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Wangersky: Smartphones put to stupid use


Published on September 8, 2017

Six young Nova Scotia men who admitted to exchanging intimate images of at least 20 girls without their consent treated the victims as “objects for the accused's own sexual gratification,” a Nova Scotia judge said Wednesday in handing down conditional discharges.

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They climb cliffs freehand. Swim at night. Dive into water that’s too shallow for diving.

Russell Wangersky
File photo

They pay the price, sometimes, for the rest of their lives. Pay the price, sometimes, with their lives.

Teenaged boys – and some teenaged girls — have proven for years that they are incapable of attaching cause and effect when it comes to dangerous things.

Cars, chainsaws, guns, booze, drugs — there are a litany of bad decisions that are connected to teenagers and any one of those things.

Is it any wonder that, armed with cellphones and social media, they make bad decisions there as well?

(Another editor pointed out to me that one crucial difference is that the damage from the dangerous things I mentioned first is that they do instantaneous, serious damage — and that, while the damage done by something as powerful as a cellphone can be just as serious, the result is often much slower. That may be.)

Wednesday, six male teenagers in Bridgewater, N.S. were sentenced as a result of charges laid when they set up two internet Dropboxes to share nude Snapchat pictures of 19 female victims, aged 13 to 18. At the time, the six male teens ranged in age from 13 to 16.

It can photograph, video, share, save, transmit, import pornography of virtually all kinds, broadcast, educate, modify, shame, insult, enrage, blackmail, bully — and the list goes on.

This is not in any way an apology for the Bridgewater-area teenagers. They deliberately exploited young women for their own pleasure, and harmed those young women in the process. I most certainly am not saying “boys will be boys” — the judge in the case said the young women had been through “complete hell,” and I think that’s apt.

And, as with any decision that harms other people, they have to be punished for what they’ve done. The judge decided the six would receive conditional discharges, the punishment the prosecution requested, including community service and counselling.

But there’s something else to be thought about here.

What people forget is that the everyday smartphone is an incredibly powerful tool to put in the hands of a teen. It can photograph, video, share, save, transmit, import pornography of virtually all kinds, broadcast, educate, modify, shame, insult, enrage, blackmail, bully — and the list goes on. If you have teens, or are at a social event where there are teens, you’ll see they live on their devices virtually non-stop.

It’s an additive to the already potent brew of being a teenager, and one that is just as dangerous as illicitly purchased liquor for a woods party or potentially contaminated party drugs.

This is a hard thing to say: I think you’ve successfully raised a teenager when they survive their teenaged years without being convicted of a crime, without lasting physical or mental damage, and with some central knowledge of what it is to be a good human being.

That alone is hard enough.

The cold hard fact is that there are teenagers who will not get to that point, whether they’ve been stupid with cars or ponds or cellphones. And they will be stupid. You’d teach your teen the right way to use a chainsaw. You put them in driver’s ed. You warn them about drugs and alcohol. You shouldn’t assume that they understand just how dangerous their cellphone is.

When I had teenagers, their cellphones gave me a measure of security, if only in that I could message them to ask if they were OK. Now that they’re grown, I still nudge them occasionally, to see how they are.

But cellphones are far more than that.

One tap of the screen can alter worlds, just the way a turn of an ignition key can.

A horrible thing has happened here. It will happen again.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.