This morning my daughter woke me up at 5:45 AM. She is 13 years old and she couldn’t sleep. She had been watching a YouTube video which was immediately followed up with a video of a young girl weighing herself, seeing the number on the scales and entertaining suicidal thoughts. It made her sad, and worried, and she had been caught off guard by this. It’s something she feels she should maybe know about, but that I agree should not have been dumped on her like this.
My daughter and her peers experience this kind of onslaught all the time. Social media are not safe regardless of the safeguard theater companies put on, and while our daughter fortunately feels and knows she can talk to us about her worries, many teenagers don’t have an adult to confide in and are thus left to worry with no perspective, context or explanation. Add to that that there is often a sense of guilt over having watched something that was maybe inappropriate and the fear of hearing that this load they now carry was of their own making and you have the makings of a cesspool that can really mess a kid up.
For me, I found myself having to explain – barely awake enough to remember that words exist – that anorexia exists and it is awful, and also it is about so much more than weight, or even body dysphoria, but that is a conversation for another time if/when she feels she can handle hearing about it. Try to go back to sleep now, if you can.
What follows now is a rant, plain and simple. I have no solutions, just observations. And feelings about those observations, I guess. Off we go then.
There‘s a whole mass of people out there without any sense of personal responsibility. They live in a selective vacuum, screaming into the wind for no other reason than to validate their own ego, or protect their own fragile comfort zone. They don’t care who gets hurt in the process. They loudly and sometimes violently proclaim their often uninformed and shortsighted opinions to be better than facts because their reality is the only one that matters and anyone unwilling to adopt it is a fool, a sheep, gullible, or should go off and die. I’m not even exaggerating here.
Those people claim that this is all about freedom: freedom to express whatever you want, freedom to be whoever you choose to be. All good things, to be sure, except for the part where they also, apparently, have the freedom to destroy whatever or whoever gets in their way in the process. Freedom from and without consequence. It’s ironic that inevitably the people wreaking this havoc are the same people whose every argument is shrouded in “but think of the children”.
Well, those sounds and sights reach our children and it hurts them, damages them, causes them untold anxiety and worry as it teaches them that the world they live in has nothing in common with the values they are told matter. You know, the values that are promoted by the Disney Channel and teenage popcorn movies. They’re values I agree with: fairness, kindness, honesty. But what those stories mostly fail to communicate is the sheer strength needed to uphold those values in ourselves by ourselves as every aspect of the world today in fact pushes the opposite. And it’s a strength that teenagers need to acquire, but often don’t already possess. Adults often don’t either, because it’s hard.
We live in a world that rates money over humanity, power over fairness, and loud, cruel ignorance over kindness. We try to teach our children how to be a good person, but then we make the mistake of telling them that being a good person should be its own reward, and while that is true it’s also not true, in the same way that a job well done is its own reward, but also a job well done should enable you to put food on the table and a roof over your head at the very least.
Inherent morality needs a feedback loop. And when the world floats on only money, when the Amazons and Googles and Facebooks of the world are rewarded with staggering profits and ridiculous tax avoidance for employing shockingly bad working conditions and turning their users into tradable datasets, rather than protecting or at least respecting the human rights and spirit of its
products users and workers, what the hell are we even doing anymore?
We live in a world that has people intelligent enough to create technology that has far-reaching influence over society, that can affect political realities, even overthrow governments and enable corrupt leaders to use these tools to continue their oppressive and destructive rule. A world in which we are apparently smart enough to develop these technologies that could do so much good, but no one is smart enough to deploy or use these tools responsibly and constructively. Or perhaps more accurately: a world where no one cares to do so.
What does this teach our kids? That exploitation is rewarded, and fairness is a losing proposition. That ruthlessness is a virtue, and kindness is a weakness. Just in case it needs to be said: those are the wrong lessons.
Unsolicited information is inflicted on us without warning all the time. For children who are sensitive to what happens in the world, children who care and who are hurt by the pain of others, that can be a nightmare, especially when they are unprepared for it. And who decides which information gets to them? It’s not the parents, who can’t be constant gatekeepers, though most of us really try. At most, we have a semblance of control. We are up against algorithms that have been created with the sole purpose of monetizing us, children included. Adults barely stand a chance against all this, what chance do kids have?
Young Instagram users who want to look at pictures of cute cats and fairytale settings, but in between that have to scroll past “beauty” ads designed to make them feel self-conscious for no good reason, because there is a whole industry looking to monetize that newly instilled insecurity based on nothing real. Yes, the body positivity movement is gaining momentum, but we are so far from where we need to be still. Young YouTube users who want to watch a Just Dance video or see a movie clip and are then suddenly interrupted by a video that packs a psychological punch that not only catches them unawares but also unprepared.
Meanwhile, I have a 13-year old who at the moment feels like she doesn’t even know where to start working through her feelings as she sees all these things that she finds unfair, truly sad, and downright scary. These things wake her up at 5 AM. These things keep her awake when she tries to sleep at night. And she’s right, there’s so much wrong with the world at the moment. And at least some of it is our fault. We are failing our kids at least as much as we have failed ourselves. I’m not saying they need to be protected from everything. At some point, they need to face the realities of the world, but not all at once, and they certainly do not need to be ambushed by it.
We, too, are overpowered, outmanned, outgunned. Money-making algorithms. People are products. And in the midst of all this, we see blissfully unbothered ruthlessness as Facebook floats the idea of Instagram for kids… As the young folks say: I can’t even with these people.