Today when I read of the indictment of the woman whose harassment of a teen girl on MySpace led to the girl’s suicide, I wanted to cheer. The indictment was not however brought by the state in which the crime took place, the state couldn’t find enough evidence to indict locally, it was brought by the federal government. As the article in The New York Times states:
…Because MySpace, a unit of Fox Interactive Media, is based in Beverly Hills, Calif., and its server is here, federal prosecutors decided to wield a federal statute that is generally used to prosecute fraud that occurs across state lines.
The statute applies in the case, the indictment says, because by violating the user agreement of MySpace, which prohibits phony accounts, Ms. Drew was seeking information â€œto further a tortuous act, namely, intentional infliction of emotional distress.â€
All too often teens are blamed for behaving badly on the web. Adults talk about the way in which teens might bully each other online. They focus on teens who might encounter a sexual predator in MySpace or Second Life. But, what is too often ignored, is that it’s often the adults in teen lives who need to stand up and take responsibility for teens and their behaviors.
I’m reminded of a story that was emailed to me a few weeks ago by a colleague. The story was sent around to demonstrate the horrors of Wikipedia. But, really, it demonstrated to me the way in which adults abdicate their responsibility when it comes to teen behaviors in web-based environments. The story was of a teen girl who had a research paper to write. She went to Wikipedia and changed the content in the article on her topic so it would support what she wrote in her paper. She told at least one of her parents what she’d done and the parental response was, “I wonder if the teacher will notice?”
What? Isn’t it that parent’s responsibility to say to the teen daughter something as simple as, “No!” That teen girl should learn at home, at school, and at the library, what is appropriate when it comes to all types of behaviors from using Wikipedia, to using MySpace, to behavior at parties, to simple acts of human kindness.
So, back to the woman who was indicted in the case of the teen suicide. Of course this adult and her actions are pretty extreme. But, it’s the extremes that sometimes help us to understand some simple facts. These include:
- Adults need to be role models for teens.
- Adult behaviors have an impact on teen behaviors.
- Teen behaviors in both the virtual and physical world don’t occur within a vacuum.
- What happens in all parts of a teen’s life has an impact on actions and reactions.
- As adults working with teens we can’t abdicate responsibility by taking the easy way out and blaming the technology for the things that teens do.
With continued discussion of the ways in which technology can cause harm to teens, we need to take this as our chance to take responsibility and model for teens how to behave in all areas of life – from Second Life to school life to life at home. We also need to show teens that we are willing to advocate for them and explain to parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials that technology is not to blame for the horrendous acts that adults (and sometimes teens) initiate in online environments.