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Middle School Misfortunes Then and Now, One Teacher’s Take (waituntil8th.org)
194 points by esaym 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

Middle school is the age when social hierarchies start to form

For millennia, teenagers were included in complex parts of society, with kids of different ages, and some adults around. They could learn, they could teach, the could choose authority figures to imitate.

In a modern school, though, they are isolated for most of their day in a group of 20-30 kids of same age. They can't build a natural hierarchy around experience and abilities, for a wide enough gamut is not available. So they end up building a hierarchy based mostly on aggression and persuasion. It of course ends up pretty toxic.

Are there any structures that kids can get involved with (or the family) that will provide some of "complex society" feel?

Team sports. I grew up playing competitive hockey. I learned from a very young age that I am not special, that the team is stronger than an individual, and magic happens when everyone commits to their role.

I am grateful for this gift, and attribute to it much of my present success.

Same for me. I’m nit sure if it requires playing at a competitive level or not, but playing on a team trying to accomplish a goal, battling adversity, sacraficing for each other, etc are really impactful experiences that I attribute most of my personal success to.

Team sports has too much 'coach as dictator' for non-competitive kids to develop. They are left to pasture, literally. Only the star athletes receive attention, then they bully the rest.

This definitely happens, but that’s also a bad coach.

Good coaches will develop kids across the entire range of skill levels, and will consistently give them tasks that they can succeed in (at least in practice). In the US, most little league teams have “must-play” requirements, so both coaches have to play their weakest players optimally.

I think both are true. The must-play requirements are present, but they don't stop certain things from happening -- things like the coach's kid from getting the most playtime, attention and opportunities in game. I saw this happen firsthand.


Then again, that person is probably a bad coach.

For anyone out there looking to give back to their community, learning how to be a good youth sports coach is probably high on the list of value add. It’s not easy, but you can have a positive impact on people that will last a lifetime.

Dunno why this was downvoted. I have seen same dynamic to develop too.

Love hockey. It's expensive but the most fun thing my kids have done. Great life lessons on teamwork and working together to achieve something.

Sure. There are kids who work in charities, political campaigns, family businesses, get involved in local civic or religious organizations, do creative performance like music/acting/dance, prepare for/compete in sports at a professional level, start doing serious academic work (attending conferences, writing peer-reviewed papers, working in academic science labs), invent stuff, publish fiction, compose new music, contribute to open source programming projects, do serious local journalism, .....

Any significant time commitment would be easier for a kid who didn’t spend all their time in school and had decent financial support.

Sports — playing on team or train as ref/ump (pays pretty well!), BSA scouts (find a troop that fits kid), other camps or volunteering events... etc.

Lots of stuff out there...

Sports yes. Or anything where a group or team works to accomplish a goal.

Church. Martial arts classes,or any rec class that isn't age based. Working at a family business.

I left the church just as every other thoughtful kid was supposed to but I miss it and worry frequently that American culture is slowly losing something which was foundational to its wellbeing.

Maybe thoughtful kids aren't supposed to leave church after all.. maybe they just need to find a good church.

By the time I was 12, church was something I was forced to do. I already doubted the whole premise, but couldn't actually say anything about it. And to top it all off, the churches my parents chose didn't really have kids my age. In sunday school, they usually had to decide which "special" class I was going to be in: THe one with older kids or the one with younger ones. It isn't like American children get any sort of voice in whether or not they go to church or which church/religion they adhere to.

I didn't have access to the other things, or at least I didn't know of these places in the small town I lived in.

Around my parts, this was supplemented by my church youth-group. I know that many other parents were taking their kids to local Scouts groups.


Bullshit. There's nutcase churches and sane churches. And there's plenty of indoctrination in non-religious places too.

There are, but none of them are all-encompassing enough to replace the classroom hierarchies.

Martial Arts. Any decent school you go to will probably have men and women of all ages, sizes, races and social backgrounds. Many schools will also do "community events" which provide opportunities for families to get involved more.

True, historically taught Martial Arts are fantastic for a well rounded development, whereas the toxic male fantasy taught at many schools is the opposite. It pays in spades to investigate a martial arts school's instructor personalities, as many are male failures attempting some type of redemption through domineering others' children.

I had a job. Worked for me.

