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Teenage Wasteland

The good news for teenagers is that life won’t always be that hard. The bad news for teenagers is that adults forget how hard life was, because they’re not teenagers anymore.

This generation of parents, perhaps more so than any other should be sympathetic. Kids these days drink, they smoke cigarettes and marijuana, they throw parties… just like their parents did. They do not like to be called youngsters, and they are acutely aware of the freedoms this country provides. (Didn’t we all study the Constitution, the Bill of Rights?)

America, for quite a while now, has encouraged teens, especially teens, to “talk about it.” Because besides drinking, smoking and partying, teenagers also commit suicide, and drive drunk, and run away. Kids are supposed to get things off their chest today, and peer discussion groups seem to be ever on the rise. Like it or not, the forums of Northportsevs were a peer discussion group. In fact, because of the anonymity that the Internet (for better or worse) allows, the student-administered website may have been the ultimate peer discussion group. It was a place where teenagers could speak their minds without worry about who is listening, because they felt secure that it wouldn’t get back to them.

And so they did. They argued, they threatened, and they wrote things that many of them would never even think of saying out loud to strangers. But they put their thoughts out there for strangers to read, review and respond to. They were exercising their guaranteed freedom of speech. And too bad if you didn’t like what they had to say… Or so they thought.

It should not have been surprising that, in such an anonymous forum, not everything Northportsevs kids had to say was nice, agreeable, non-controversial. Of course they bickered, cursed, disagreed. But they didn’t do any of that because of the website forum, they just did it there because it was where they could feel safe.

No one is saying why NorthortSevs.com was shut down over the weekend. Our attempts to reach the webmaster were unsuccessful. We do know that school officials were taking a hard look at the site, and a letter was sent to parents advising them to keep their children off that site.

It might have been much more educational, and maybe better in the long run for everyone, if concerned parties — parents, teachers, administrators — had taken a “watch-and-learn” approach, instead of what many kids view as a “seek-and-destroy” approach. The website provided an intimate look at at least one part of Northport teenage culture. Teachers love to talk about learning from their students. Northportsevs certainly could have been more educational. Now it’s gone.

To learn from that website, however, meant stomaching some harsh truths about local teenagers. Visitors saw pictures of drug paraphernalia, expressions of anger, nasty gossip and harsh popularity polls. None of these aspects of teenage life can be blamed on the existence of an Internet forum, and making the website go away does nothing to dilute those truths. The bongs pictured, flaunted even, in some posted pictures are as real today as last week. They are just not pictured on the Internet. The anger is just as real, too, but now some of that anger has been pointed back at the school district for a perceived injustice. Aren’t youngsters quick to find injustice?

Certainly, some of the things written and posted on that site were reprehensible, and in fact, very much illegal. They are aspects that need to be addressed by adults, who, whether or not kids like it, are older and usually wiser. This was not the way to address them.

After the liberal movements of the last few decades, parents of today’s high school students should be as sympathetic as any parents ever have been. At the same time, it’s also harder to be a parent now than in the past. There are all kinds of perceived dangers to children, and the Internet is one of the biggest. That’s partly because many parents don’t understand it, and partly because some understand all too well. This is a society that has been drenched with reality, when past generations struggled to shield children from reality, in one way or another.

There’s no going back, though. The only answer is to deal with it, pretty or not. Kids have changed, parents need to change with them.

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