A couple of weeks ago, my daughter went shopping with a friend one evening. While they were eating in the mall’s food court, they were approached by a teenage boy who explained that he was shooting a video and asked if he could film them. They refused, but that didn’t seem to matter, because a few days later, she came across the video online, and there she was, complete with a demeaning voice-over making fun of her.
Even though I think it’s irrelevant, I’m adding this piece of information because many people have asked: the content of the video wasn’t sexual and she wasn’t in any kind of compromising position.
The point is, she was filmed without her consent and was very upset.
Naturally, Mama Bear jumped into action. I left a comment on the YouTube channel’s page, asking that the video be taken down immediately or further action would be taken. My daughter found out who the channel’s owner was and sent a message as well, asking politely but directly for the video to be removed. There was some back and forth, in which she was asked “if they could just blur her face out”, and she refused, again asking for it to be taken down immediately. He replied a few minutes later with the message, “I removed it, fuck off.”
Shortly after that, I got a response to the comment I had left on the channel’s page. It said, “Elizabeth Wiener how about you STFU they asked them they just didn’t film themselves asking…get out u old lady.” Sweet. It didn’t take me long to find the author of the comment, since she had posted it with her full name. I was tempted to write back, “One day you’ll be an old lady too and hopefully your grammar will be much improved by then”, but I restrained myself because her social media accounts showed me that she’s a teenage girl, and I decided to cut her some slack with the hope that she’ll gain an affinity for punctuation and respect for her elders in the near future.
I wish that was the end of the story, but the worst part was yet to come. Because this world is very small, a friend sent my daughter a screenshot of another kid’s Snap story which included a selfie of half his face (this is what teenagers do) and the following caption: Go check vid now!! (My friend had to repost cuz some dumb whore didn’t like that her dirty rat looking face was seen for 7.45 seconds in the vid).
So to summarize what’s happened until now: My daughter stood up for herself, asked for a video, in which she had not consented to participate, to be removed from YouTube, and the response, from all parties involved, was verbal abuse and name-calling.
At this point, fully enraged, I posted the saga to my personal Facebook account, including the screenshot of the Snap story. And again, because the world is very small, the boy in the partial selfie was recognized and I quickly found out his mother’s name. With my daughter’s permission, I sent her a message. I told her the story and explained that I was writing as one mother to another – and that if my son had been involved in that kind of horribly derogatory name-calling, I’d definitely want to know.
She responded graciously and respectfully, apologizing for her son. I thanked her for replying and suggested that we all use this opportunity as a teaching moment for our kids – and for us as well.
Here’s what I took away from the experience:
- It’s not enough to tell our kids to be kind and leave it at that. We can’t assume they know what this means or how it relates to interpersonal relationships. Sometimes they just need concrete instructions about the basic tenets of being a decent human being.
- I’ve heard (and seen) “whore” and “slut” being used over and over again, even as weird terms of affection between girlfriends. Maybe our kids have become desensitized to the meaning of these (and other) words, but they are terrible and insulting. We have to teach them that the language we use, even when it seems innocuous, even when it’s behind a smart phone or computer screen, can burn like fire and cause tremendous damage.
- Nothing that is posted online is ever truly anonymous Digital footprints leave trails that are easily followed and not so easily erased. It took me all of 2 minutes to find out all about the teenage girl who left me that nasty comment. I could probably reach out to her mother too.
- Despite how angry I was, I was super proud of my daughter for advocating for herself. She stood her ground and wouldn’t back off until the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. We need to teach our kids that if something doesn’t feel right to them, they have every right to say NO.
- In this era of helicopter parenting, we’re often accused of being too involved with our kids. But sometimes you just need to have their backs, fully immerse yourself in their struggles and support them wholeheartedly. I like that my daughter advocated for herself – but that she also knew I was standing right behind her, ready to jump into the ring if necessary.
- Many of us are quick to assume that when a kid behaves outrageously, his parents are to blame. But sometimes, despite our very best efforts, our kids disappoint us badly. Don’t be so quick to judge the way other people are raising their families. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
- Finally, use stories like these as teaching moments. We’re all in uncharted territory with the crazy, confusing world of online relationships and social media. We need to learn from each other to help us (and our kids) get through the chaos unscathed.
No one ever said it would be easy to have kids, but I’m pretty sure none of us imagined this.
Wishing us all patience and perseverance as we trudge our way through parenting in the digital world. And here’s to the “old ladies” who stand up to the bullies and would move mountains for their children.