Several times in the past week a friend has shared this video on Facebook:
The video plays three different scenarios involving teenage and pre-teen girls who were lured into meeting, in person and alone, a stranger they first encountered online. It is a truly horrifying thing to watch, but what I find most horrifying is not the behavior of the children, but that of the parents.
You see, each of the girls in the video was lured into a trap of her parents’ making. Having fallen into that trap, she is then verbally dressed down and shamed while the camera rolls. The final step, of course, is the publicizing of that shame on YouTube for the whole world to see. Yes, the girls’ faces are blurred in the video. But that doesn’t change the fact that what you see in this video is the painful betrayal of children by their own parents.
Each setup took several days to play out. First the girl in question had to be baited into chatting with a stranger online. She was then enticed to meet the stranger, whom she believed to be a boy close to her own age, at a designated location. Each of the girls included in the film ultimately carried out the meeting, in spite of the parents’ vehement assurances to the videographer that she would never go through with it. Perhaps the most disturbing scenario is the third one, in which the young girl provides her address to the online stranger so that she can be picked up at her house after dark. When she goes out to meet the van that has pulled up at her curb, she is grabbed by masked individuals who turn out to be her parents. How kind of them to disclose that fact after she has screamed in terror for several long and awful seconds.
Parenting is a scary business these days. Thanks to the internet, the world has gotten way bigger than it used to be. No matter how much we try to talk to and warn and entreat our children, they don’t always understand the dangers they face. They think, as we once did at their age, that they are invincible—that nothing can touch them. So I understand the desire of parents to try to impress on their children the scope and size of the threats that are out there. But I think that instead of being helpful, the approach portrayed in the video is incredibly harmful. Far from contributing to an environment of trust in which conversation might occur, it has the potential to push parent and child even further apart.
All of the parents in the video apparently believed they had effectively communicated to their child the danger of striking up online friendships with strangers, much less the danger of meeting those strangers in person. Clearly, though, something went wrong somewhere along the way. Not only did their children fall for the ruse; they decided to disobey and deceive their parents in order to carry out the rendezvous. I can’t imagine the horror those parents felt as they watched their children break every rule of the household—not to mention common sense. It must have been devastating to watch. But as a parent myself, I would suggest that their decision to set up their own children in this way is indicative of problems that go beyond online behavior.
I am not suggesting that the parents in this video are bad parents. I have no way of knowing that. (And at least they stopped short of actually carrying out the kidnapping, unlike some other really terrible people who were recently in the news. ) But I do think they made a bad choice, one that more and more parents seem to be making these days, sometimes with devastating consequences. It is an approach that, while it might seem to teach an immediate and important lesson, has the potential to do significant long-term harm.
Parenting is not a science, but a messy, messy work of abstract art. And unfortunately, excellent parenting does not inoculate children against making bad choices. I know of parents, and I’m sure you do too, who did everything right from day one. Nevertheless, the time came that their child turned his back on his upbringing and proceeded down a path of poor choices, rebellion, and self-destructiveness. On the other hand, I know parents who made one mistake after another, dragging their poor kids along for the ride, only to have those children make the decision to grow up and lead a different, and better, life. Why do children of “good” parents sometimes go “bad” and children of “bad” parents sometimes go “good”? I don’t think we’ll ever know. But there’s one thing I do know: deceiving, framing, publicly shaming and scaring your kids silly sure doesn’t help matters.