What should parents do?

April 4, 2015

Pot of flowers ctydThese pretty pops of petal appeared in our courtyard one 80-degree March day. Since we live in northern California, we are not supposed to have 81-degree March days. Our daily highs for March are supposed to be around 65 degrees. But this year we went straight from winter to spring and it started in February.

That same spring day I saw a newspaper article in our local section about a civil trial that was to begin soon. A trial of young high school men age 17 who took advantage of a drunk teen girl who had passed out. They sexually assaulted her and wrote comments on her body with a Sharpie. The young men took cellphone photos and circulated them on social media and elsewhere.

She hung herself. She was 15 years old.

Her parents filed suit in the hope that the publicity will effect change. What was expected to come out in this trial –and what has already been revealed–is a middle school and high school culture in Saratoga, Calif. where boys pressure girls to send them nude photos, which they share in a common Dropbox. Middle school age kids.  A culture of underage drinking, drugs, sex and bullying.  Where girls are treated like objects.

Saratoga is an upscale community whose kids are privileged.  I know this for a fact. I lived there for five years.

“I think there will be lessons,” the girl’s father said. “I hope so.”  However, yesterday the parents settled with the insurance companies of the boys’ parents. I can understand why they did, but then again, I had hoped that the stark reality of what happened, revealed in the media, would help effect change. Just like the parents said they wanted.

I am sobered–freaked out, really– at what kids today are faced with. At what goes on in communities where parents are too busy to be involved in their children’s lives, or who turn a blind eye for any reason.

For someone like me, this story is almost unbelievable. Is it even possible that middle school children–CHILDREN–are sharing nude photos with their classmates? That they are sexting? That society has changed so much that this is common behavior for teens?

I am having a hard time with this. Even though I recognized the roots of this societal shift back in the mid-1980s when it became ok for performers to wear revealing lingerie in music videos. Oh, I know I must sound like a prude and I’m not. It was just so obvious to me then that a line had been crossed and that there would be another line and then another until…well, until this. Until we ended up with a society where kids behave like this.

This idea that a classmate is an object, something to be taken advantage of, to be passed around, to be bullied? What kind of child would think that was ok?

The answer is too many. It was only a matter of time before a young person treated in this manner felt too humiliated to keep living.

Did no adult know about this shared Dropbox? Did no teenager feel that the trading of nude photos of their classmates was egregious enough to report to an adult?  Or is this part of the dumbing down, numbing down of values today?

I’m disgusted.

What should parents do?

It is past time for all parents to assess how closely they are monitoring their children’s behavior, online and off.  To keep lines of communication open. To make clear right and wrong. To talk about sexual behavior and misbehavior.  To institute consequences.  To dig deeply and then deeper still. Because this stuff is going on, whether you see it or not.

The young woman’s name is Audrie Pott. She’ll never see a bouquet of spring blossoms like the one in the photograph above.

So do it for Audrie.

But really, do it for your kids. And their kids.

Parents–asking you–what should parents do?

37 comments on “What should parents do?
  1. Joy says:

    That case is very sad and troubling, Carol, like every other cases of our children doing the unthinkable. By what you wrote and me agreeing, then I’m most definitely a prude too. I grew up in a society, a time and in a family that reinforced morals and consequences, the value of respecting others, spending time with family and covering our eyes whenever there was something not age-appropriate on tv. Are those still done now? I wonder and I wonder if that’s the reason why the world is so messed up. Have parents forgotten how they were raised and what worked? Maybe we all need to remember.

  2. Jacqueline says:

    “It is past time for all parents to assess how closely they are monitoring their children’s behavior, online and off.” I agree this is the way parents SHOULD be, but realistically they are not raising their children- social media and schools raise children today. Boys do not just grow up victimizing girls out of the blue. It is a widespread cultural issue- moms are not home to watch their kids, dads are nonexistent in many families. It’s sad, but the reason I won’t be having children is because I am appalled by the way kids are today….parents’ fault 100%!

