Family Magazine

Words Matter-Words Hurt

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
This has been a hard few months for parents of teens. Too many stories recently that illustrate the power of the written word when it is combined with a teen's impulsivity, need for attention, excessive need to belong, and the perceived freedom that teens feel about posting the outrageous on social media without consequence. This can be a lethal, and unfortunately I am using that word literally, combination. Ask Michelle Carter who was just convicted of involuntary manslaughter when at age 17,  texted her depressed and suicidal  "boyfriend" to  repeatedly kill himself. He did.
Ask the 10  newly accepted Harvard Freshman who are no longer welcome at Harvard, because they started a private Facebook page for accepted freshman titled "Harvard Memes for Horny Bourgeois Teens. The initiation to join this exclusive private group was to post "holocaust jokes, make fun of child abuse, illegal immigrants, pedophilia, Mexicans, people of middle eastern descent and other "funny" things! Add to this mix of "awful" is the recent Penn State frat brother who was left to die because his "brothers" probably didn't want to get in trouble and thought magically that the whole"we made this kid drink to excess and than he fell down the stairs" would just go away, if they didn't call for help. It's discouraging and depressing. Below is an article from a few years ago about two 7th grade girls who kept a journal of the kids they wanted to kill, cause they were mad at them.
These stories thank god are not the norm. BUT many teens do post and text and instagram and group text things that are hurtful. And, because they are not experiencing first hand the effects of these hurtful comments or photos they post, they stay immune to the hurt they can cause. Even "nice kids" post bad things. There are so many teaching moments from the stories above and the story and blog that I wrote below....use them!!! Talk to your teens over and over and over again about this. This is not a one and done conversation. Below you will find some concrete tips.
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/06/19/kill-list-found-triton-regional-middle-school-newbury/mDbMBp0w70usXx3YN0byzI/story.html
The last week of school you'd think would be home free for these two 7th grade girls. But their English teacher collected the journals they had been keeping for the term and actually read them. And in those journals the two girls had created a "kill list" of the kids they hated the most. These two girls were not going to "kill" the kids on this list, but in a cathartic moment of expressing and venting their frustration and anger at those they must have felt slighted from, they made this list, and then more surprising wrote it in the journal their teacher would be reading! There is that teen-age brain for you. Just did not think that one through.
That these girls hated other kids from their middle school is not a shocker. Middle school could be the absolute hardest years of adolescence. So many things are feeling out of control, bodies, brains, relationships, etc it's amazing anyone gets through it unscathed. OK these girls were pissed off and shared their anger. But in this day and age of Newtown, Columbine, and scores of other shootings and most recently of Charleston, you cannot vent publicly about your targeted anger. You WILL be taken seriously. And these two 7th grade girls were taken seriously, which came as a huge shock to the girls and to their families.
Because of the ease of sharing these days, and I would like to say just teens, but many adults find themselves vilified for some "I was just kidding" comments posted on facebook, twitter, instagram, and group texts. This is a teaching moment you must give over and over and over again to your teens. When they are angry and frustrated they are at their weakest moments for control. As a result, that emotional part of their brain is exploding, and they can write and say something that can be damaging to both someone else and as importantly to themselves. Please post the following social networking safety rules in their room where they can see it. They will roll their eyes, they will say it's my room and you can't put anything you want in here, they will bitch and moan till the cows come home, but posted it should be, in many places. It will serve as a reminder about what is safe for social networking posting. Think of it like the signs you see on the sides of buses. You don't actively read them, but somewhere they register in your unconscious and in the moment when you need that random information, you will be able to retrieve it. That's how this works.
Social Networking Safety Net
Can this post be misinterpreted by anyone?
Does this post intentionally hurt someone’s  feelings?
Does this post give out too much information?
Can any photos or video’s posted of me come back and shoot me in the foot?
Please share this one with your friends!! Sadly, interaction on social networking is probably the thing that your teen spends most of their time doing. Let's make sure they understand the power of words!


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