For years, I had been wanting to add to my college curriculum a focus on how technology was adding to the stress load so many students were carrying, how it was distracting them from their studies, impacting their health, and creating a barrier between them and their friends. But I was afraid. Afraid of being seen as out of date. But then life stepped in. In the span of one month, I was made aware of two stories involving two beautiful young girls, inside and out, both fifteen at the time, and both of whom I knew.
The first story involved one of the girls sexting with a boy. He was not her boyfriend, or even a potential boyfriend. This girl had not experienced so much as a kiss, and yet here she was exchanging naked photos of herself and telling worried friends that it was no big deal. The second story involved the second young woman who started a texting relationship with a much older boy that she had met only one time. Early into this exchange, the young man became sexually suggestive and aggressive in his texts to her. At this point, her friend’s sent a text asking him to stop. He responded by texting back that if she told her friends any more about what he was saying, he was going to come find her, and do the most violent act of sexual aggression you could perpetrate on a woman’s body. Despite the advanced nature of this interaction, this girl too had never been so much as kissed. Amidst the horror of this, she dismissed it all by saying that it was not a big deal because it was just a text.
For weeks after hearing this, I was not right. I would spontaneously be overcome by grief and anger. I raged inside. I sobbed whenever I thought of them. I felt frustrated and disempowered. I believed there there was nothing I could do. Or so I thought. Without knowing what I was doing, I took all of this to my college classes. Because I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed, I started at the beginning. I began by telling them these two stories in great detail. I was very emotional in the telling. It was clear how overwrought I was. And much to my surprise, you could have heard a pin drop that day. The class was riveted, and not because this was news to them. When I asked them if any were shocked, or if this story was new to them, not a single hand was raised. As a matter of fact, I went on to ask this question for a number of semesters in a row to literally hundreds of students, and still, not a single hand went up.
I have come to see now why they were so focused on what I was saying. They were fastened to my horror, my grief, and my anger that the innocence of these two girls and their precious budding sexuality was being squandered without apology, and was even being justified as something that was “no big deal.” And that was when I knew. I knew that for all of their bravado about how great things were, it just wasn’t true. Somewhere down deep they did not feel good either about what was happening. And when they saw my unfiltered reaction, in that moment, they could not deny it. It is so difficult to pierce the illusion around the collective agreement and collusion regarding how all powerful and amazing the technologies are, that it has taken me a long, long time to catch up with the truth. But please know this, all the way into the deepest part of yourself; they are not OK with what is happening, despite what they do or what they say.
In subsequent classes, I went on to tell them about how my family was living and how we were raising our children with little to no technology. I had no idea how they would respond to this, I only knew that an opening had been created, and so I took it. To my great surprise, they broke open too. They spoke of what was not working for them. They spoke of their anxieties in trying to keep up. They spoke of their dissatisfaction with their relationships. They spoke of not being able to sleep at night due to interference from their devices. Later, they came back talking about changes they had made. They taught, and continue to teach me so very much about human nature. They have reminded me about what we all yearn for despite the ways that we get sidetracked. They regularly remind me that the younger generations look to us, despite what they might say or what we might think. They remind me that the human spirit is infinitely creative when it receives the support and the inspiration it requires. They show me regularly just how difficult it is for them to handle this. And they openly and regularly worry about the generations to come.