The North Carolina dad who shot his daughter's laptop in a YouTube video shows the critical need to teach media literacy to our kids. You may see the dad as a hero or an idiot, the daughter as a victim or an entitled brat, but she is also ignorant of the implications of socially-networked publishing. The dad may get villainized by the local PTA or visited by social services, but the real downside is for the daughter and millions like her who don't understand that a careless post could cost them a host of potential choices, such as career or school opportunities.
In case you missed the story: A dad got really angry after reading a post on his daughter's Facebook page. (See ABC.news' "Fed-Up North Carolina Father Shoots Daughter's Laptop") In a post she believed was blocked to her parents, the daughter expressed, rather colorfully and disrespectfully in that special way that teens have, discontent with the burdens she felt she carried at home. (The Freudians among us, however, might note that she labeled the 'private' post "To My Parents" and then was surprised when they saw it.) The angry dad's response launched the issue into cyberspace, a new-media version of digital war: he published a rebuttal on a YouTube video that culminated with him shooting the daughter's laptop with his 45.
Many are discussing some of the questions raised by the incident, such as: Is this good parenting, is the daughter's behavior atypical for a teen, or even, is the dad's behavior indicative of the frustration parents feel trying to navigate the challenges of the digital age? I have thoughts on all those things (see below) but the most critical point here is that the daughter doesn't understand the new world of social media.
The daughter may be a digital native, but she does not understand that the Internet has it's own rules no matter how many boxes you check on your privacy settings. It is permanent, it is searchable, and it is public. The daughter thought the post was blocked from her parents. Under some circumstances it probably was. But the daughter didn't think it through because she doesn't get it. She is a media user but not technologically literate in the way she needs to be for the 21st century.
The dad is, in fact, more tech-savvy than the daughter. He is an IT guy. Whether he was repairing her computer or snooping, it doesn't matter. Dad saw the post. And then mom saw it. And then dad posted it on YouTube and it has gone viral sharing it with over 22 million and counting of the rest of us. However aggrieved we might be over the implications of such teenage posturing or gun-wheeling parents, I worry more about her critical lack of understanding
of social media and the presumption of privacy. Nothing is guaranteed private. The parents may be frustrated by the behavior of her daughter, but I am concerned for kids who aren't equipped to be digital citizens.
I often quote my grandmother's sage advice: "never talk in an elevator because you never know who's listening." The whole world is our elevator now.
Social media has created new ways of communicating. This colorful episode speaks to the need to educate both kids and parents about the way the social media works and the ramifications if you get it wrong. I'm a big fan of the Internet and public access. There are lots of benefits to things being public; I believe more benefits than costs. (A great read on this is Jeff Jarvis' book Public Parts). But you have to know the rules of the game. We don't hand our kids the car keys without learning about both how to operate the car and the rules of the road. If we don't teach our kids about the structure of the Internet, social technologies, and the implications of things hanging around forever, it's the same as handing them car keys and expecting them to teach themselves how to drive on the freeway.
I'm not in favor of solutions that block access or artifically control the environment. That's like holding a balloon underwater. It will pop up, but you're never quite sure where. I'm in favor of arming digital natives and immigrants alike with critical thinking and media and technology training. Just because kids can easily use technology doesn't mean they understand the wider ramifications of networked systems. New tools creates new and often better ways of doing things. But we also have to recognize that these are powerful tools have tremendous potential as long as you don't shoot yourself in the foot (or the laptop.)
My answers to the other issues:
- Is this good parenting? No.
Dad's behavior was no different than his daughter's or perhaps even a bit worse since his intent was to embarrass the daughter and the daughter's, most likely, was to show off and look tough for her friends. Parents are supposed to behave better than their teenagers, not worse. The notoriety, however, that the Dad's video received (22 million hits on YouTube and counting) indicates that it has clearly struck a cord somewhere in the abyss of navigating the new media environment combined with the challenges of dealing with and/or being a teenager. Having raised five kids, I totally get that. He did, however, blow a good 'teaching moment.'
- Is the daughter's behavior atypical for a teen? No.
Adolescence is the time, developmentally, when teens begin to emancipate emotionally from their primary family unit, carving out an adult identity, and beginning their own life. It is a bumpy process fraught with emotional ups and downs given the biology of maturing bodies and brains that manifests in what we might think of as disrespectful, selfish, or foolish behaviors. Recent shows that adolescent brains don't mature until early adulthood, which contributes to their lack of judgment (by 'adult' standards) and impulse control. This lack of judgment actually helps them to tolerate the level of risk to do what they need to do: leave the nest. This doesn't excuse bad behavior, or address issues of 'entitlement' but it suggests that what dad perceives as bad behavior is probably not al that uncommon among teen discourse.
- Is the dad's behavior indicative of the frustration parents feel trying to navigate the challenges of the digital age? No.
It's indicative of frustration, so be sure, but Facebook and the digital age aren't any more to blame for this than the dad's 45 revolver.