Too Much Meanness

By MARJE MONROE, Director of Wellness | June 2017

Ten high school graduates recently lost their acceptance to Harvard.  Harvard decided to rescind admission after the students posted mean and hate-filled comments in a private Facebook chat. The news made headlines across the country and a spirited debate about free speech has resurfaced.  While free speech is important, I believe the real issue is the accessibility to electronic media that is filled with meanness, harassment and hate speech.  Every high school in the country that has students with access to smartphones, tablets or computers has faced the challenge of students posting, sending, receiving or texting mean, bullying, harassing or even criminal information.   

With a false sense of security and a feeling of empowerment due to anonymity, young people find themselves caught in discussion threads that are bullying, mean, or racist.  The words fly easily from fingers to a tiny screen where consequences seem remote.  But the consequences are real and we have a generation of kids who see the meanness and harassment as part and parcel of using technology.  We have a generation of kids being hurt, scapegoated, bullied or humiliated through online posts or texts.  Typically, when I ask students how they feel after getting a mean or bullying text, most shrug their shoulders and downplay the impact.  For the teens, the feeling of being engaged or simply part of a conversation online far outweighs the harassment and inappropriate behavior that comes with with it.  But we should not be fooled by their shrugs.  We should tell them it is never ok for anyone to be mean to them.  We should tell them it is never okay for them to take part in a mean discussion, even if they are just “observing” and not responding.  We should tell them they deserve to be treated with respect.

The question of whether Harvard should or should not respond to private Facebook posts misses the point. The point is that our young people, who will be helping to shape our future, are disregarding humanity, common sense, and ethics to be part of a group or discussion online.  That should be getting everyone’s attention.