Do you dare to look at your teenager’s Facebook page?


Do you dare to look at your teenager’s Facebook page?

Today our children unwittingly create a full, often photographic, record of their youthful indiscretions, thanks to Facebook, MSN and other social networking sites; a world away from our own childhoods, where mistakes could be left behind as we grew up. Indeed, moving away from mistakes and learning from them is one of the ways we became the adults we did, and thank goodness we were able to leave our mistakes behind.

The recent case of Paris Brown, the 17 year old “adviser on youth” to Kent Police, where she tweeted in a sexist, profane and even racist rant against anyone she didn’t like, shows just the extent to which our children’s online persona can follow them into the adult world. God help my own teenage son, if he tweets or FBs anything resembling his own, current, unfinished view of the world.

In response to yesterday’s news that Lucy Meadows, the trans-gender primary school teacher who took her own life, was “monstered” in the tabloid press, my fifteen year old, polite and well-reared son told me the papers had been right. “She” wasn’t a woman, because she had been born as a man. I pushed him on this, asking just what he thought made a man a man. “He was born a man, with a man’s reproductive parts” he answered. I pushed a little harder, asking him about human rights, and whether a person had the right to “be” whatever they wanted. He believed that yes, a person could believe what they wanted, but it didn’t change the fact that Lucy was a man. “Ovaries” he threw in. A man can take hormones to change his appearance, can dress differently, can even have his genitalia removed,  but he is still a man. He cannot reproduce as a woman.

I understand that he is fifteen, and that no matter how libertarian our family’s views are, young people are sometimes like little racist, sexist versions of ourselves, and it takes a lot of experience to develop our opinions and beliefs about how we fit into this big, confusing world. The difference is that while I may have held objectionable views when I was fifteen, they were left behind me, mere memories of how uninformed and intolerant I may have been when I was a child.

Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, at the Hay Festival last week, said that “teenagers are now in an adult world online,” and that Google has no plans to moderate or censor anything posted online. He blames a world where parents will post anything, even ultrasound images of their children before they are born, for the change in attitudes, and warns that “society has always had ways of dealing with errant teenagers” by a process of punishment and allowing them  to grow up away from their mistakes. “They grow up out of it and become fine, upstanding leaders,” he said, but added that the current generation of teenagers could now be haunted by their youthful mistakes. I can only hope that my fifteen year old doesn’t make extreme posts in a forum, chatroom or social networking site. If he does, I just hope it doesn’t come back to haunt him.






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