Last weekend two high schoolers in our community fought on back to back days. The second fight ended in a significant injury to one of the students. Many other students watched. Those students did not intervene. They videotaped the fight and posted it on social media.
These are the only facts that the public has. Because the students are minors and because we live in country with a robust legal system, these are the only facts that the school district and the police department can legally pass on to the public. There are rumors of cyber bullying. There are rumors of inappropriate pictures. There are rumors of racial undertones.
If I wrote a fictionalized story of what we believed happened during and leading up to this fight, an editor would reject it. The story would appear implausible. How could all the issues that plague our teens coincide within one story? And yet, it appears that this story is, at least in part, true.
As a family we have talked through many issues since last weekend. Violence and threats of violence. Taking and sending inappropriate pictures. The fact that there is no such thing as an ‘innocent bystander.’ Reminders that if you see something, say something. The importance of smart media literacy. The list could and will go on and on.
Of course, all of this weighs heavily on me as mother. What is weighing almost more heavily though is the behavior of adults in our community as we react to this awful story. I am a member of a number of local Facebook groups and conversations about the fight have dominated those groups in the past few days.
I have read on as parents, using the same social media tool that they vilify, pass judgment on the students and their parents. The names that have been levied and the judgements on parenting that have been passed are truly unbelievable. It is true that there is only one boy in the hospital which makes the story appear very clear cut. And of course, that part of the story is. What is not clear cut to us as outsiders is what led up to this situation and what is even less clear is the parenting that went on in these children’s homes. The fact that people write in one sentence about the evils of cyberbullying by teens while in the next sentence actively cyberbully fellow parents is shocking to me.
If I have learned anything in my fourteen years as a parent it is that we should never judge what another parent does unless we have lived an identical life to theirs which, of course, is impossible. Before having children, I swore that I would cook one meal that everyone would eat, that my children would stay in bed until I was ready to get up and that I would limit their screen time to 30 minutes a day. Anyone who knows me knows that those promises did not pan out and now, neither do the promises I made about raising teenagers. As parents we set the tone in our family. We lay the groundwork and instill the values we hope our children will embrace. And we hold them accountable when they make mistakes. What we do not control, because we never did, is what our children will do out of their own free will. We are, after all, raising them to be independent people.
There are so many lessons that our community will learn as the result of this horrible incident. I hope at least two of these lessons are that we, as adults, should refrain from judging without facts and that we as adults should always refrain from public judging on a social media platform. Social media is never, as some hope, going to go away. That toothpaste is out of the tube and it will not go back in. Our children are going to live their social lives on their devices. It is our job as adults to navigate this world along-side them and to model the on-line behavior we would like to see our children demonstrate. My hope, of course, is that the injured boy is healed and the outcome for the others involved is appropriate. And beyond that, my hope is that we as parents will learn all we can from this terrible situation.