A couple of weeks ago Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running for governor, made the Today show and most major news outlets for a picture placing him at a wild high school beach week party in Delaware in June.
It showed him with his arm up, phone extended, looking like he was about to take a photo of a bikini-clad girl doing a dance Miley Cyrus made popular recently.
He said he visited the party to speak with his son. And the attorney general, an outspoken critic of underage drinking, denied he knew any alcohol was being consumed. Besides, he told the Baltimore Sun, “Assume for purpose of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party. How is that relevant to me? The question is, do I have moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state? I say no.”
Many people criticized him for being a hypocrite and he responded by later calling it a “mistake” to not investigate whether alcohol was being consumed at the party, but the apology seemed more in response to the media uproar than moral conviction. Personally, I found interesting his take that parental guidance hinges on geographical borders.
But despite the late night jokes and the television mentions that make his behavior seem outrageous, being your child’s friend instead of his parent is more the rule than the exception in today’s culture, with dangerous consequences.
Parents routinely give smart phones to their children without monitoring their email or text messages, more afraid, apparently, of violating their privacy than stopping dangerous behavior like sexting or preventing them from posting material on social media that would put their resumes in the trash file for most employers.
According to a recent survey, one in ten 16-to-34-year-olds have been rejected for a job because of the content of their social media profiles. So if you don’t care what your kids are doing for moral reasons, you should for economic ones.
And then there are the myriad cases of online bullying. One of the most recent and heartbreaking cases is that of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick. She committed suicide by jumping from a tower at an abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Florida, in September. Her mother said she had been bullied by two girls, one 12, the other 14, for months. On October 12, the 14-year-old posted this on Facebook: “Yes ik I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF (I don’t give a f***).” According to news reports, witnesses told investigators that the 14-year-old had told Rebecca to “drink bleach and die,” prompted in part by jealousy that the younger girl had been in a relationship with the boy she was seeing.
The 14-year-old has been charged with aggravated stalking and is under house arrest. How did her parents respond to the charges? The stepmother of the 14-year-old, Vivian Vosburg, told media outlets that her daughter would never bully anyone and that her account must have been hacked. According to the Associated Press, her father said that his daughter was “a good girl” and he was “100 percent sure that whatever they’re saying about my daughter is not true.”
Did they know if she was good girl or if she had been hacked? Had they checked her phone or her Facebook account?
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said neither the parents of the 12-year-old nor the 14-year-old would bring their daughter to the sheriff’s so detectives had to go to their homes to arrest them. Talk about a missed opportunity to teach personal responsibility.
Permissive parents have been around for centuries without widespread damage to other children’s lives. But technology means that children can now act as wild as they would at a clandestine party all the time.
So what should parents do? Sheriff Judd offers some good advice. At a press conference on October 15 he said, “Watch what your children do online. Pay attention. Quit being their best friend and be their best parent.”
It means being uncool, like parents throughout history.