|Photo credit: NEA Today|
Today’s teens and tweens react differently. As quickly as my mouth drops, their phones are capturing the moments.
My 14-year-old is no different. Last week, her little sis and I were trying to harmonize the chorus of Lukas Graham’s “7 Years.” (I don’t particularly love the song, but if a kid wants to sing with her mama, who am I to turn down the opportunity?) After nailing the notes, we high-fived each other. Seconds later, we heard our voices replayed on a cell phone. My reaction: “You were taping that!?!” (Yes, I still use words like “taping” instead of “recording.”) My second reaction: “Was it video or audio?” Looking raggedy in my ‘round-the-house gear – even if I do sound like Whitney (ahem) -- is not the look I want going viral.
I’m sure today’s kids think I’m paranoid about being recorded. Perhaps it’s my public relations background that drives me want to protect my image like a brand. Or maybe it’s the pressure I put on myself as a kid. As a teenager, I had a great fear of embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong: I was not perfect. I just worked really hard to cover it up. I cared that my behavior might feed people’s negative stereotypes about all preachers’ daughters, Christian children, Black kids, people from Chester …
I often wonder why today’s kids don’t seem to care as much. Perhaps the ease and pervasiveness of social media has numbed them. My adult mind can’t understand why people would post and repost images and thoughts that don’t make them look good to a broad audience. If I posted a fight on Facebook, for example, my close friends would probably call me to see if I’m having some sort of breakdown. The rest would probably think, “I thought she was classier than that.” I am convinced that one such post would undo years of trying to look good.
In my Spanish 2 Honors class yesterday, we were learning a corny hip-hop song to help memorize the vocabulary. Because I use these songs often, I know that singing along is usually beneath some of the cool or shy kids. So when my threat to play the song over and over until it got stuck in their heads didn’t get them singing, I pulled out an old trick that usually works: I tell them I’ll dance in front of anyone who’s not singing. In this large class of 32, I felt like an Ellen DeGeneres wannabe, working my way through rows of desks doing the wop, the whip, the running man, and a bunch of other moves that should remain in the 80s. It worked. The students I danced in front of were so embarrassed (probably for me, not by me) that they at least pretended to lip sync. We laughed, class went on, and that was that.
So I thought.
Two class periods later …
“Mrs. Carter-Lane, are you gonna dance for us?”“Huh? What?”“We saw you dancing on Snapchat.”“Really?”
Call me naive, but I truly thought that silly moment that was over and done with. I didn’t even see anybody recording me. How could someone have whipped out a phone, recorded me, and put it away so quickly? I hate to say it, but dang, I was impressed! It would have taken me 30 seconds or so to get the camera app open on my phone. (And I consider myself to be technologically proficient.) And to be honest, I would have spent those moments laughing so hard at my dorky teacher, that I would have thought about recording 10 minutes too late.
I was offended. I’ll admit it. When I asked to see the clip, the kids who told me about the video said it was gone. They said It was a “regular” Snapchat post, not part of a “story.” I didn’t believe them. I assumed they were protecting the rogue videographer. After all, phones are forbidden in class. And photographing others is also against the school rules. The students tried to assure me that the video didn’t make me look bad. “It was cute,” one said. Yeah, right.
When I got to 3rd period today, I addressed the incident. I told the class that I was offended that I had been videotaped without my knowledge. I expected dumb stares and dead silence. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when a 9th-grader spoke up. “I recorded you. I didn’t mean to offend you. I thought it was fun. You were adorable.”
Call me a sucker, but my disappointment was diffused. Heck, it’s not every day that a student calls me “adorable.” I thanked her for being honest and taking responsibility. I then told the class to think about how it might feel to be recorded and not know it, and then find out that recording was shared with others. I also advised that if (okay, “when”) they do record others, they should at least give the subjects an opportunity to say they’re okay with the video.
Reflecting, I believe my real issue with quick-on-the-draw cell phone videographers is that they have power. And power in the hands of teenagers is scary. Especially for someone who has to turn her back on dozens of them in order to write on a chalkboard. A few years ago, a student told me that a video of a colleague’s butt bouncing while she was writing on the chalkboard had been spread around the school. (I can only imagine what my fat a** looks like some days!)
Even scarier are the long-lasting consequences that come from posting and the fact that many kids have no clue about what’s inappropriate to post or forward.
I want to control messages about me. I want to be the one who determines whether people see me as intelligent, competent, caring, and all of those gazillion other positive attributes I want associated with my name. I’m not ready to give up that control. Especially to a kid.