The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers

Jun 07, 2017 · 82 comments
Anna Gibertini (New York, NY)
I was alarmed by the piece of legislation Ms. Homayoun mentioned towards the bottom of her piece. 15 years in jail for sending nudes is absurd. Give them a year, at most. More importantly, make them do some kind of community service that revolves around learning from and helping people pursuing rehabilitation -- from drugs, prison, sex work, etc. Show them the value and power of turning your own life around after a bad mistake. That would be more instructional than throwing them in jail for being stupid teenagers dealing with an irrefutable biology and feral social media ecosystem.
Lujia Zou (New York)
"The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers"

As a teenager, this article caught my attention a lot, because I am one of the teenagers who obsessed in social media. I spend at least 7 hrs a day on my social media, and it's horrible! In this high-tech society, phones become the most important item for people and always carry their phones around. I saw lots of bullying on the internet when I was using the social media. People used the most horrible words to attack someone that they never know because they don't need to bear the responsibility of attacking others in real society and unscrupulously vent their anger. Many teenagers don't realize how much hurt do they bring to others because of their bad comments; they think the actions are fun. They are not mature enough to have right behaviors. I wish we can change the situation of the use of social media and develop it in a more positive way.
Jimmy Padilla (Copiague NY)
I personally see myself in your shoes because that happens to me everyday. Sometimes I rather be in social media than doing my schoolwork and is very hard because once you get the habit of being in social media is hard to stop.
Ellie (Los Angeles)
This article interested me because I am currently a teenager. I think social media is a huge problem. Teenagers are so obsessed with social media, you see them walking around on there phone and that's a huge deal because theres times where they cant be on there phone and they need to pay attention to there surroundings. Teenagers use social media for the wrong reasons now a days. Many just want to fit in the crowd and say they have Instagram, facebook, twitter, and snapchat. Unless your like others they just want it for fun or just want to get to know people around there area. Many others use it to bully others which I believe is not right because you make the other kid suffer and in the past years many teens have committed suicide because they couldn't stand the bullying anymore and its been getting out of hand. If you want social media I believe it should be used for educational purposes or to communicate with friends not to abuse it.
Olivia (Michigan)
The article "The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers" interested me the most on The Times this week. This article caught my attention because I am a teenager and wanted to read about the social media life of teens. I do believe that social media is very dangerous and many teenagers don't see that. Once you post something there is no going back. Even if you delete the post somebody saw it. This makes it very dangerous because some teenagers don't realize that it can hurt somebody. Teenagers also pick on other kids. Teens think it is funny but in reality they are bullying another student and it is not right. I believe teenagers are old enough to realize what they are doing and if it is right or wrong. Most teenagers just don't make the right decisions. I believe that parents should have access to their kids social media accounts to monitor what they are doing. I also believe that parents should talk to their kids about how dangerous social media is and how it can affect you in life if you don't make the right decisions. Even though I am a teenager who makes good decisions this article made me realize what adults must think of us and wonder why teenagers do these things.
Stella (durham, nc)
Social media is so dangerous for teens. Narcissistic bullies who passive-aggressively post "just kidding" meanness on their Finsta (fake Instagram) accounts can do real damage to their victims (and they know exactly what they are doing). Once those posts are out there, their intended audiences see them (including the victims) and there is no undoing that (especially if screenshots are taken). Schools and parents need to be swift and appropriate in their punishment if they are made aware. Kids who post about other kids are indeed bullies and need to learn and hopefully get help. These types of bullies often get away with their abuse because it isn't directly threatening but the hurt it inflicts is real and long-lasting. And if you see your kid using social media as an on-line diary, please talk to them. I know there are instances where they can get help from their peers by reaching out but what they post is out there forever and can come back to haunt them.
Britt (California)
This article really made me realize the extent that parents need to be active in their children's online life. As a parent, I believe I need to monitor my child's online usage in the same way I monitor what my child eats and watches on television. The tricky part is staying one step ahead of ever changing platforms. The author makes a good point in that we as parents need a continuous dialogue about appropriate online usage with our children.
erockrock (Ca)
This article raises some good questions for parents and kids about responsibility, privacy, and having integrity while using social media. I'm a new parent and I'm wondering what decisions I will be facing in a few years when my kid wants his own phone, iPad, or whatever new device will be out there. How will my partner and I talk with him about how to not go down a rabbit hole spending 9 hours on instagram, Facebook, and apps to have a secret life online? I hope we will be able to have these conversations and model enjoying life offline.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
I read another comment thread on this incident, on another site; most of the comments condemned the applicants' opinions, and those opinions were despicable. But a handful of commenters asked what Harvard was doing snooping on a "private" group, and the other commenters accused them of being soft on racism.

