Safer internet day has made me reminisce about my childhood and how grateful I am to have been born in an era where none of my embarrassing trends, or attempts to fit in would be eternally documented online. There is every chance the internet will outlive humans so theoretically, I could have been a source of mockery and ridicule to the end of time for some alien species that evolved after humans have trashed everything and the only remaining evidence of our existence is some IT nerds hard drive, full of all the delightful stuff on “the way back machine” (you know, the thing that documents all that is ever placed on the internet so it is there, regardless of whether you want it to be or not).
I’ve been extremely blessed that my eldest daughters are total prudes and rule followers but they definitely don’t get that trait from me. I have been wondering what message would have worked on an impulsive, instant gratification seeking teen such as myself.
The messages out there on Internet Safety are as clear as mud. I read them and understand them, and as an adult I have life experiences to understand how different choices may affect my life trajectory. But still, there is that little part of me that stares solemnly at Ben and nods at the appropriate intervals while he explains budgets & consequences of not following them. Two seconds later I will skip out of the house, see something I want, and all rational thought will escape my mind as I hand over my credit card for whatever shiny object caught my eye.
I think my experience could possibly be applicable to many teenagers. They hear a message. They hear about the consequences. But in the moment, it just feels good or right to do whatever it is that all the cool kids are doing, so you can be cool by proxy. Teenagers are notorious for living in the moment and desperately wanting to fit in, at any cost. Not all teenagers, but I’d hazard a guess that at least 50% of them.
How do you make a message stick in the mind of a kid who is struggling to fit in, feels like they are ‘weird’, and desperately wants attention. My wise 17 year old said to me the other day (in regards to dog training) “they (dogs) just want attention. They don’t care if that attention is a treat for doing something good or yelling at them for doing something bad. To them, attention is attention.”
I think the same may be true for teenagers. They don’t mind the odd bit of negative attention for breaking the rules. In my day, rule breaking involved wagging school and smoking behind the sports shed. Nowdays I’ve heard wagging is virtually impossible and no teenager would be able to buy cigarettes without first selling a kidney. So how do they rebel? Whilst wagging school and smoking isn’t ideal and I did end up being in-school suspended for 2 days, it certainly didn’t affect the trajectory of my life.
As adults eliminated the ability for rebellion to occur on a scale of wagging and smoking, teenagers upped the ante and found different ways to oppose the system. I’m certainly not advocating that we cheapen the price of cigarettes and overlook the odd wagged day of school, I’m just pointing out that teenagers have always and probably will always, want to do the exact opposite of whatever it is their parents tell them to do. Obviously, parents don’t understand anything at all about their (the teenagers) life because as far as they are concerned, we’ve been parents for ever. This is true in some respects. We have been daggy parents as long as we have known them.
We cannot expect teenagers to make rational decisions every moment of their teenage years. Trouble is, it only takes 1 moment of impulsive decision making, to have horrendous consequences for the rest of their lives. So how do we ensure they never make an incorrect compulsive decision in the heat of the moment? I don’t have the answer yet but I am spending many hours reflecting on my own youth and thinking about what would have worked for me.
One thing that stopped me doing most stupid things, was the hope that one day I would marry Prince William, and if I did anything a bit dodgy, I could never hope to achieve the acceptance of the Royal Family or pursue any role where I was a famous figure. Surely being a public figure would give anyone who ever knew me a chance to approach a magazine and sell pictures of me dressed like a chicken and smoking a cigarette behind the sports shed. In my head, this is would have ruined all credibility. It is also the reason I never took my friend Jason up on his dare to wear a chicken suit while we were wagging behind the sports shed smoking cigarettes. Turns out I was wrong – Trump has now mitigated the threat that previous bad behaviour could result in never gaining international fame, glorification and an ability to hold a prestigious job.
To tackle this issue I think it is going to take more than one day and more than a description of consequences. There may be effective programs out there that I am not aware of. If this the case my apologies to the authors of those effective programs and I plead with them to do more. As we give our kids these safety messages, predators are finding more and more covert ways to get around them.
So the point of my blog, and it does have one, is that I don’t have the answer yet. But I’m going to try my hardest to figure out a way to solve this problem. Just like schools started texting parents every time a child is absent for a class (instead of phoning once in the morning after roll call) and someone decided it would be a good idea to price kids out of being able to buy cigarettes, we will find a way.
Please note: as much as I would have loved to have attached a photo to this blog of me in a chicken suit or any other number or ‘phases’ I went through (gothic, surfie, hippie, etc), my mum has thus far failed to hand over any of these precious resources. So instead I am going to use a graphic I created for a project in conjunction with my 17 year old daughter who wisely compared training teenagers to training puppies.