  3. Janelle says:

    I’m not a parent, but I have a 12-year-old sister and we have a very open lines of communication. The things that she tells me disgust me. There are days that she doesn’t want to go to school due to anxiety and that breaks my heart, but I remember it well. All I can say is that I plan to homeschool my children. I can’t do anything about how these parents are raising their kids, but I can definitely control who my children interact with.

  4. Estelle says:

    This is unfortunately what we are dealing with in society today. I think parents need to stay emotionally close with their kids and talk about everything, including their bodies and boundaries for themselves as well as other people.

  5. This is beyond sad and disgusting. I have a newly minted teen grandson and I can’t imagine such behavior at that age. Our real estate agent has a blended family of 6 children up to age 12. As busy as she is, she routinely goes through the oldest’s phone and he knows it. I am so glad I never had to live through this time in our society with young kids.

  6. Valerie says:

    I’m a news reporter and have noticed this culture in Georgia, too. It’s troubling, especially because my boys are 8 and 10, and still so innocent. I just this morning told them there’s no Easter Bunny. Something needs to change.

  7. It is a new age of bullying, verbal and emotional (and even physical) abuse, and ambivalence. I do believe it all starts at home. Children often learn their behaviors from what they know at home. Whether parents are absent, abusive, or just too involved in their bad tv and social media drama, kids reflect those priorities. I can’t imagine this happening in high school, let alone middle school. No doubt, soon enough we’ll hear of some toxic behavior in elementary grades too.

  8. Haralee says:

    This is a very sad story.Unfortunately it is not the first shocking teen abuse and suicide story. Schools, parents, grandparents, religious groups all need to message to kids, boundaries, right and wrong, acceptable behaviors, and consequences. Do these boys feel responsible? Do their parents? They should! Their child is alive.

  9. Carol Graham says:

    Evan as a parent and grandparent, I can only speak to my own experience and not how others choose to raise their children. BUT…..what I have observed in the past 30 plus years certainly rings true to what I see happening now. I am watching my daughter raise her children with the same values, discipline, morals and balance she was raised with. She is appalled, as I was, when she sees how many parents choose to discipline- or lack thereof. At a very young age, today’s children are given more ‘choices’ instead of being guided. This is huge. When the difference between right and wrong is clear, it leaves little room for choice. Little ones should know what is right and what the consequences will be if they choose what is wrong.

    Another observance is security and self-worth. This starts before a child learns how to walk, not when they are pre-teen.

    You mentioned the time factor and yes, that is a major issue, but it is also an excuse. Everyone is busy and some of us, over-the-top busy but using that as a excuse to lack of discipline or balance in child-rearing, is just that – an excuse.

    I am never surprised at how kids turn out when they are teens — especially when I saw how they were raised when they were little tykes. It has nothing to do with being a prude or sticking your head in the sand — quite the opposite.

    Carol this is such a broad subject and usually when a parent realizes there is a problem, it is already too late to do much about it.

  10. This is deeply disturbing, Carol. Without meaning to offend any one, when I read stories like this, I almost give thanks for not having children. But then, they’re all ‘our’ children. And we must do all we can to raise consciousness.
    A few days from now, Galit Breen’s book ‘Kindness Wins’ will be released. You might recall me reviewing it last month. I wonder if such books can be made compulsory reading for parents and teachers.

  11. Lisa says:

    Stories like this really, REALLY bother me. That poor girl, and her crushed family. I had a very naive childhood in a small town where there really just was NO bullying, and parents were very involved in their children’s behaviour (especially mine; my mom was a teacher). I heard a bullied-as-a-child man say the other day that what saved him from depression and suicide was that he always knew he could come home to the love of his mother to make everything he went through at school bearable. That struck me. I have a very young son, not yet in school. I am a strong feminist and I will very closely watch and shape (as much as I possibly can) his view of women as equals, as partners, as resources of wisdom, and not as objects. What really worries me is how completely dehumanised these boys/men must have been to treat another human being like that. They need rehabilitation or some way to connect with empathic emotions.