Has it come to that? With apologies to Stanley Fish, what I'm hearing far too often is that "there's no such thing as privacy and it's a good thing too."

To weave a conspiracy theory, like Alex Jones, would be wrong - it would mean passing off an effect as a cause - but if I were a member of an evil cabal trying to create a panopticon society, I could think of nothing better than the Internet in all its forms. Take whatever ways to engage the outside world that people are used to doing without being spied on, give them a convenient electronic channel for these tasks, with a window for snooping, and gradually either bring all alternative means into the network or let them atrophy. Continue until what they talk about, what they buy, what they, read, watch or listen to, is all snoopable, extrication is difficult, and you have the panopticon.

If privacy is dismissed as a mere cover for evildoing, then let's drop the pretense of believing in a free society.
Andrea (California)
I really enjoyed this article.
As an educator that works directly with the entire family, I rarely see parents putting restrictions on computers, tablets, or phones. In my opinion, restrictions on devices are comparable to the rules of obtaining a driver's license. There's a learning process that involves real rules and consequences. You don't just hand your teen the keys to your car and trust they know what they're doing. Same goes for cooking, laundry, feeding the dog. They all require guidance and education, so why not social media?
I feel like the author is simply trying to create awareness to parents, but with the child's best interest in mind.
Robert McConnell (Kirkland, WA)
We can not emphasize strongly enough to EVERYONE, not just teens, that there are no secrets on the internet. If you write it down or record it, that post may become visible and in the public eye.
Qxt_G (Los Angeles)
Secrecy is an important part of life, for many. This new technological phenomenon enables youth to carry tons of secrets, quickly becoming their essence. Later, their secret essence manifests itself in many odd ways

Secrets are the meaning of life for many without some philosophical transcendence.
Gary P (Oregon)
I teach high school. Author makes several good points, yet I can't help wondering: why no mention of Snapchat? That's where most hours per day get spent. And its interface lulls kids into a false feeling of safety--"no one else will see this post after 24 hours."

Kids don't use Facebook, it's for us old people. Who sometimes use it poorly as well (see: Election 2016).
M. Cogdill (North Carolina)
Here's a thought---why give your tween or teen a smart phone in the first place? My oldest (now in college & about to start Junior year) had no smart phone and no texting all of middle school and high school. He did have social media on his desk top but wasn't on it too often. Yes, he got a smart phone for college but guess what? He survived and didn't have to get bogged down by all the flurry of texting drama.

He is studying computer science and is on the school Hackers club for his university that was sponsored by Facebook and he got connected by Google recruits so he fully knows what is involved in social. And he thinks social is a waste of your time and that too many parents are addicted to their phones. He not an odd awkward nerd but having him mostly off of social via smart phone in HS was helpful IMO.
KathyW (NY)
I know a 7 year-old who was just given a smartphone. What are parents thinking? Or perhaps the question should be, are they thinking at all?
shopper (California)
I have seen graduates of Harvard post offensive, boorish, and obscene posts on Twitter. How could Harvard have graduated such people?
Publius (NYC)
Say hello to community college, boys and girls!
Cathryn (Stein)
Ms. Homayoun,

I am dismayed by the tack of your essay. In your second paragraph you imagine the parents of these children wondering, "What were they thinking." I hope the parents instead wondered, "What kind of person have I raised?"

Your approach takes an example of young adults making fun of some of the worst horrors in our society and implies that the transgression is one of failing to keep these thoughts undiscoverable. You further reinforce this error by your gross mischaracterization of their behavior as merely "reckless."

