Social Media and Teenage Stupidity


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As sympathetic as I try to be towards the tribulations of other parents, I have no problem admitting to a preference that  my “teachable moments” originate from consequences suffered by other people’s children.

This past week offered just such an opportunity, a conversation with the teenager initiated by the news that Harvard had rescinded offers to at least ten potential new students for the crime of sharing memes that the Admissions Committee deemed too offensive. They had been posted in a private Facebook group called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” The university cited its right to withdraw offers “if an admitted student engages or has engaged in behavior that brings into question their honesty, morality, or moral character.”

I won’t share the memes here, but if you want to find them it’s not difficult. They’re pretty bad.

They’re pretty bad but to be honest, I’ve seen worse. They’re jokes. Horribly offensive ones that aren’t particularly funny, meant to shock and push back against political correctness.  They are purposefully cringe worthy, competitions  common where people vote on which are the most “dank”. I’m sure that it never crossed any of these kid’s minds that these actions could be considered bad enough to lose the right to attend a school that only accepted 5.2 % of applicants to the class of 2021.

It’s an important lesson, online presence something that more and more employers and universities are paying attention to. Whether fair or not, opinions about a person are being formed by what they post and share on social media. I asked the teenager who she would be more willing to hire if two applicants had similar qualifications, the one that posts pictures of her dog on Instagram or the one tweeting about how wasted they got the night before?

As important as it is for teens to use a little more common sense before hitting the “send’ button,  it’s equally important for those doing the judging to use it. Teenagers can be incredibly stupid and naive. It was true when I was one, when you were one, and when my youngest gets to be that age I have no doubt that she will have me shaking my head in consternation often.  What the people at Harvard missed was that these memes were being shared precisely because they were considered offensive. This is evidence of poor judgement but also shows that they are not indicative of the true feelings of the posters.

It’s a hard balance to find, as with all aspects of raising teenagers. Accountability must be taught but they also need to be allowed to make mistakes, to learn from them. Very few of us get to be be responsible adults without first spending time as stupid kids, doing stupid things.

Things become even more problematic when stupid adults try and legislate stupid teen behavior. With the intention of fighting child pornography, a laudable idea, the US House of Representatives has voted to mandate a fifteen year mandatory minimum sentence for anybody who shares sexually explicit photos of a minor.

Besides being against the idea of mandatory sentencing in general, I’m also unable to comprehend how it never occurred to any of these brilliant lawmakers that the law as currently written doesn’t exclude minors, the very people it is intended to protect.

That means a young girl who sends a picture of her boobs to her high school boyfriend could go to jail for fifteen years. If that boyfriend asks for a picture that is solicitation, fifteen years. If one of the boyfriend’s buddies told him to ask for the picture that’s conspiracy, fifteen years in federal jail.

Teenagers need to be talked to, constantly. They need to realize the consequences of their online actions and be taught to use as much common sense as we can instill. We need to use a little sometimes too.





33 thoughts on “Social Media and Teenage Stupidity”

  1. The issue is very urgent nowadays, I agree. Teens have more freedom now than they did two decades before. Internet and thechnologies develop so much quickly and teens want to always follow them that very often they just go crazy. We, parents, should just spend much time with kids, talk to them a lot and then they won’t have unnecessary thoughts in their minds. I guess such their behavior is the sign that they are alone, they miss communication and attention, and they just don’t know how to express this desire. Anyway, we, parets, are to blame. Many thank you for the topic.

    1. I’m hopeful that the next group of kids, having known it all their lives, will have an easier time. There is probably something else yet to be developed that will drive us crazy instead though

  2. I can’t imagine being a teenager in today’s social media world! The antics me and my crew used to pull back when we were stupid teenagers would probably have me wearing a federal ID number in Leavenworth!

  3. OMG what I got up to as a teen….😉 I would not like any of those “exploits” to surface but of course, they won’t because I was a teen in the 80’s so no social media (and very few cameras). It was deny, deny, deny and then deny some more. Nothing illegal but just stupid teen things and that’s the point isn’t it? I was a normal, stupid teenagers learning to navigate the world by being influenced by other, stupid teens. I’m a teacher now so am pretty sensible (🤔) we grow, we change and we move onto adulthood. Great post. Poor teens……(my own kids are teens and they never had it so good!)#anythinggoes

  4. My 15 year old now has Snapchat, after not being particularly interested in the social aspect of the internet until now. To say I’m hardly swinging from the trees with excitement is an understatement. I’m glad he’s fairly sensible, but like you said – teens do stupid things, its pretty much part of being a teen. And I think because I did a lot of very poorly-judged things as a teen, it makes me all the more aware how even the smartest of kids can be a total moron if carried away in the company of other morons… We can only guide them, and hope that their actions don’t come back to haunt them.

