The best of tools for stupid

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - Russell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages

They climb cliffs free­hand. Swim at night. Dive into wa­ter that’s too shal­low for div­ing.

They pay the price, some­times, for the rest of their lives. Pay the price, some­times, with their lives.

Teenage boys — and some teenage girls — have proven for years that they are in­ca­pable of at­tach­ing cause and ef­fect when it comes to dan­ger­ous things.

Cars, chain saws, guns, booze, drugs — there are a litany of bad de­ci­sions that are con­nected to teenagers and any one of those things.

Is it any won­der that, armed with cell­phones and so­cial me­dia, they make bad de­ci­sions there as well?

(An­other ed­i­tor pointed out to me that one cru­cial dif­fer­ence is that the dam­age from the dan­ger­ous things I men­tioned first is that they do in­stan­ta­neous, se­ri­ous dam­age — and that, while the dam­age done by some­thing as pow­er­ful as a cell­phone can be just as se­ri­ous, the re­sult is of­ten much slower. That may be.)

Re­cently, six male teenagers in Bridge­wa­ter, N.S., were sen­tenced as a re­sult of charges laid when they set up two in­ter­net drop­boxes to share nude Snapchat pic­tures of 19 fe­male vic­tims, aged 13 to 18. At the time, the six male teens ranged in age from 13 to 16.

This is not in any way an apol­ogy for the Bridge­wa­ter area teenagers. They de­lib­er­ately ex­ploited young women for their own plea­sure, and harmed those young women in the process. I most cer­tainly am not say­ing “boys will be boys” — the judge in the case said the young women had been through “com­plete hell,” and I think that’s apt.

“What peo­ple for­get is that the ev­ery­day smart­phone is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful tool to put in the hands of a teen.”

And, as with any de­ci­sion that harms other peo­ple, they have to be pun­ished for what they’ve done. The judge de­cided the six would re­ceive con­di­tional dis­charges, the pun­ish­ment the pros­e­cu­tion re­quested, in­clud­ing com­mu­nity ser­vice and coun­sel­ing.

But there’s some­thing else to be thought about here.

What peo­ple for­get is that the ev­ery­day smart­phone is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful tool to put in the hands of a teen. It can pho­to­graph, video, share, save, trans­mit, im­port pornog­ra­phy of vir­tu­ally all kinds, broad­cast, ed­u­cate, mod­ify, shame, in­sult, en­rage, black­mail, bully — and the list goes on. If you have teens, or are at a so­cial event where there are teens, you’ll see they live on their de­vices vir­tu­ally non-stop.

It’s an ad­di­tive to the al­ready po­tent brew of be­ing a teenager, and one that is just as dan­ger­ous as il­lic­itly pur­chased liquor for a woods party or po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated party drugs.

This is a hard thing to say: I think you’ve suc­cess­fully raised a teenager when they sur­vive their teenage years with­out be­ing con­victed of a crime, with­out last­ing phys­i­cal or men­tal dam­age, and with some cen­tral knowl­edge of what it is to be a good hu­man be­ing. That alone is hard enough.

The cold hard fact is that there are teenagers who will not get to that point, whether they’ve been stupid with cars or ponds or cell­phones. And they will be stupid. You’d teach your teen the right way to use a chain saw. You put them in driver’s ed. You warn them about drugs and al­co­hol. You shouldn’t as­sume that they un­der­stand just how dan­ger­ous their cell­phone is.

When I had teenagers, their cell­phones gave me a mea­sure of se­cu­rity, if only in that I could mes­sage them to ask if they were OK. Now that they’re grown, I still nudge them oc­ca­sion­ally, to see how they are.

But cell­phones are far more than that.

One tap of the screen can al­ter worlds, just the way a turn of an ig­ni­tion key can.

A hor­ri­ble thing has hap­pened here. It will hap­pen again.

Russell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com; Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

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