Schooling parents on how to monitor their child's social media interactions is a worthy undertaking but the absence of any moral judgment can only be explained by a desire to avoid offending any of these same parents. Taking a stand in favor of parents engaging in real, live parenting could turn some of them off to your "forthcoming " book, no?
anahomayoun (SF, CA)
Dear Cathryn,

Thank you for your note, and for giving me the opportunity to clarify a few things.

I absolutely agree that what was allegedly shared among the admitted Harvard students was completely indefensible, morally repugnant, and all-around horrific. I also know that taking the moral judgment route is the fastest way to get some parents who need to hear this message most to completely tune out.

Through my work, I've encountered more than a few parents who wouldn't find what those admitted Harvard students posted to be morally reprehensible. As much as we would hope that all parents would think, "What kind of person did I raise?," the truth is that some would not, and instead would threaten legal action at the school imposing disciplinary action. I know, because this has happened at a fair number of schools I've worked with in similar situations.

However, these same parents *would* respond to the long-term repercussions that their child's college admission offer was rescinded. Long-term, I hope we can all work to become a more inclusive and welcoming society where this sort of behavior is never tolerated. But in the nearer-term, finding effective ways to motivate teens (and adults!) not to say or share mean, terrible, compromising, judgmental and morally repugnant things online (and in-real-life!), and encouraging everyone to be nicer all around is a good place to start.

Warm regards,

Ana Homayoun
Lifelong Reader (NYC)
"As much as we would hope that all parents would think, "What kind of person did I raise?," the truth is that some would not..."

That doesn't mean you should have completely failed to deal with the nature of what was posted. You could have done both. The rescinding of the offers already had everyone's attention.
Sal (CA)
"Down with Thought Police" is such a simplistic and dishonest position to take here. What then, no involuntary manslaughter charges, because we shouldn't be commenting on people's inner thoughts? How can one even pretend that professional comedians saying something in public is the same as teenagers saying something in a secret Facebook group? Of course, the consequences are also different.

Going to Harvard is a privilege, not a right. Since when did Harvard have any obligation to any of its applicants? You can't say "I'm a hobby racist/sexist but I *demand* you to overlook that in my application." In the end, it's a simple decision: freedom for these teenagers to speak their minds, and freedom for Harvard students to go to school without fear and anxiety over hate. For Harvard, the choice seems pretty obvious.
Karen (Springfield OR)
Certainly this is a serious issue...but 15 years and a felony conviction for a consensual act by someone whose prefrontal cortex in still under development? In my mind, this is not a solution.
Howard G (New York)
"Many people — adults and kids alike — view likes, loves, comments and followers as a barometer for popularity..."

Of course - that could ne-e-e-e-ver possibly be true for the people who post comments on the New York Times -- oh no...
Robert (J)
It's a double-bind. A parent not monitoring a teen's on-line activity is disastrous: The blind end up leading the blind. Yet, monitoring can be equally problematic: Whatever you seek to control will always breed the opposite. The best way to lead teens through these years is to foster an open, attached relationship starting at birth.
Elana (Seattle)
The parents of these students are partly, if not completely to blame. I guess they all just got saved a yearly tuition fee of what, $50K.
Kim Susan Foster (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Elana--- Wonder what Schools these kids went to, if they are Private Prep, then they wasted Pre K-12 years of tuition payment. Schools are not to blame at all? Schools really should have most, if not all, of the blame here. I hope they didn't receive High School Diplomas with Honors, and even more awful, High Honors. Clearly, these kids were not ready to graduate.
SteveRR (CA)
Guess what - you are smart enough to get into Harvard - you will probably be successful elsewhere.
mom of 4 (nyc)
How can you blame their schools? The schools are not the ones who are responsible for checking in on communications that happen after hours using non-school networks.
ABear (Bay Area)
If you want to share with your friends and family and have real privacy, I suggest that you take a look at nderground ( nderground is a social network built around privacy. nderground supports both posts and photo galleries. If you're a parent, do you really want to post pictures of your children on the Internet?
AMAS (Upstate NY)
Let's start by teaching our children that there is such a thing as who you really are, and who you want to pretend to the world that you are--and that not having a firm grip on both can indeed have a lasting impact on your life. Just imagine the drivel that was likely in the 10 students' admission-process essays and then juxtapose those charmed cliches with the discovery of who they really are. What is a school that is older than the republic supposed to do? Pat them on the head and tell them to hop on board? The lines that we draw in the 21st century are surely different than the past, but there are still lines.

