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The internet is filled with stories of teens and their exploits, leaving a parent to question if their kid is capable of some of those same heartless and malicious shenanigans or perhaps in a position where they can be so easily victimized. Stories that are driven home by a case out of Rutgers University this past week. A real life tragedy where an 18-year-old freshman committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast the young man’s sexual encounter with another man over the Internet.
If you’re a parent, you’re driven by thoughts of putting your child in a protective, plastic bubble until all of the madness has passed, if in fact it ever will. How do you cushion and arm your children from being a victim of this form of cyber-bullying while still allowing them to become the young, responsible adults who are compassionate and not jaded so terribly by life’s experiences. I often think of the parent who has realized that not only is their child capable of causing this kind of psychological terror and wonder if they didn’t ask themselves the very same questions.
Tyler Clementi was a violinist. By descriptions provided, he was a quiet student, not well known by others in his dorm. Despite this hundreds turned out for a memorial vigil on campust. His college career had only just begun, his parents having just dropped their child off for the start of what should have been a new and exciting chapter of his life. A mere few weeks later, they received the word that all parents dread; their hard-working, loving son was dead.
A victim in a simple college prank that had ramifications far outstretching the naive minds of the two young people responsible for this grave error in judgment. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the perpetrators honestly thought that this was an acceptable thing to do. Where are the alarms that should be going off in their minds prior? The alarms that might make them second-guess what the outcome could be to another living, breathing individual. Instead they brashly and excitedly posted videos of their unsuspecting target and exposed a young, fragile psyche in the process of life-affirming and life-changing processes. A process, that if he survived, he would have realized that the people that he mattered most to will have the ability to accept and embrace his life as his own. His own self-guilt and confusion was exacerbated by the glaring public eye of the internet community. He wasn’t prepared to handle it; couldn’t handle it.
The new age, where all is public domain and up for public debate is upon us. Along with it comes the public scrutiny and the judgements that accompany it. Gone are the simple privacies that allow people to become what they will be at their own pace. What was the harm? Two consenting adults. In your life, no doubt you’ve been on the receiving end of a prank or two. Perhaps you’ve been the prankster. The only difference now, is that with a touch of a digital button you can violate someone now in an instant. Globally. Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei never thought for even a moment that by outing Clementi on the Internet he would leave a note online saying he had headed for the George Washington Bridge and that his body would be found in the Hudson River. After all, it was a joke. Wasn’t it? Again the fail-safe buttons that we think we’ve instilled in our childs’ brains obviously mis-fired or missed the mark all together.
In a goal for a joke, sometimes the most obvious signs or hidden scars don’t come to light until after the prank has run its course. Often times, it’s too late to turn back then. Our kids, no matter how much we love them and protect them, are still fledglings out their, testing the waters of adulthood and by doing so, often making grievous errors in judgment. The truly unfortunate part of this is that a young, promising man will no longer be able to bring his music to us. This prank has ruined many lives irretrievably.