that child, whether 10 or 18.
Third, pay attention to what your teen or tween or college kid does. Encourage dialogue about friends, internet usage, school, after school activities. Do not take for granted that your child understands right from wrong as sometimes children do not. Make sure to point out the right and the wrong. My children, all six of them, shared a family computer which was in the living room – where as a parent I could walk over and look over whoever’s shoulder was using it at any time – until college. They were taught proper usage so that I knew they were comfortable online when they went to college. They knew not to post photos of wrongdoings . I admit I know my children drank prior to age 21 but I would have been hard pressed to find evidence of it.
Parents need to realize that they are parents. They are responsible for their children’s education about what is right and what is wrong. They need to keep parenting, even as a child becomes a tween, grows into a teen, starts life as a college student. Parents need to realize that by being a parent you are protecting the potential within your child.