This episode shatters all previous notions about free speech and privacy on college campuses. There are values, Harvard claimed--that's really the take home message here! If the world has a way of finding out who you really are and what you are really capable of doing, despite our current world of smoke and mirrors, you are going to be called out. Sobering and unsettling, yes, but also refreshingly fascinating.

I've actually met parents who hold their children's desire for "likes" on social media to be so sacrosanct that they chide and essentially harass other adults to go on social media and give their child a "like." This is ridiculous--as in worthy of ridicule. The 10 students whose admission was revoked learned a globe-altering, breathtaking lesson and gave earth's population a golden opportunity to learn too. Take heed!
FireDragon111 (New York City)
Well said!
msf (NYC)
I am horrified at some commenters here - seemingly middle age - defending racial slurs as 'fun'. I am all for poking a little fun, but what seems to be lost here is not internet control (just don't want to be caught) but an ethical understanding of what constitutes responsible behavior. This is not new. Just check your 10 commandments.

I salute Harvard for holding up high principles. (I would not want my kid in a dorm with those teens).
Lifelong Reader (NYC)
Thank you. This was ugliness that a desire to go along with the crowd does not fully explain. The author of the article was a little too quick to discuss group dynamics and the influence of technology before dealing squarely with the vile things these kids posted.

The message shouldn't be "Don't get caught," but rather refrain from disgusting statements that call into question your decency as a human.
Ravi Chandra (San Francisco, CA)
Dr. Daniel Goleman coined the word "cyberdisinhibition" for the way online communication is disinhibited because instead of presence - including facial cues, body language and tone of voice - we have absence. In that void, our impulsivity can hold sway. This leads not only to the disinhibited teen free for all this article describes, but also trolling behavior, which research suggests is founded on the "dark tetrad" of sadism (taking pleasure in others’ suffering), psychopathy (lack of remorse and empathy), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), and Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others).

So the so-called social network actually is a realm where the worst aspects of human personality and behavior can come to the fore. Social media can be the 'auxiliary amygdala' of impulsivity. Personally, I don't think the internet can be an 'auxiliary cortex' of long term planning, empathy and compassion. For that we need relationships grounded in the real world.

The solution for these teens might be to deactivate completely. But the genie is out of the bottle - now what?

Ravi Chandra, MD, DFAPA
Psychiatrist, San Francisco
Mirage (Brooklyn)
Parents and kids alike must simply reject social media and not take part. Similar to abstinence. I believe it will eventually cause a liberating domino effect. But we need some strong, self-aware leaders (both parents and kids alike) to start the trend.
Get rid of (Sociamedia)
Hear hear! Get your child a flip phone if you feel the need for the kid to gave a phone!
Beatrice (02564)
The pre-frontal cortex for wise decision making is NOT mature in adolescence.
The "thrill/fear of getting caught" is pretty exciting.
In some people, impulse control is mature by age 30. In some, never.
We have a very good example in the behavior & lack of impulse control in the 70 year old current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.
In my opinion, if one chooses to become a parent, one signs on for life, some years requiring more "monitoring" than others.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
What about those teenagers who do rein in their impulses?
Gene S. (Hollis, N.H.)
By rescinding the admissions, Harvard is saying that they don't want their resources and the cachet of a Harvard degree attached to people who lack the sensitivity and common sense which would tell them that such speech and images are "not okay". These are lessons this young people should have learned in preschool. Admittedly the sanction is a harsh one, but Harvard apparently feels it important to protect the Harvard name.

