An open letter to every adolescent with a Y chromosome who is in, or even on the periphery of my son’s life … and of course my son himself.
The world has gotten a lot bigger for you all in the past six months. A lot bigger physically in new schools that span from one end of the Valley to the other – but also a lot bigger online. There are more of you. More people you are getting to know, and more people you may not really know, but sure pretend to know through social media. You are all trying to find your way. I can feel it everywhere I turn. And I can see it no where more clearly than online.
And I’m sorry boys, some of this behaviour that I’m seeing … it’s not on.
It’s simply not.
I know I will earn no respect saying it or revealing it, but I’m not here for your adoration. I’m here to raise a young man. And I’m here to care about other young men who are in his life, or even on the outside circle as classmates, teammates neighbours or old friends.
I understand you are all growing up in a world of social media. I understand you are “digital pioneers”, and that we have to raise you to learn to manage living in this new world.
I understand you have all heard, ad nauseum, about the dangers and pitfalls of the ‘evil online world’ of people looking to prey on you, of bullying, pornography and safety.
But today we are not talking about any of that. We are talking about the young men you want to be in this world.
I feel as of late, somewhere, somehow, an incredibly pathetic low bar is being set in your personal online world. And whether you admit it or not each of you are playing a role in keeping it there. Each of you.
The group chats that happen in the guise of team bonding, the snap chats that come and go so quickly you are lulled into complacency, the memes – some specific memes – that some of you think are hilarious because they only step “one” foot over the line in your opinion but not “two” … and the others that are clearly well over any line.
So here are some things I want to make perfectly clear:
Saying “But it’s not pornography” doesn’t cut it.
Do not set the bar that low for yourself or for your friends. Expect better of them. Or get better friends. Choose respect. Expect respect. Accept nothing less.
Saying “But I’m not participating in the chat” doesn’t cut it.
Even if you never post anything derogatory yourself … ever … just being a part of demeaning conversations normalizes them. The undertones are all too often sexist, homophobic, or at the very least elitist. It creates a sense of normalcy that is false and against the values you should aspire to. Just because you aren’t the ones saying the words or posting the posts, you are still choosing to view the conversation. And I know it’s because you are part of a team or a certain group at school. And I understand “staying” comes from a fear of speaking up and being ostracized. I do.
But remember – you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Online, at school, on the sports team. Remember that. REMEMBER THAT.
Saying “I didn’t understand what that meant” doesn’t cut it.
I get it. There are things out there that “I” don’t even understand online! But ask if you’re unsure about something. Ask an adult in your life. Be grown up enough to find out from people you can trust. We are your safe place. They are your safe place.
Saying “He’s not really like that in real life” doesn’t cut it.
This is real life. It’s ALL real life. And choosing who you are online is choosing who you are in the world. If he’s like that online, he’s like that period.
Saying “I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble” doesn’t cut it.
I adore loyalty in my son and his friends. But if you feel that you have to keep covering for people, or if you think our families expectations are too high, maybe you need to reevaluate some things.
I completely understand you all will make mistakes. I completely understand that in the most literal sense your brains are not fully developed yet and you will have an imegdula-hijack from time to time.
I understand. I do. There are no expectations of perfect. But everyone still has to be responsible for their actions. Both on a screen and in person.
To those of you who I have seen with my own eyes post degrading photos and memes about women … who swear in a way that is not expressive but degrading … who make jokes about being gay … who think you are so much better than people who may be struggling academically or those who may not be good at sports … some of you really caught me off guard. I am ashamed and disappointed in you. I am. And guess what – maybe we need to say that more often. Maybe someone needs to be disappointed in you. I’ll be that person if you don’t have one in your life or if their heads are in the sand.
And once again, to those who don’t post these things but are seeing them and not saying something … who are not standing up … I do know it’s hard … I do know that … I do know decisions to remove yourself from conversations and stand up will affect you for years at school. I do know it may mean not sitting at the cool table.
But make the hard decision.
CHOOSE the young man you want to be.
To those who care so very very VERY much about the numbers of followers you have and who don’t know everyone following you (but only know “of” them …) please be careful not to get caught up in that … you are better than that.
Popularity does not equal kindness. As a matter a fact it requires a sneaky exclusivity and disrespect toward others that is most often the opposite of kind.
Popularity is a slippery slope and you can find yourself at the bottom feeling alone all too quickly. Or you can hurt feelings and relationships that become irreparable. You are not better than anyone. Let me say that again. You are not better than anyone. Even if friends and even parents and teachers and coaches and all kinds of peers and even adults are silently telling you you are. You aren’t.
CHOOSE to be the respected young man – not the popular one.
And finally – I know many of you are revered in the sporting circles. I know you think you are on top of the pack ~ or want to be.
But ask yourself “what pack?”
Are the actions you portray on the court matching your actions on social media? At your round tables at lunchtime? Or in the locker room?
Really ask yourself this.
I can tell you they are often not. I’m so disappointed in some of you. I truly am.
I’m sorry boys. I’m sorry Mark. I’m sorry parents, coaches and teachers, who may or may not have knowledge of this specific behaviour. I’m sorry world.
But I’m not raising the popular kid, or a kid to “just get through four years of high school”. I want to raise a confident, strong, empathetic, caring young man and I want him to be surrounded by other confident, strong, empathetic, caring young men. Young men who can be proud of themselves and who consciously choose who to be in the world … and that includes the online world people! There is no distinction or definition there.
Please. Please. CHOOSE the men you want to be. And not just in the easy circumstances and not just around the popular kids.
And adults, it isn’t enough to just let these things pass by or not be aware of them because they are online and you may not see them because they are on Snapchat or have been deleted from Instagram or you aren’t looking.
Boys will NOT be boys.
I’m raising a young man.
It’s not on.
And I’m actually not the least bit sorry.
I wrote this about a year ago. Instead of posting it I used it as a jumping point to begin conversations with my son about behaviour I was seeing start to plant itself in and around his grade. They weren’t easy conversations to have and they happened over time. But I am so glad I started them.
Some won’t agree that I choose to randomly look at my children’s phones. Some won’t agree with this post overall. And that’s ok.
Within myself I am personally so happy with the conversations we have had that came from these actions. It opened my eyes. It stopped me from thinking “this person or that person would never do that”. Including my own kids. It reminded me of so many things I knew but needed reminding of.
Even more so I am incredibly proud of my son and the choices he has chosen to make over the last year. They were not easy choices sometimes. But I believe this kid had dug deep into choosing who he wants to be, which has sometimes meant stepping away from some old friends, some new friends, teammates or classmates and deciding what was more important.
I’m incredibly proud of him this past year. I tell him all the time. (And each time he rolls his eyes at me).
Finally, I wrote this as if I was talking to Mark and his peers. In retrospect I would like to add a note to each adult that touches these boys lives. And it’s this:
Popularity, privilege and being overly adored by adults and peers (including parents, teachers, coaches, mentors etc) is all too often where behaviour and thought patterns begin, that can later end in appalling behaviours (such as those by some Dalhousie Dentistry males a number of years ago.) Don’t have your head in the sand or be fooled by outwardly polite behaviour on the surface.
Remember not to equate popularity with positive behaviour.
It begins here. It begins now. And it begins not with “other kids”. But with our own.