I received a phone call from the kids' assistant principal yesterday regarding something First Born Son posted on his Twitter Vine account- a 20 second video berating the First Lady for new mandates about school lunches. There was an expletive or two thrown in as well. The assistant principal stumbled upon the video while patrolling his own daughter's Twitter account. He just wanted me to be aware. He spoke to my son as I would have spoken to him- reminding him of the proper way to conduct oneself through social media- and in life. While it sucks to get a phone call about your child's indiscretions and it feels awful to realize you are still so much in the dark about the way he presents himself to the world, I am grateful that others care enough about him to help reinforce the values we try to teach at home. It was another opportunity to reiterate our expectations with him. Parenting in this technological age- in the waves of social media and cell phones- often feels like a losing battle- even when we are firm and vigilant. This was another reminder that while teenagers are smart enough to know what the right choice is to make, they are still stupid enough to make the wrong one. The following is a letter I gave to both of my sons.
Chilean author Isabel Allende wrote: Write what should not be forgotten.
Freedom of speech is a precious thing. It is a privilege too often taken for granted and abused. In this age of technologic instant gratification, it’s too easy for your generation to exercise your freedom of speech. But, you do so without the social conscience of the implications of your words. To spout off at the mouth, to type that sentence, to post that 20 second video, to share that picture without consideration for the legacy that you leave- cheapens the gift you have been given.
There is no courage in spewing words haphazardly. It takes fortitude and integrity to act with restraint, respect and reflection. It is not as easy to sit down and take your time to collect and compose your thoughts, words, arguments, sentiments with awareness. It is not so easy to offer a thoughtful solution to a problem and to work toward that change. It is not as easy to lead as it is to follow. But the extra bit of effort and the simple act of pausing and reflecting not only on your thoughts, emotions and views but on those of others- makes you a better person, makes you a leader and helps to make you practiced in sound decision making. It helps to shape you as a human being that leaves a positive legacy.Write what should not be forgotten. Do not litter the world with hurtful words and weak declarations.
There is no soundness in the defamation or degradation of another’s character or name. There is no integrity in the celebration of poor social behaviors and dangerous transgressions (such as the promotion of videos which highlight drug and alcohol use among your peers). There is no honor speaking without substantiation. In that moment when you are riled up, itching to share-close your mouth and open your eyes. Be receptive to the answers which will keep you on the path of uprightness.
Write what should not be forgotten. What will the words you leave behind continue to say about you long after they have been written, spoken, posted?
Your character, your trustworthiness and reliability are hinged on the impulses you have or have not chosen to temper. In the expressions of yourself that you choose to share with the world- everyday speech, pictures and videos, social media platforms, academic and personal essays and prose- be not careless with your words. Write only that which leaves a moving impression- broadening the the understanding of the human experience, compelling others to join the cause for positive change and inspiring others to think and act with courage to remain incorruptible in values and judgment. It is dangerous-the impetuous act of speaking whatever opinion you fancy in a fleeting moment or posting that sentence, that picture, that video. Those fleeting disseminations are bound to you for eternity- for others to stumble upon. Those in the position of power to grant you opportunities for higher learning, employment, and enrichment will form the wrong impression of the person you truly are. Before you post, consider Is this truly important to say? What message does this convey about my character? Would I want my family, my teachers, my future employers to read this? While moderating your words and practicing an economy of speech does not yield the immediate virtual thumbs up of your peers, the satiation of acceptance- it leaves your path clear and the palette of opportunities more full and plentiful.