An FYI to a Very Specific Girl
I was bothered by the post telling girls to not post images of themselves in provocative poses online not because of the general statement that was made about teenage girls and the ways they present themselves, but because I was immediately worried about a specific girl; the girl (or girls) described in that post.
She doesn’t name her, but she describes her enough that a savvy reader from her town, a child who knows her sons, could probably figure out exactly which girl’s pictures became the tipping point for that post. And now, that girl has been shamed in a very public manner. Cyberbullied in a sense. By an adult. Who wanted to make a point about what she allows her child to see on his social media account.
The way to handle concerns about an image is to privately contact her parents. To contact the child herself (after all, she gives the girl specific instructions to run to her account and delete the pictures — wouldn’t it have been easier to contact the child directly if she wanted that to happen?).
She could have sent a letter, made a phone call, asked the school to do a very non-specific school-wide assembly on Internet postings. She could have even written the very same post without the focus being on the girls themselves, how they are posing, and what they are wearing. She could have kept a tighter focus on her own actions as a parent. If she hadn’t described specific images, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it.
But she did.
And there is a child out there who might be feeling the effects of being discussed online. There are people who know exactly which girl she is referencing. And there are people out there who are spending the night trying to guess which girl she’s referencing and shaming other girls along the way. There’s a bunch of kids in her son’s school who are getting a very hard lesson in what it means to be part of the online world.
That author’s post was judgmental. Her tone wasn’t concern: “Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your skimpy pj’s this summer!” It was condescending. It was shaming. And that was what got under my skin: because no child is going to respond positively to that type of message. Especially not done on a public stage. And adults who care about getting a message across work to deliver it in a way that gets heard.
And frankly, the excuse of “but usually no one reads my blog” doesn’t hold up. Anything and everything that we place on a public blog has the potential to be seen by a lot of people outside our small circle. Including this post. So if it does make it to that girl described in the picture, I just want to tell her that there were better ways for an adult to handle this situation. And I hope you don’t learn from this that you should take shaming to the Internet rather than discussing problems in private or opening up public discussions with general terms rather than specific details.
After all, the author writes: “I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel.” She knows them. She can talk to them directly, rather than talking to all of us about this girl. So please do. Please — even now that you’ve publicly shamed this girl — please call her parents and talk about it with them. If you do that, I’ll believe that you actually care about this girl too.
If you ever need to figure out what you should say publicly and what you should say privately, write the post and then imagine having to read it aloud to the subject of the post. And if you can do that to their face and not feel embarrassed or pained at the expression they may wear, post it. But if you gulp over realizing how your words will be heard, leave it in the draft folder or send it to them privately if you feel the words must be read. By the way, to the author of that original post, I would totally feel comfortable reading this post aloud to your face, and that has everything to do with tone.