A few days back, I was mindlessly scrolling Facebook when a post in a local mom’s group caught my eye.

“Today, I saw three teenage girls taking selfies at the lake on their bikes. Their heads were touching. It was completely irresponsible, and their parents should be ashamed!” It went on with some more ranting for a few more paragraphs and many other people went on to comment in agreement and cite times when they saw teenagers congregating.

My cheeks burned a bit. I had a feeling those three young teenagers were my daughters who took a bike ride on that particular day. I was both sad that they had made people uncomfortable, but also a little hot at the indignation and assumption that the girls were friends and not sisters. I believe they were well off the trail when they took the photos, and they assured me they only stopped once to drink some water and snap a few pictures.

I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of that post.

It’s my first pandemic, and although I thought we were crushing social distancing, I hated the idea that there were people out there talking about my kids in a negative way, even if nobody knew it was them. I have seen other residents in my town snapping photos and shaming people online, and I didn’t want it to happen to them.

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Yesterday, I took advantage of some beautiful Midwest weather to take a long walk around the same nearby lake. I watched as people were respectful, some even wearing masks and moving off to the side so other, faster hikers could safely pass. 

As I brought my dog back to my minivan, I noticed a group of five older teenage girls congregating on the car next to mine. I wasn’t sure, but they looked like they were possibly home from college, and I cringed as I saw a pair sitting next to each other on the trunk of the car.

“People must be losing their minds,” I thought to myself as I sidled past them to my vehicle. 

As I was loading some things in the back, I saw an older gentleman, maybe in his late 60s, approach out of the corner of my eye.

I turned around as he said, “Hey ladies.”

The girls stopped talking and looked over at him. “I know you don’t think this is a big deal, but to many, many of us, it is. I know you guys must be climbing the walls at home, but sitting here together like this just isn’t right either. And I’m going to be upset if I can no longer come for my daily walks because you guys aren’t following the rules,” he said softly, but firmly.

“Oh, sorry, sir,” one fumbled.

“We were just leaving,” said another.

And the girls pleasantly dispersed.

By the time I shut my trunk, the man was gone, and so were the teenagers, each walking to their respective cars.

No shaming. No indignation. No dramatic scene.

Just one man respectfully talking to tomorrow’s adults.

And my cheeks burned hot again—this time with the realization of how much we miss the impact we can have on our teenagers if we treat them as people to their faces instead of talking behind their backs on social media.

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Confrontation is hard, and we’ve created a culture whereas any interference in how one parents a child is seen as judgey, and we view the perpetrator as aggressive and with disdain.

But when it’s done calmly, with respect and courtesy and kindness, sometimes we can make a situation better—even if only for a little while.

And although I am unsure if those girls just came together somewhere else or if they actually went back to their respective homes, I do believe that gentleman made them think about their actions. They probably would never be impacted by a random Facebook post in a mom’s group, but they would remember this interaction—and hopefully, they may act differently the next time.

We’ve lost so much during this pandemic. The loss of human life and the severity of the illness are at the forefront, but we’ve lost the opportunity to spend quality time and create memories with loved ones, we’ve lost dreams we’ve built through blood, sweat, and tears, we’ve missed celebrating milestones or opportunities to move forward in our careers or at school, we’ve lost sleep and security, and we’ve lost so much time.

But I also hope during this period, we lose a little of our righteous indignation as well, and we find new ways to respectfully connect with each other when we disagree on the right course—especially our teenagers who have so much to learn.

It takes a village to raise a child, but not one built-in anonymous posts on social media.

Originally published on Playdates on Fridays by Whitney Fleming

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

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