  12. This story breaks my heart nobody should have to go through this nonetheless a child.

  13. Donna says:

    the slide began a long time ago, and just as a landslide occurs with a few rocks it picks up more as it goes down the mountain side. We have proven to our children life doesn’t matter as abortions for convenience are performed in record numbers, we have abdicated service to others to the government which has no control over who receives help making it possible for millions who should be taking responsibility for themselves instead taking advantage. Marijuana is now legal in several states with many more online, a drug proven to be a stepping stone to more abuse. God is removed from anything and everything. We have created a culture of immorality, anything goes, nothing is sacred and service to fellow men is unneeded. Self control is secondary to first being taught what is important. And it is hard to teach children when they do not have parents wiling to teach.

  14. Carol, this sort of stuff is why I sometimes wish I had pulled my daughter out of a parochial high school long before I did. The local public schools were more rough but the kids there did not have enough money to buy drugs in middle school and there were many wonderful parents who cared even though they worked hard, long hours. Then in parochial high school, the kids were vicious, snotty, one-upping, and had the extra money and time to be awful humans. This society of excess that idolizes Hiltons and Kardashians is reflection and cause. Sigh.

  15. Lana says:

    I have SO much that I could say on this subject. I’m so sorry about what happened to this young girl, but sadly I can’t say that I’m shocked, because it is going on everywhere. I live in a fairly affluent area, and have found that these types of awful, reprehensible behaviors are happening here. As Nancy said, these kids have money to buy drugs and alcohol, they’re bored, and in most cases have two professional parents who are working long hours and turn a blind eye to what is going on with their kids.

    While the kids themselves are entitled and have been taught that they can do no wrong, I have to place most of the blame on lazy parenting. Being a parent is a hard job, especially in this day of instant access and social media. But you shouldn’t take it on if you aren’t willing to do the hard work. It’s the parents responsibility to do all they can to grow their children into mature, moral, positive members of society.

    My boys are 20 and 17 and we still constantly monitor what they’re up to, their friends, and even their social media accounts. They don’t consider it an invasion of their privacy because we have lovingly and openly explained why we do it. Every single day we communicate with them about their day and what’s going on in their life. Every. single. day. No matter how tired we are, or how grumpy they are. Sometimes it’s a very short conversation, but it still happens.

    Parents have to do the hard work, and there have to be consequences for unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening around me. It’s a scary situation.

  16. This is such a tragedy and parents need to be more involved in their children’s lives from the time they’re little. I think parents today are more concerned about being friends than parents, and because of this, we’re raising a generation of entitled kids who don’t know right from wrong. So sad.

  17. Diane says:

    I remember this story when it first hit the news. So sad on every side. What lives are these boys living in their homes that would teach them this type of behaviour is all right? I wonder where their parents were. Out earning that upscale position? And that poor, poor little girl. The agony she must have suffered. I weep for all of them. For every wasted child.
    My suggestion? Talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
    I was blessed to be raised in a family that believed in Parental Involvement. We had family meals together and then, after we had finished eating, stayed there and talked. Sometimes for hours. About everything and anything. Told stories. Recounted fond memories. Became friends.
    When I worried we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, I started reading the same books they were reading. Listening to the same music. Oh, the conversations that we had standing in the kitchen after school! Sometimes we were still there when it was time for us to sit down to supper.
    When one of my daughters seemed to be glancing toward a crowd whose values were far different from our own, I started running with her in the morning. Just her and me. We spent hours together, just talking. Sometimes, we never even got to our run. We just walked and talked.
    (I was also priveleged to live with a man who respected, even revered women. He taught each of our sons that Woman, as God’s final creation, was also his greatest. And that they had better never be guilty of abusing God’s greatest creation.)

