Saturday, March 15, 2014

Teens And The Mighty Mistake

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” 
― Albert Einstein

When you're a teenager (or the mother of one), mistakes pretty much come with the territory. The teen years are a time of trial ... and error. In some ways, they're one long dress rehearsal for grownup life. Teens by their very nature are boundary-pushers, experimenters. At the same time, adult wariness, caution (and fear of mortality) are not yet developed. This means that many of the mistakes teens invariably make are not just dumb or ill-advised; they're downright dangerous.

And, the consequences can be significant and far-reaching. What's the worst threat we used to hear in high school? Our behavior would be reflected "on our permanent record." (Have any of you ever seen this so-called record of permanence? Me neither.)

“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” 
― L.M. Montgomery

I always say that once you're a mother, you're everyone's mother. Usually, I'm talking about a crying baby on a crosstown bus or, more seriously, a child who is missing, ill or the victim of an accident. In moments like that, my heart goes out to the child's parents. It isn't difficult to imagine myself in their circumstance.

Right now, I'm thinking about the parents of a particular young man in our own town. The police (with the cooperation of the anonymous-badmouthing social media app Yik Yak) tracked the recent bomb threat at my daughter's high school to a particular "juvenile." He was questioned and confessed. Charges are being sought for one count of disruption of a school assembly (a misdemeanor) and one count of a bomb threat (a felony).

That's right. A felony ... FEL-O-NY. 'Talk about a potentially permanent record.

Okay, I don't know this young man (although my daughter and every other student now does). He may be a basically good kid. He may be a troublemaker. He may have good grades. He may not.

He may have been showing off for his friends. Or frustrated with a teacher or the school administration. He most certainly did not have a bomb. But, his mistake (motive and character aside, he can only now look at his ridiculous post as exactly that: one mother of mistake) is going to haunt him. 

Would my daughter post a bomb threat. Of course not. But, has she — and the school's other high honors students — posted inappropriate things in the past? Of course. It's not like this particular boy is 100% stupid and my daughter is 100% smart. Teenagers don't work that way.

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

In the news last week, there was a story about another big mistake that a teenager made using social media. 

One Mr. Snay, a former prep school headmaster, had sued his old employer for age-discrimination when his contract wasn't renewed. He won the case. His award was an undisclosed amount, which is now disclosed thanks to his daughter's inability to resist crowing about it on Facebook.

"Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT."

All right, let's ignore the boasting, the nastiness, the unnecessary use of the word SUCK (in all caps, no less). Let's instead focus on the fact that the settlement of the case included a confidentiality agreement. The Facebook post breached it, and a Court of Appeal in Florida reversed the ruling. Papa Snay gets nothing.

I'd hate to be that teenage daughter right about now. ("No vacation to Europe for you! EVER!")

Today's teens know a lot about living out loud. What they don't seem to know is how to filter themselves, think before they type, or — sadly — consequences. It's too bad that "bomb scare boy" and "suck it girl" can't go on the road to warn others about their experiences. 

But, teenagers have to learn from their own mistakes.

That way, they can make even better mistakes tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at   

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