January 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – I graduated from high school in 2006, and the first iPhone came out the following year. Kids had cell phones before that – I got mine when I earned my driver’s license – but we used them primarily for texting each other. Our lives did not unfold online; we couldn’t livestream or constantly take videos of the various goings-on; Snapchat and Instagram didn’t exist yet, and Facebook only showed up halfway through tenth grade, before it was abandoned for cooler platforms and became the hangout of middle-aged relatives. In short, we could screw up without our peers serving as potential snitches. We could say stupid things, tell stupid jokes, and make mistakes without our dumbest moments being immortalized and stowed away by the omnipresent eyes of smartphone cameras.
These days, that is no longer the case. Smartphones are the center of teen life, and any activity – no matter how mundane – is recorded and blasted off to an ever-expanding network of acquaintances. Smartphones shape the daily lives of teens and adolescents, and they filter their activities through their social media accounts. The results have been high stress levels; cyber-bullying that carries on even when teens are at home; sexting; revenge porn; skyrocketing levels of depression and suicide. Parents purchase their children the very tools that make them miserable. Everyone is trapped in a virtual reality; everyone’s worst moments are captured on-camera, where they wait to resurface years later.
A recent story snapped this all into focus once again. Late last year, 18-year-old Jimmy Galligan released a three-second video of one of his former classmates using a racial slur. Galligan is bi-racial, and the girl using the slur was a white cheerleader. Mimi Groves had just been accepted to the University of Tennessee, and promptly lost her spot on the cheerleading squad before being forced off campus entirely after the admissions office was swamped with demands that Groves be kicked out. Groves was immediately demonized, and even the New York Times covered the story, presenting Galligan as a justice-driven hero. Galligan and Groves got famous.
The context tells a different story. The three-second video was several years old, and showed a 15-year-old Groves, who had just gotten her learner’s permit, saying to nobody in particular: “I can drive, expletive.” The video went around on Snapchat, which is where Galligan spotted it and saved it for future use. He then waited for years – and released it when he found out that she’d been accepted into the University of Tennessee. Galligan made no apology for intentionally attempting to destroy a girl’s life over a stupid teenage mistake. “I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” he said. Mimi Groves’ mistake has now been immortalized in America’s paper of record, where her great-grandchildren will easily be able to find it.
There are many compelling lessons to be taken from this tale of teenage stupidity and cruelty, but every parent should confront one key takeaway: Teenagers should not get smartphones. I’ve written many columns for LifeSiteNews explaining why kids should not get smartphones, so I won’t repeat them all here. But stories like this add another reason: They ensure that kids with undeveloped brains have their dumbest moments recorded for posterity and circulated. These photos and videos and voice notes turn their futures into minefields, with folks like Galligan or exes or former friends or people doing oppo research just waiting to make them public at the right time, for maximum destructive force. The careful work of years can evaporate overnight. It happens all the time. It could happen to your kids.
Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales opens her exposé American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers with a conversation she had with several teenage girls at a mall. Social media, they told her, was ruining their lives – but they couldn’t stop scrolling and snapping. That, in my view, is where parents should step in. Kids will make mistakes. They will say dumb things, and most will say bad things. Those mistakes should not define their lives, and it should not destroy their opportunities. It is up to adults to protect kids from themselves. They are simply not equipped to own and operate these life-changing and incredibly destructive tools – and stories illustrating this fact emerge almost daily.
For the love of your children: Do not give them a smartphone.
And if your children’s friends have smartphones, your children must be aware that their mistakes and stupid, immature, or rude comments may still be captured by their friends’ phones, and have the capacity to completely ruin their lives.