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 “to further a tortuous act, namely, intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

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.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

6 Thoughts on “Adults Time To Take Responsibility

  1. Jennifer Demas on May 19, 2008 at 11:41 am said:

    I so agree with the message of this post. However, I don’t think we just need to focus on technology and taking responsibility. I believe, in general, we have become as a society a people who pass the buck. Many people just refuse to take responsibility for the mistakes and errors.

    I don’t understand how adults can remove themselves from the actions of their teens and young ones. I know people who do their children’s homework, joke about how the children took shortcuts on their assignments, and laugh at the childrens blatant cheating at games and other things. All these things promote is more of “if you can get away with it, then it is not wrong”.

    The case regarding the MySpace harrassment is a perfect example of this ‘pass the responsibility” mentality. All of the interviews given by the indicted woman I have read, the parent consitently states that the deceased teen bullied her own child and she was just giving her a taste of her own behavior. She has always maintained that she really did nothing wrong. I am amazed that an adult would think that bullying any child was ok for any reason.

  2. THiS iS A G00D WESiTE!!! THANX F0R THE HELP.. =)


  4. Beth on May 20, 2008 at 8:31 pm said:

    While I agree that adults have to take responsibility, I have to also say that we cannot assume that all adults understand these new technologies and environments. As a librarian, I understand how Wikipedia works, as do many adults, but not all would know enough to understand the implications of what the child did. Wikipedia, in my opinion, is not very transparent.

    So educating adults in these new tools and technologies is also part of our mission.

  5. I’m surprised that the teacher would allow students to use Wikipedia as a source for a paper. At the community colleges where I work, I show students (and often instructors) how Wikipedia articles are useful for familiarizing themselves with an unknown subject and for finding credible external resources in the reference list at the bottom of most Wikipedia entries. But even then I stress that Wikipedia articles should not be considered reliable sources themselves. The incident described above is a good example why.

    Great post, btw. Couldn’t agree more!

  6. Kelly on May 21, 2008 at 6:15 pm said:

    I think sometimes we can have a lot of discussion on the reliability or not of Wikipedia rather than trying to make it a more accurate resource ourselves-which we all can do. I also think that there are some things such as understanding how entries are added to Wikipedia and what authority someone has that is making an entry that is valuable for students to know how to do and must know how to do in order to have good information literacy skills. To break it down to something simply that is reliable/unreliable I think misses several points-one especially being the value in everyone being able to contribute and share their perspective.
    Also, in regards to the comment about children blatantly cheating at games-in regards to using cheat codes for example-usually provides players with subject matter knowledge-and not just about how to win the game. They know this information usually b/c they read it somewhere and want to share it with someone through forums boards or the like and as a result have contributed to the wider base of knowledge than just their own. I think the ‘cheating at games’ has a bit deeper purpose, reason, and result than simply looking for the easy way out.

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