I'm sure the onus of this action will fall almost as harshly on the parents who failed to teach their children--usually by example rather than by precept--what is appropriate behavior. I'm sure the young people will be admitted to other very competitive colleges. I hope--for their sake as a learning experience--that they are open with the admissions departments about their recent experience.
eva lockhart (Minneapolis, MN)
As the teacher of high school juniors I can tell you that these are important warnings. It does not matter if you think Harvard is the "thought police" or not. This is the way the world works--private matters, poor jokes, offensive or racist memes--anything tasteless, is a liability for any company, any school district, any college or university, any government office. We live in a complicated increasingly global and technological world. The sooner kids realize that their privacy is at risk, the sooner they may realize that they need to be more careful, more prudent and more responsible with what they say, think, read or promote. That is not actually a bad thing, is it?
mom of 4 (nyc)
how much prison time for this? more than for actual rape!
Sam (NY)
I get that this article has a larger focus in terms of teens and social media, but the drop-in on the implications of H.R.1761 for America's young people are disturbing and draconian, outweighing any other issues. This bill needs an entire article of its own to educate the public, unpack the vagaries of the language and the horrifying results that could ensue, and ultimately halt or significantly alter the bill in the Senate.
Robert (MN)
Once upon a time, when we did stupid things as kids, the consequences were local and short-lived. Now a stupid decision can quickly spread and have a lasting impact on a teen's life. As a worried parent, the pressure mounts to become more of a "helicopter parent" for fear one dumb act affects my child's life forever. By doing so, I become part of the problem because my excessive control retards development of my child's neurological executive functioning. Addressing this paradox is seriously difficult and I don't see any clear guidance on how to do it effectively. I doubt an escalating "parent-child app war" will solve the problem. Surrounding kids with live adults open and willing to offer guidance and mentoring worked once upon a time and still seems to--if we create the opportunities for this to occur. But that means we all have to put down our phones.
midwesterner (illinois)
This article is largely about form, but I keep dwelling on the content. Among risky pastimes of teenagers in the past, I just don't recall violent and racist memes being prevalent or cool in any way. The content isn't arbitrary ~ there are other ways to shock and titillate ~ it reflects society. And changing that requires a collective will, not just the efforts of individual parents (not meant as a criticism of this enlightening article in any way, however).