    • Thank you, Diane. There is so much about this story that makes me cry but so does your description of your own family and how you chose to handle things. I am hoping that the horror of it all wakes some parents up but also that parents who feel helpless will read comments from longtime moms like you and others who have posted her with good, practical advice. There is so much today that makes me cry.

  18. Lux Ganzon says:

    It’s very appalling indeed. My heart aches to see these hope of our nation throw away their gifts and potentials, swallowed by the shallowness our media feed them.

    We can point fingers and say we don’t give them enough guidance and enlightenment but what good would that do?

    My heart aches to hear these kinds of stories and news. My heart goes out to the parents of the victims. But what would the parents of the bullies and perpetrators do? What can we do as a society?

    Maybe stop the blame game and start spreading love and kindness and show respect so the younger generation will emulate the good they see in us?

    I hope this will end soon though. Before it’s too late.

  19. That case is so heartbreaking and really hit home with our family. My 17-year-old stepson died of suicide.
    Our 15-year-old granddaughter has been bullied the past 3-years. We fight to stop it, it dies down and then they come at her again. We watch her 24/7.
    A 15-year-old died of a heroin overdose in our town last night.
    It is frustrating and frightening.

  20. I have two kids who are adults now, but it really hasn’t been that long and I am so shocked by this. It terrifies me to think how much worse it will be when my grandchildren grow up. Parents need to wake up and start being parents again instead of trying to be friends with their children.

  21. Ken Sanderson says:

    “This idea that a classmate is an object, something to be taken advantage of, to be passed around, to be bullied? What kind of child would think that was ok?” In our society these days, we are all regarded as “objects” by the very rich and powerful, and by corporations and other businesses that will do almost anything to make a buck, regardless of the effect of their actions on their fellow humans. The story of those teenagers is horrifying, but I think it’s not just a matter of what parents need to do. I think it’s also a matter of how we need to change our society, so that people are recognized and treated as people, not as objects.

  22. I read about this too. Very disturbing and very sad. Parents should look at this as an eye-opener. It is getting very hard to raise children these days, can’t believe these young adults even think of committing suicide.

  23. Laurel Regan says:

    We had a very similar case here in Canada not long ago, and every time you hear about another your heart breaks once more. It makes me so very glad I am not a parent, as I have no idea what the answer might be. Great post, with much food for thought – thank you.

  24. Being a parent, I felt sad reading this post for the girl who suffered and for the boys who are victims of valuless upbringing. The objectification of the female gender is so disturbing and when things like this are happening in schools, it becomes depressing. Does it take too much to raise our sons and daughters as kind and sensitive human beings?

  25. Agata says:

    there really isn’t a lot you can do but to keep very close eye on your kids, talk to them and do your best to raise them right

  26. Jeanine says:

    It’s mind blowing to me how bad this stuff has gotten. As a parent I’m on top of everything my kids do via phone and online, but how much truly can we monitor? Makes me want to cut them off completely. For now mine are homeschooled and I’ll have to be sure to have a convo about this and other serious issues before they go back to public school if they do.

  27. Andi says:

    These types of occurrences make me very, very happy to not have children. I truly can’t imagine being the parent of a middle school aged girl and know this is going on – I see now why people home school their children!

  28. Meg Root says:

    Thank you for sharing that. We can all use a reminder that these things happen in ALL neighborhoods and we must be diligent: communicating, explaining, and monitoring. But also–spending more quality time with our kids laughing, smiling, keeping them busy and in their wellness zone feeling good about themselves. Because when we feel good, we don’t do things like this. I know it is more complicated than this–but that is my offering.

  29. I really hope that this is the saddest thing I read about this week – because it is truly almost more than I can bear. How very, very sad.
    The constant pressure ALL kids face today is unimaginable. We ALL have work to do to help at the children of our society cope, and to decrease teen anxiety, bullying, depression, and suicide. Good parenting is important, but the need reaches even well beyond that now.
    Carol, this conversation you have generated is a start.

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