Sometimes, when I allow myself to think back on my teen years and recall some of my myriad moronic adventures, I shudder. And then I thank the heavens above that my immature decisions exist only in the fog of my own memory.
It's a feeling that anyone above a certain age understands. Sadly, I fear that it's a feeling that today's youths will one day wish they could have.
They won't need memories; in far too many cases, the record will exist forever on the computer screen before them.
Consider three recent examples:
• A West Seneca East High School senior, miffed about being tossed from a hockey game for his allegedly rowdy behavior, took to Twitter to express himself. He was suspended from school for five days for placing the granddaddy of all curse words beside the name of the teacher who punished him.
• A high school hockey goalie in Minnesota decided he would publicly express his frustration about not getting enough playing time. So he scored into his own net, left the crease, issued a one-finger farewell to the crowd – and likely his playing career – and saluted before leaving the rink.
• A young “lady” in Florida who was displeased with the admonition she received from a judge following her arrest on drug charges, said the word and displayed the finger and was rewarded for her judgment by being sent to jail for contempt. She later apologized and was released.
Chances are you know about some or all of the above incidents either because it happened as a result of – or was spread thanks to – social media.
And it's not like the above profanity fans don't have lots of company. It doesn't take long to find examples of idiotic stunts gone awry on YouTube, uploaded photos of people drunk and passed out exchanged via Instagram or ill-conceived verbal exchanges on Facebook or Twitter, all of which will live on and on and on … on the Web.
Some people think what's happening is proof that teenagers are getting stupider. I suspect that the people who think this don't remember being teenagers.
It's far more likely that young people are making roughly the same mistakes we all made. The difference is, their mistakes are on display for the world to see, whether that is their intent or not. In an opinion article last year in the New York Times titled “Smart Moments Don't Go Viral,” Ritch Duncan explained why.
“Because of the Internet, the really dumb things that people do – even people of average intelligence – get amplified almost instantaneously,” he wrote. “You can get a perfect score on your SATs, and it will barely register in a world of 200 million tweets a day. But give just one stupid answer in a beauty pageant, and you'll be the laughingstock of the world before you have time to clear your name on the next morning's 'Today' show.”
One of the ironies of the explosion of social media is that younger people understand them and become adept at using them far more quickly than adults. But that understanding doesn't seem to translate into a comprehension that the things they do and the information they share can come back to haunt them in a few years.
All of us wish we could have do-overs for the many mistakes we have made. Unfortunately, today's teens are going to really feel that way in a few years when one of their children says, “Hey, Dad! I just Googled your name. Look what I found.”