What a "brave new world." Please update your book in ten years when my newborn grandson faces his tween years!
mikecody (Niagara Falls NY)
It goes in cycles, I believe. As a teen in the late 60's and early 70's, violent, racist, and homophobic cartoons and speech were the norm in non-hippie groups. To a great extent, I believe it was a reaction to the burst of liberalism of the times, with the civil rights and anti-war movements being so popular among the hippies and kooks of the time. We are in another era of expanding liberal thought, and the kids are reacting to that just like we did. The technology has changed from copiers to cellphones, the thought process has not.
Julie Zuckman (New England)
Grew up in a famously progressive NYC suburb. Racist speech in private definitely happened. But lacking the technologies we have today, it was only private speech, leaving unpleasant memories but no paper or digital trail.
bonemri (NJ,USA)
Harvard thought police! Um can no one make fun of anything they want.
Ask Jeff Ross and watch Roast Battle. Holocaust jokes, rape jokes, racial jokes, etc etc. It's comedy, it's not hate speech at a hate rally. I'm sure these finsta memes were jokes. America has lost it's mind. Worse yet, places like Harvard (and Yale--look up their HAlloween debacle) are scary places that dictate thought control. Gross. When did America's premiere universities become so intolerant of views that don't match theirs?
steve pliszka (san antonio, tx)
Unfortunately, the comments of these students more reflect a mind set of "I'm in the elite so I can say (and do) whatever I want". Eventually this leads to a business and political leadership that does not feel that the rules apply to them. it is good that Harvard took a stand. There is no right to attend Harvard and there are consequences for acting stupidly.
Rachel (nyc)
This is actually not true. As I have posted before, I work as a school counselor in a bronx middle school that serves one of the most impoverished communities in the Bronx. We have been struggling with this exact type of thing with some of our students, and I am using this Harvard situation as a teachable moment. There is no kid that is immune to this type of behavior once a smart device is placed in their hands.
average guy (midwest)
Sounds like all these solutions involve talking down to your children, and that is NOT the way to go about it. Think harder.
Tim (DC area)
Every generation thinks that the new generation (teens) are somehow more prone to making mistakes and disaster than earlier generations. And in this rush to potentially overreact, one risks turning teenagers into paranoid automatons that behave and act like some politician constantly concerned how others perceive them (Hillary Clinton). I'd rather have younger people making some mistakes and expressing themselves too freely on occasion than trying to perpetrate some carefully crafted sterile and innocuous image. Harvard and others only end up potentially condoning one acting in a fake “sanctimonious” way if they choose to judge teens on a few potentially out of context discussions.. With that said there are certainly more productive ways for teens (and adults) to spend their time than constantly being glued to a screen.
Carol Forbess (Springvale Maine)
Excellent article that I wish every parent in my middle school would read. As I finish a long career as a middle school guidance counselor, I can firmly state that the use of technology (a genie that can not go back into the bottle) has been the biggest change agent in the lives of teenagers. I have seen first hand (they often show me their social media posts and frequently describe what is going on in that world ) the misery that constant use of this can bring into their lives. The combination of immaturity, impulsivity and the need for approval from their peers with the sophistication of the technology has not been positive for the majority of them. The hours they spend, the things they post, the mean anonymous posts they read about themselves have not made growing up easy for them. And many parents appear to be exhausted at trying to manage it and in the dark about what their kids do online. As the Harvard situation illustrates, one can be an all A's, outstanding extracurriculars, model student applicant but not immune to falling into the murky swamp of online life.
Bob Lakeman (Alexandria, VA)
Reality Leigh Winner, arrested this week for classified leaks, had her twitter and Facebook posts revealed in newspaper reports which portrayed her as a supporter of immigration, lover of cats, reader of books and other despicable liberal pursuits. Reality came for Ms. Winner in the form of handcuffs and her Twitter and Facebook posts threw gasoline on the fire.
Digital means the evidence can never be truly deleted and as search improves our past is always present.
Catholic and Conservative (Stamford, Ct.)
This article might be re-titled: "Harvard the thought Police". It sounds like Harvard is becoming Big Brother, is seeking an enrollment of politically correct automatons, and is doing so by spying on students. If this was a private Facebook group who is asking why and how Harvard breached that privacy? Suppose the content consisted of congratulatory best wishes. How would you all be viewing this story then. How horrified and outraged would you be over Harvard stalking prospective students?
Beatrice (02564)
"Catholic & Conservative" - Stamford

Au Contraire.
At least Harvard is fulfilling their obligation of "in loco parentis" even if the custodial parents are failing to do so.
AllisonatAPLUS (Mt Helix, CA)
No, not 'Big Brother'. They probably received the info not by spying themselves but by receiving the info anonymously. And, it's not 'thought police' but universities such as Harvard try to maintain a very strict standard of excellence which they think isn't illustrated by such postings. Much like Liberty University vets its applicants through their 'relationship to Christ', Harvard et al measure an applicant's level of maturity and intellect through essays, grades, how they spend their time, etc. As you are a conservative, I would think you would applaud their ability to let in whomever they so choose under whatever guidelines they choose to create.
Cristina (Austin)
I'm of two minds about this unfortunate episode. On the one hand (as the parent of two college-age boys), I'm horrified that these kids would think some of the things they said were even remotely funny or appropriate to post, even on a private FB group (which apparently is NOT private). And I don't always want to resort to the fallback -- "Oh, it's the attitude of the privileged elite." That's a copout and a very tired excuse. On the other hand, kids are stupid, in that they do incredibly stupid things without thinking through the consequences of their actions. Technology and social media have helped usher in the era of instant everything, and that exacerbates things. So should they have all been punished so harshly for their stupidity? Maybe.

Personally, I think a public shaming and then having to walk across campus every day knowing that everyone knew the dumb, mean things they'd said would be a more effective punishment. This way, they just go to another college, with their only punishment being they don't go to Harvard. Big deal. There are a plenty of great schools that are not Harvard.
Suzy (Nyc)
Harvard should have used this as a teachable moment rather than behave like thought police. While the content was obnoxious it is a slippery slope to fundamentalism
Kim Susan Foster (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Suzy, what do you think the Top Level of the BusinessWorld requires of hired employees? People go to Harvard to start the long path toward these highly competitive jobs. People compete from all over the World to reach this level. These 10 Students have been weeded-out.
Elana (Seattle)
As they should be.
Vicky Rideout (San Francisco)
FYI, the Common Sense study found that teens use an average of nine hours of ALL types of media per day, not just "online" media - so that number includes time spent listening to music, playing XBox or other video games, watching TV, and reading books.
Eli (Tiny Town)
The article doesn't address one of the core issues with linked-family accounts, that the parents suddendly become responsible for the content their kids maybe receiving.

