Editorial – Making a Mockery

The first mass-produced Daguerreotype ushered in more than a new age in photography. It also helped create an enduring social icon: the family photo album. And whether It’s great aunt Josephine dragging out musty albums, or new parents with camcorders capturing Junior’s every move, most of us have at least one embarrassing childhood moment that we wish had never been immortalized by Kodak.

For the over-20 crowd, those awkward photos and videos had mercifully limited exposure, mostly reserved for good-natured teasing at family gatherings. But today’s kids aren’t as lucky.

It’s part of an interesting dichotomy That’s evolved. On the one hand, thousands of parents eagerly post the embarrassing antics of their kids on the Internet. A notable example is a young boy named David, whose father uploaded a YouTube video of David groggy and disoriented after a dental visit. It not only went viral and has been widely parodied, but the father has since posted a follow-up video explaining that he took the clip to show David’s mom (hardly an explanation for why he posted it online for the world to see).

In a more recent clip, a young boy begins to sing along in the family car. When his father makes a thoughtless comment, the boy dissolves in tears. Another example is a boy of about six or seven, dancing and lip-synching to Britney Spears in his room. His mother captured it on video and It’s now available for mass consumption.

Yet at the same time, schools and parent groups are alarmed at the rising cases of cyberbullying?the use of social networking sites and other electronic forums, like email, to spread embarrassing and hateful messages. In January, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after vicious bullying by kids at her school, much of it online. In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself after an incredibly cruel online hoax by a schoolmate’s mother, Lori Drew.

Obviously, bullying has been around since long before the world went digital. And vicious classmates will find any excuse to single out a target. But why would parents deliberately expose their children to the mockery of millions?

It’s doubtful that the average parent posts photos and videos with that intention. For most, It’s a desire to share personal moments with family and friends. But for some strange reason people still have difficulty with the concept that, unless It’s a password-protected site, they’re exposing those personal moments to the entire world. And not just today, but for years to come.

What happens when your cutely awkward six-year-old starts high school and that once-amusing viral video comes back to haunt her? Or your teenage son is subject to taunts because his classmates come across that YouTube clip of him imitating Britney Spears?

In a society where mockery seems to have become a national pastime, when It’s the norm for reality-show audiences to gleefully ridicule contestants, It’s one thing for an adult to jump into the fray. It’s quite another to send kids the message that their private, possibly embarrassing, moments are fair game too.

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