Haunted by The Hunting

I am being haunted by The Hunting.  The Hunting is haunting me. 

What is The Hunting you ask?

It is something I have spent the last two weeks talking about to anyone who will listen.  The Hunting is a new series on SBS, illustrating the dangers of technology when our teens make bad choices. 

From the SBS website:

“The Hunting intimately and dramatically imagines the lives of four teenagers, their teachers and families throughout the lead up, revelation and aftermath of a nude teen photo scandal. When two high school teachers discover students are sharing explicit photos of their underage friends and peers online, the revelation has devastating consequences for the students and their families. Tackling themes of misogyny, privacy, sexuality and sexualisation, online exploitation, masculinity and gender, the series uses this singular event as a way of exploring some of the most pressing issues of our time and offering a vital portrait of modern, multicultural Australia.”

Filmed, at various locations in Adelaide, the content is extremely well written, the characters are relatable and the subject matter is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Having taught students of a similar age, I find I can give real life names to each character, several names actually.  I know every one of these characters because I have taught them.  And at some time or other, I have interacted with every one of the parents represented in the show.  It is that realistic.  That is one of the reasons the show is haunting me.  But it is not the biggest one.  The biggest reason(s) are those pieces of my heart that are currently at school, hanging out with their friends and I can only hope, making good decisions. 

The reality is, despite my best efforts, my kids will not always make good decisions.  They will make some dodgy decisions along the way, and they will no doubt make some really bad choices.  I know this because both of my boys are at the age where their child brain is morphing into an adult brain, while at the same time being flooded with hormones, and that my friends, is not a smooth ride.

Currently, their brains are actively shedding any unnecessary information, while feverishly making new links and connections.  This would explain why, after 8 years of daily reminders to “put your socks and shoes on”, then a couple of blissful years where the act of protecting one’s feet before going outdoors became an automatic one that didn’t need a reminder, you suddenly realise that your teenager has gone for several days without in fact, wearing socks.  Now I know it is trendy to wear ankle freezer pants with no socks, but that is not the reason.  The teenager’s reason?  “I couldn’t be bothered”.  Eight years of instruction, of gentle reminders, that- especially in sub-Arctic temperatures like this – it is necessary to wear socks, gone.  Dismissed.  Shed by the newly forming brain as unnecessary information.

Combine this with the fact that the part of their brains currently developing most rapidly is the Amygdala: the “fight or flight” part of the brain that controls survival instincts and emotions. 

A developing Amygdala means big powerful adult emotions firing haphazardly in the brain, randomly colliding with a flood of hormones.  Meanwhile, the last part of a child’s brain to be rewritten and develop into an adult brain is the Frontal Cortex: this is the part of the brain that’s good at decision making and understanding consequences.  And that is not fully developed (in boys particularly) until their late teens or early twenties.  This fact alone creates the perfect storm for poor choices in adolescents.

In no way am I excusing the actions of the boys on The Hunting, but instead using science to explain why I am so terrified.  Because while I agree that it starts at home, we must teach them right from wrong and send them out into the world with a firmly entrenched moral compass, the unfortunate fact is that we can do all of this and they will still make bad decisions. There will be a period of time when they don’t wear socks in the middle of Winter because they can’t be bothered, or they simply “forget”.  There will also be times when they make a rash choice based on big emotions and hormones rather than common sense and their core values. It does not make them bad people. It just makes them human. There are no “good” or “bad” kids, just good and bad choices.  Inevitably, all of our kids will make both good and bad choices several times over.

I know it seems like a lot of hand wringing over something that generations have experienced and come out the other end alive, mostly.  But we are the first generation to parent the “igeneration”: kids who have never known life without technology and social media.  We handed our kids this technology thinking we were doing the right thing, keeping them safer, but we have also handed them a device that, combined with big emotions, impulsivity and poor understanding of consequences, has the potential to blow up their lives.

Rather than carving their initials into a tree, or writing their love interest’s name all over their pencil case, these teens are proving their affection by texting intimate pics meant only for each other to see.  But of course, this is not always what happens, is it?  All it takes is a dare from a mate, a misunderstanding, a jealous comment, and all bets are off.  Suddenly that intimate pic is potentially seen by hundreds, even thousands of people.  Sent to other kids who innocently open the message and simultaneously open themselves up to the possibility of a police record for viewing child pornography.  That is how quickly things can go pear shaped.

As I said: terrifying. 

This is why I am being haunted by The Hunting.

It is why I keep talking about it.  Even so, I am aware that my thoughts go round and round in circles, probably much like what I have written above.

My incredibly intelligent and articulate friend Lucy puts it much more eloquently than me when she says:

“The thing that hits home for me about this issue is that it has the potential to devastate all families of all socio-economic groups. Kids from “good” loving families – kids who are naive, AND kids that are savvy. Gentle families, tough families. Families with working parents, parents with liberal attitudes, parents raising resilient, happy kids. Everyone.

I am so aware that I have no real clue about my kids digital usage and I’m, in theory, a “good” parent who sets tough boundaries on device use and access to social media. 

My girls are aware and passionate about the levels of self respect they uphold toward their bodies and their privacy.

My son has been raised in, and influenced by, a home based on respect for women. He has a core character that is kind and gentle and considerate.

My kids generally don’t bend to peer pressure.

BUT: none of this matters if one of them makes one bad choice”.

So what can we do? 

Keep talking about it.  To our teens / tweens.  To other parents.  To each other.  Freely admit that there is no rule book for how to parent these kids and their use of technology.  Recognise that all of our kids are going to stuff up.  Make mistakes.  And so are we.  We can stop pretending that our parenting is as perfect as the lives we present on social media. And hope that loving them is enough.  That with enough love and guidance and leading by example that one day their frontal cortex will be developed enough that they will make good decisions more often than bad ones.  And they may actually remember to put on socks once in a while…….

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