Are parents who see a drunk text from a friend responsible for calling the cops? What about somebody who admits via snapchat to smoking weed?

I dont know that putting parents in the position where they're possibly going to end up complicit in letting a minor engage in illegal activity is the answer.
EmUnwired (Barcelona)
Does anyone else here think this describes the motivations and behavior of our POTUS?
John (Massachusetts)
"The bill could make it a felony — punishable by 15 years in jail — if teens send consensual nude photos of themselves."

That this outrageous bill made it through the House without much (any?) discussion in the mainstream media is a good measure of what a chaotic mess our Federal government has become.
Suzanne (New York)
Wake up, parents!

The phone is yours. You have the contract with the service provider, not your child.

Check the phone and check it often.

Have you actually met everyone on your child's contact list?

Take steps to make sure you do.

It will save you a lot in the long run ( time, $$$, and heartache)
P Power (NYC)
Yes remind your kids that with a phone comes responsibility. Mess up no phone.
When we had a problem phone went bye bye. It's not a given.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
"The phone is yours. You have the contract with the service provider, not your child."

The golden rule - them that has the gold makes the rules.
Saul (Kaiserman)
I think you have the definitions of finsta and rinsta reversed.
King Mesh (Brooklyn)
So it's good if impulsive children, with issues of prefrontal cortex development will be thrown in jail for a felony?

Your entire article speaks against it

How bizarre
SteveRR (CA)
18 year-old Harvard Freshman as impulsive children - how infantilizing.
If you're smart enough to get into Harvard - you're smart enough to accept the results of your own decisions.
Amy Sewell (NYC)
Our parents thought drugs and rock and roll would rot our brains. Their parents had concerns about Frank, Johnny and then Elvis influencing them. Change is change. The bottom line is parents don't parent anymore. If you constantly parent (and that means not being liked by your kid), and you drill the basics of right and wrong, what happens in their real world will seep over into their social media world and vice-verse. As a parent of kids who just got through their teenage years(not without a lot of bumps), I'm not preaching. It's a crap shoot. As my good friend Hillyer from Detroit once told me, "You have a 50/50 chance of screwing up your kid(s)." I think he's right. Do the best job you possibly can and hope for the best. The idiots will get weeded out. There are still more of us who think with the "correct" moral compass (whatever that means within reason) than those who don't and a free society does self-correct.
Ghibly (Brooklyn, NY)
The problem isn't the social media. The problem is the racist, sexist, Holocaust denying stuff these teens were expressing.
**ABC123** (USA)
I find Harvard's actions somewhat disturbing. I was a top student. Hard work and straight A grades through 12th grade got me into an Ivy League school (not Harvard). As a 12th grader, I might have repeated a joke or two that I now, decades later, would find horribly offensive but I would have been doing so, not realizing the gravity of the comment, as a mere 17-year-old, thinking I was just telling a joke. Also, such sensitivity to others was not taught in my own home. Meanwhile, by the end of my freshman year of college, I was exposed to such diversity and political correctness, in a good way, that I would then be offended, hearing such jokes I may have found funny, a year or two before when in high school. Harvard may have done the right thing in denying those students previously accepted. Or they may not have. College is a place to learn. A few months later, Harvard may have been able to teach what needed to be taught to those two students who were clearly intelligent enough to have met Harvard's standards prior to their high school maturity level, poorly written posts.
Kim Susan Foster (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Poor writing skills should not get you into Harvard. Admissions criteria can change. Harvard's will change, so that weed-out will happen, before a letter of admission is given to them. Teachable moment perhaps, but certainly not good enough to make the cut to Harvard. It is important that Harvard remain competitive on the World Class Level in Higher Education. Some Harvard Graduates need to be able to receive those Top Level Jobs. Harvard can have 5 students in a First Year class, if there are no other students qualified to be at Harvard.
John Small (NY)
The previous poster was not referring to writing skills.
I think you are missing the point; Children are still developing. The point of college is to learn. You seem to think, expressed in your many posts, that an Ivy League college is a high level job factory, but certainly one would hope that skills of creativity and entrepreneurship were encouraged. Not to mention punctuation and capitalization ;-)
Lifelong Reader (NYC)
Apart from general societal values, the Harvard Facebook page explicitly warned students about posting anything that could call into question their moral character and maturity. If after that you post a meme of a hanged Mexican child and "jokingly" call it a piñata you don't belong at Harvard.

