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past week offered just such an opportunity, a conversation with the teenager initiated by the news that Harvard had rescinded offers to at least ten potential new students for the crime of sharing memes that the Admissions Committee deemed too offensive.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.