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Editorial: Cut teens some slack over random online postings

Editorial: Cut teens some slack over random online postings

The other day, a teenager in Texas was fired from her job at a pizza joint before she even got start

The other day, a teenager in Texas was fired from her job at a pizza joint before she even got started after she went on Twitter and crudely voiced her distaste for her upcoming new position.

The franchise owner found out about the tweet and tweeted back, “I just fired you. Good luck with your no money, no job life.”

The teenager’s raw commentary and her future boss’ response reflects a growing trend among college recruiters, sports coaches and human resource professionals of surfing kids’ social media sites to determine their worthiness for jobs and scholarships.

In a first-place tie between candidates with equal resumes, the one who gets the job or college placement could be determined by one offensive post on Twitter. This is the new reality, where what you say or do online can have lingering, long-term effects.

In the adult world, this makes perfect sense. Adults should know better than to trash their employers or post photos of themselves doing things they shouldn't be doing. But in dealing with teenagers, the water is a lot murkier. And it should be treated as such.

Kids today, in general, aren't much different than we were at their age. They're insecure and self-conscious. They're narcissistic. They're confused. They're striving for attention and acceptance among their peers. They're unwise in the ways of the world.

What's different about the current generation and their predecessors is that this younger group has an easy means by which to share their thoughts and insecurities and activities. Social media. And they've taken full ownership of it.

First off, they don't see social media as sharing with the world. They see it as sharing with the handful of friends or followers they've allowed into their circle — a kind of peek at what they're willing to share from their diaries.

They don't understand the reach, the danger or the permanency of the worldwide web, how a bathroom selfie in their pajamas posted on Instagram for their friends can wind up in the hands of sex traffickers halfway around the world.

Take the kid complaining about her new job. Have you ever complained about your job to your friends? You probably have. The difference is you probably weren't dumb enough to say it loud enough for your boss to hear. This young lady certainly didn't think grandpa boss-man would read her tweet.

Kids also think they can erase mistakes forever by simply hitting the delete key. Adults understand that what's posted online stays online forever. Kids don't.

Recklessness and the inability to comprehend the long-term consequences of their actions are, literally, part a teenager's chemistry. Teenagers' minds work differently than adult minds do. It's not just a perception. It's proven science. So why should teenagers be penalized for being what nature set them up to be?

The fact that a parent or adults at a school assembly can talk to them about all this until they're blue in the face, yet can't convince them that their actions might be harmful, fits right into the psychological profile of most people that age. They think they're invincible. And like we were, they don't have much use for what adults tell them anyway.

Not an accurate picture

Getting away from DNA for a second, judging kids solely about what they post online is not only unfair, it's probably inaccurate. Since kids post only what they want their close friends and schoolmates to see, adults who judge them based on these snapshots aren't getting an accurate picture of that person.

Kids are not going to post photos of themselves doing things like baby-sitting their little brother or studying for exams or stocking shelves at their supermarket job or sitting in church. So is it really legitimate to base a scholarship or a job on what they've chosen to post online?

Even the criminal justice system in this country cuts kids some slack for being kids. Only two states, New York and North Carolina, hold those under age 18 criminally responsible for non-violent crimes. The other 48 states recognize the difference between adult thinking and kid thinking, and as such, treat them differently.

And really, is it even right for adults to be using this means of assessment? Even criminal suspects are warned about their right to remain silent before sharing information they might not want to share with authorities. What right do college administrators and business managers have to secretly eavesdrop on the social networks of immature kids, especially when they're not conscious that someone else is listening? Does posting online automatically give the world permission to use what's written? Legally, maybe. Morally, maybe not. Just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should.

Does all this hand-wringing let the kids off the hook for everything? Certainly not. Should we continue to impart on them the dangers of posting inappropriate material and language for all to see? Every day. Should kids be warned over and over that employers and college recruiters are surfing social media looking for cracks in their character? By all means. Should violent or criminal acts posted online be taken into consideration? Of course.

But ultimately, how seriously should adults take these random daily postings? Do they represent character flaws, or just normal teenage stupidity, naiveté and bravado? Do we really want to judge teenagers for being teenagers?

Before we deny a kid a scholarship or a job, before we make anyone's tweet part of their permanent record, we adults should all take a long look in the mirror and think about whether it would have been fair to judge us so harshly for what we did at that age.

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