Kat wrote this in response to a previous post on Offbeat Mama: Parenting a teen in the shadow of Facebook. — SK
This type of fear mongering makes me furious. Not because the original poster isn’t right, but because she is. And she shouldn’t be.
Should a co-worker or boss discover private photos of you, even if they were found on the ground in a public place, and you were fired over the content of those photos (or otherwise discriminated against), the company would be setting itself up for a lawsuit. The same goes if they read papers that were anything from a personal diary, to your college thesis.
But things placed on a non-work related blog online should be censored because, ten years down the line, someone may use a youthful indiscretion against you? I’m sorry — say what?
This is wrong. There should be laws against it. The internet is no more public than a public street or bar. If your boss walked into a bar and saw you getting drunk and stupid on your own time, they couldn’t fire you over it. But walk into a public area of the web and see pictures of you having gotten drunk and stupid, and they have just cause to muscle you out, or never consider hiring you in the first place?
As parents, I think we should teach our kids all due caution, but there should be outrage here, too. Outrage that their childhoods — their ability to make bad choices and act stupid and be young — is actively being taken from them. Our kids have to live in constant fear and under a constant scrutiny that no other generation has suffered beneath (and no generation should) to the point that, even in their youth, they must act with either the constant maturity of adults, or at least under a constant curtain of paranoia. And we blandly accept that their privacy will be invaded in such a way that, if the same thing happened with a real world equivalent, we’d never tolerate it.
The internet is many things, but mainly, it is a place where we are free to speak.
We also blandly accept that their voices are being silenced. “Never say something you wouldn’t say to your mom/shout from the rooftops?” Well then, never say to your extremely traditional mother that you think women should have equal rights to vote, and never tell the world either. Never shout from the rooftops in your bigoted town you think blacks should have equal rights, and don’t mention it in a letter to your local senator either. Never tell your boss, who works for a company that doesn’t pay taxes, how harmful and sleazy such a move is, and never march in the streets against it either.
Never cause a fuss.
Never make waves.
The internet is many things, but mainly, it is a place where we are free to speak. We speak anything, everything; and for every swearing teenager, there is a politically active, philosophical, or deeply moral person also spreading ideas we’ve never considered before. It is the only place in the world where like minds can gather in such strength and numbers that it can spark a revolution.
Every time we teach our kids to cover their tracks, to not rock the boat, to live in fear, we’re teaching them to curb their voice — to silence it.
But in order to have those good people, the price we pay is the bull. The youthful indiscretions, the exhibitionists, the potty mouths, the idiots, the trolls — all of it. It’s the darker side of the same coin — when we feel truly free to talk, we really do say absolutely anything. But we’re also practicing, exercising our voices, feeling our boundaries, finding out just how far we can go. Finding out how truly free we are.
Every time we teach our kids to cover their tracks, to not rock the boat, to live in fear, we’re teaching them to curb their voice — to silence it. To not bring their ideas to a larger public, in case Someone Important and Powerful reads about them, and disagrees. We teach them to fear the world, and fear their own innate power.
The wisest people I know made the most asinine mistakes as kids. They were the Darwin award winners, the trolls, the potty mouths, the indiscreet; they were the ones who pushed their boundaries and explored fully who and what they could be — and on the way also discovered who they could not be, and why. It wasn’t just youthful stupidity, but a pathway to a more fully realized Selfhood. It was — and still is — a necessary part of growing up.
Until laws are in place to protect our children, being cautionary about what you put online is very sound advice. But we shouldn’t be teaching our own how to be more discreet, docile citizens (nor how to go hog wild, mind you, but moderation). Instead, we should also have a sense of outrage and be teaching them the same outrage. We should be pointing out how their personal boundaries are being crossed, their right to privacy (again, photos on a public sidewalk) is beings breached, and this is not something they should take lying down.
They should make waves, use their voices, and fight for the kind of future where, even if the click of a mouse brings up every sin from their school record to that thing they did at that party the other night, they can be secure in the knowledge that they can still get loans, hold a job, and not be discriminated against for having a life outside of work and being human and therefore fallible.
This threat is as dangerous and as evil as more violently straightforward methods of separating people from their rights as citizens.
All of this also affects a fundamental constitutional right — freedom of speech. Not because it is being taken by force, but because the voices of our children are being silenced through fear of speaking out. If someone holds a gun to your head and says if you speak you’ll die they have not technically taken away your constitutional right. They have put you in a position where your right is functionally gone anyway. The corporate threat of only hiring the workers with the most docile lives, of our children not being able to get a job, pay the bills, or do unimportant little things like eat, is the equivalent of that loaded gun. This threat is as dangerous and as evil as more violently straightforward methods of separating people from their rights as citizens.
This is not okay.
It will never be okay. But because guns aren’t involved, we shrug, mutter something about “the world, she is a’changing,” and roll right on trying to passively adapt to our new environment, rather than actively shape it to our needs as human beings.
We should be angry, on our own behalf, and that of our kids. And yet, it seems too often that no one is. There is more and more we cannot do: acts that are non-criminal, as old as time, and hurt no one, more and more fences around our speech and behavior… you know, just in case. Not only is no one upset, no one even seems to wonder why we’re losing so much ground or what to do about it. Instead, there is only one message — be discreet, keep it on the down-low, and adapt.