    1. Snapchat gave us a lot of problems a few years ago. Not because of anything she was doing, it was before all the funny filters and such and we didn’t see any reason for her to have it. It was one of just a handful of sites we told her to stay off of, which of course meant that she would just attempt to do it behind our back.

  5. I regularly thank my lucky stars that I’m not a teenager of today. I’d hate it. With social media, there is that added pressure. I dread to think what it will be like when my Little Man is of that age. #anythinggoes

    1. I’d bet that we can’t even imagine. I know Facebook was around, but who would have predicted ten years ago just how much influence social media now has on the world?

  6. Oh Jeremy this is a harsh reminder of the negative side of social media and as you say a useful marker for conversations with your daughter. Both my teens know of fellow pupils who have suffered as a result of social media exploits, the worst being the sharing of nude pictures which has effectively ruined a young man’s life. My husband is also very quick to remind our eldest that social media checks are par for the course now even for those seeking work experience. They can never be reminded too often of the risks. Great post. #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. its so hard to reinforce how important these things are for them to consider. I can completely understand the tendency to not understand why some of this stuff is a “big deal”, but it really is

  7. So well written (as usual), and so true. My parents allowed me to make my own mistakes as a teen and for that I am so thankful and try to use that medium with my teens too. It did make me laught though when you ask your daughter who she would employ because you examples were exactly the same for us recently – we own an apartment that we rent out and the choice of two boiled down to their facebook pages – one wrote about all her nights out and the other had a ton of photo’s of her dog and god-son, no guesses as to who we went for! 😉 #tweensteensbeyond

  8. i think teenagers and older people need to understand not everyone uses social media, I know shock horror and that a lot of people that do the hiring and firing may have little concept of how social media is part of most peoples daily lives and that sometimes a share does not mean that the person posting the article agrees with it or even holds an opinion on the content, however I am of the generation of life before social media and was brought up to be held responsible for anything I said or wrote and have carried that attitude into the world of social media, something that the younger generation need to learn #tweensteensbeyond

    1. Thats a great point. Older people may have a harder time looking at some of these postings in context. In the end though, you are right, only one are responsible for what has your name attached

  9. I had no idea that academic institutions did that. I have learned something today. This does bring the whole social media issue into sharp focus, as if it wasn’t sharp enough already! Thanks so much for sharing with us at #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. I wasn’t are of colleges until that story broke, but I think that it is becoming very common for employers to scan potential employees social media accounts.

  10. Scary but necessary reading Jeremy and we appreciate you having shared it here with us at #tweensteensbeyond. Act in haste, repent at leisure springs to mind here and I am digesting all that you have said. You hear so many stories such as this – awful stories – where little or no regard has been given to the lasting consequences. One can certainly see the many problems this can lead to.

  11. Yes it’s a hard balance and maybe one could say it’s Big Brother syndrome and we should be free to live our lives how we want. However, I’m appalled at those memes and it’s the very fact the culprits shared them so easily and thoughtlessly that is one of the main concerns. I can honestly say that neither I, my siblings or indeed half the people I grew up with would ever have shared such filth had social media existed. Cultural values, family values, they play a huge part. There are people on here who’ve said they got up to all sorts as teens. Not everyone does. #tweensteensbeyond

  12. I can see both sides of this. On one hand, I agree that Harvard probably over reacted. On the other hand, I can see why they would choose to select students that didn’t think posting distasteful things in a group with their actual name in the title was a good idea. I get that teens can do stupid things, but come on, Harvard is going to be checking groups like this!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes 🙂

    1. It was certainly their prerogative to do so. Its a good lesson to other kids that these things have consequences and they need to think about what they are doing. The fact that so many their age have a hard time thinking is no excuse

  13. I personally think the law goes too far. They go too far because of all the loopholes and the universities are taking certain things way too seriously. However, there has to be some sort of consequence for the kids’ actions. I’m not sure what that is though. Teenagers do do stupid things and the point of making those mistakes is to learn from them. I agree with you that there is a fine line and its a bit of a confusing one. For the kids and for us parents. I am constantly talking to my boys about online safety and being careful what they say online. At the same time I want them to be able to express themselves. Such a fine line though. Thanks for sharing this Jeremy. You’ve given me something to think about with this issue. #anythinggoes

    1. I try and tell ours not to post anything that she wouldn’t want people to see while she was standing in front of them. If you think you’d be embarrassed, don’t hit that button. Not sure how much good it does though

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