Today is 9/11.
I’ve got two Sunday reads. The first is a look at the children of that day — the sons and daughters of those who died. Several of my old colleagues interviewed them about their memories and lives since that day. It’s moving and sad and uplifting, and well worth your time.
The other is about one kid and the challenges of adolescence in the iPhone age.
Adolescence has been brutal for as long as we’ve been human, and certainly since “adolescence” became a delineated stage of life. You’re changing; your friends and classmates are changing; everybody is a stew of hormones and uncertainty, and all you want to be is accepted, by somebody, somehow. Minor slights become major calamities. You act before you think. Sometimes you may not think at all.
In the meantime, you might be horny as hell. Or, at least, infatuated as hell.
That was the case for Maureen, a 13-year-old who had a crush on a boy. He asked for pictures. She sent them. He said he would delete them. He didn’t.
Jessica Contrera wrote about Maureen in the Washington Post. It’s the other Sunday read.
The story hardly ends when punishment is handed out. For every “sexting scandal” reported, an unknown multitude of parents and teens — mostly girls — are just beginning to grasp what it means to live in a world where nothing digital ever truly disappears. What do you do when your 13-year-old takes photos of her body to impress a boy, and now she’s crying, stomping up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door screaming, “You don’t understand!”
Then help us understand, begged Maureen’s parents, Elizabeth and Michael.
“It wasn’t the picture itself,” she would later explain. It was that the boy told everyone that he didn’t ask for it. That she sent it because she was so desperate for his attention. Now, the comments streamed in on her social media accounts, the new outlet for time-honored middle school cruelty.
Go kill yourself.
Her parents thought about sending her back to school in the next town over. But Maureen knew the kids there had heard about her, too.
“I felt like I couldn’t fix it,” she said. “Like I was alone and nothing was ever going to be better.”
My heart goes out to Maureen. The finger-wagging part of me says, “Why would you do such a thing?” But she’s 13. I was a pretty self-controlled teen, but I’ve got a few regrets from those years. Who doesn’t?
The thing is, you’re probably unaware of the stupid things I did. They haven’t been immortalized online, where they will live forever. Also, even those who do know have long since forgotten; any criticism or mockery I got was of the moment, and the moment was not recorded. (I can’t speak for victims of bullying, which leaves lasting scars.)
Now, after the incident, they had taken away her phone, but she was still finding out what kids were saying about her. The longer she stayed out of school, the worse the rumors.
And the boy. He pulled this stunt on others, too. What’s he thinking? What will he be like in a few years?
Every generation wonders about the next generation. We’ve all run the gauntlet of maturity, though elements change over time. Some parents are sympathetic. Others are not. But most want the best for their children while still allowing them the hard knocks of experience.
What will they become on the other side?