It's sad that some individuals will absorb the message that other people require respect only if they stand to lose rewards. But if that's what it takes...
Bos (Boston)
Harvard rescinding these kids' admission has nothing to do with social media just as the St. Paul's kid getting nailed by his own "senior salute." It is not even about sex. After all, most NYT readers have gone through our adolescent phase and understand how our hormones can be a powerful driving force. But these kids are not some country pumpkins. They are the selected few to be trained to become the best and the brightest. But yet, their attitude toward fellow human beings have given us a glimpse of the future dictators, power mongers and egomaniac. Rescinding their admission to prestigious schools like Harvard may sound harsh but it is a bargain lesson for their lives are still ahead of them. Look at the former Penn State's president: he is being sent to jail at the age of 69!

To be clear, peer pressure can be as tyrannical as many of our driving forces like desires and hormone. And unlike many conservatives, many of us don't deny them. However, teenage years are also formative time when we develop higher qualities like compassion. Social media cannot be an excuse for not growing up
Rachel (Los Angeles)
I really believe that parents of teens, especially younger teens, need to closely monitor social media accounts. I don't see it as a violation of privacy because (as the recent Harvard episode demonstrates), *nothing* posted anywhere online is private. In the couple of years I've been monitoring my middle school-aged child's social media, I have seen other kids post countless racist memes, not to mention threats of suicide, allusions to self-harm, bullying, etc. I often struggle with what to do with this information. A couple of times i felt like I had to tell a parent or someone at the school. A lot of positive stuff also happens on social media, of course. It has enabled my daughter to maintain friendships after we moved, and connect with kids who attended the same camp, for example. But I wish other parents were paying more attention.
Kim Susan Foster (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Rachel, looks like there is way too much negative, and not enough positive. I would look into other ways for your daughter to create, maintain friendships. Are those kids, kids in her school? Change schools, if possible, so she is with people at her level, or above.
mom of 4 (nyc)
how much jail time with this bill? talk about burying the lede! and yes, I have texted a parent saying your daughter's post is inappropriate.
Rachel (Los Angeles)
Eh, she has lots of real-world friendships too, and plenty of fun things to do outside of Instagram. For balance, let me list some positive things I see teens doing on social networking sites:
1) They are able to express their identities in ways they can't in the real world, and find communities of like-minded people.
2) My daughter follows photographers in other parts of the world, as well as the National Geographic, so there is some educational value.
3) I've seen lots of kids express political opinions in a positive way.
4) In general, they are very supportive of each other. Bullying is the exception; most of the time girls are complimenting each other, posting sappy birthday messages, etc.
5) For most kids, it's an extension of, not a substitute for real-world friendships.

As for the negative things we've seen, for the most part these are not people in her immediate circle of friends. She goes to a "good" school, but it's a big, public school and there are all kinds of people there. Honestly, if you have a middle-schooler, chances are these things are happening around your child too.
Kim Susan Foster (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Although Harvard finally "caught" these students before they arrived for the first day of class, Harvard clearly needs to fine-tune the application review. The admissions process needs to be improved. Probably there were noticeable signs beforehand, such as in how they completed their Homework Assignments. Quality of verbal conversation, and writing skills. Usually students caught-up in this activity don't do well academically, especially when considering the Top Level. Something needs to be added to criteria. Also, for students to continue, once they start: Full Review, for example.