Absolutely. Modern schooling where same-aged people are clumped together is a stupid remnant of the beginnings of the industrial age. It has very little resemblance of how the real world actually works. Kids have very little or no input from more experienced older kids, and no expectation to care for or look after younger less experienced kids.

The sooner we get rid of this absurd and broken system the better, it has survived long past its useful life.

I.e. Lord of the Flies

Pg essay reference?

Quite possibly; this is not my idea, I definitely read about this before, likely several times.

Direct references would be welcome.

5th grade was the age for Midwest Gen X. I'm 54 now, and I remember at 5th grade it was suddenly Izods, Addidas and feathered hair or you were pathetic with no friends. The takeover was instant, as my older siblings had that brand consciousness hit at the same time. Blame fucking Capitalists for the ruin of America back in 1976.

Some of my 13yr old son's classmates have started a bullying campaign against their own teacher, trying to dig up dirt or otherwise gossip about her. This happens over insta and snap.

My son isn't involved but as a result she wouldn't even meet with me to discuss his recent report card (a right I thought I had), she is so sick and tired of people ganging up on her.

I've always warned my son, you misuse or otherwise abuse a privilege in the presence of adults and they will strip you of it, a phone is no different. Then the more I tried to apply that to this situation I realized I'm wrong: his peers have already learned to bully and harass outside of school now, the teachers can do nothing about it.

I don't know what to do about this one.

Here bullying a teacher would get you suspended fast, and bullying outside the school could have consequences in school too (if someone reports it, and some adults would care enough). I don't have kids myself so this is just theoretical to me at this point; I don't know how well that works in practice.

I teach high school. There are ways to hold students accountable if their actions outside of school affect what's happening in school. But you need staff and administration who are all on the same page and working together, and it helps to have a group of people who are focused on what's best for the learning environment, not just a group focused on winning against kids and families. Unfortunately, that is not always a given.

If they're trying to find dirt on the teacher then the teacher could get in trouble too. Future teachers will be particularly vulnerable to this because they grew up with half their life being shared on social media.

I would like to think even a 13yo is smart enough to make anonymous account to bully the teacher with.

They may think they are smart enough.

When I was in middle school back in the 90s we all had city-provided Unix accounts for e-mail, homepages etc. The e-mail was read over telnet with Pine. Some student found out they can change the sender address inside the app, proceeded to set it to another kid's email, and sent an insulting e-mail to the science teacher.

Of course the e-mail sender field is just for display purposes; the teacher had no trouble checking the headers and finding the kid behind this.

The medium has changed a bit, but I can imagine teenagers still easily tripping over some technicalities and details.

the point is that the person who can "read the headers" is so abstracted from the school system as to not matter. when you report something to instagram it doesn't even take it down unless it hits a certain volume of reports - almost never if the page is a closed group. there is no human to talk to either. what teacher can stand up to bullying in that case? suppose some kid cracks under pressure - the other kids just inform everyone in their group that a new group exists on snapchat/facebook/discord

source: someone in an online page got outraged at a comment of mine and tried to bully me out of the group. in the end i did just leave rather than deal with the issue coz it felt like fighting a hydra

Some, yes. All, no.

Some accounts start off being anonymous, then they reveal themselves somehow.

Your typical bully is not exactly long on perceiving how they will be seen (or caught). Throw in the perceived invincibility of teenagers, then you just end up with some fantastically traceable abuse.

> his peers have already learned to bully and harass outside of school now, the teachers can do nothing about it.

Then you're just not creative enough.

You can simply "tail" one of the annoying students continuously when in school. An administrator escorting a problematic student "every single minute of the day" for a week or two would ostracize them quite nicely and the other students would take note of the threat.

Schools probably don’t have the staff but I think that’s a good idea. Or remove the kid from one class per day (rotating) and have them talk to counselors.

Our little school certainly didn't have much staff, but a particularly problematic student somehow always had an escort--this kept bullying to fairly limited levels. Maybe you don't need "every minute", but you make sure that someone from the staff shows up right before the end of class and escorts him until the beginning of the next.

There are all manner of creative ways to impede a student's "social life" if you are the school authorities. And, given that the single most important thing to a student at that age is their social life, that's a massive hammer.

Probably she could sue the parents? idk how it works in the US but kids aren't above the law, and their parents can't ignore illegal behaviour without consequences.

American police rarely do things for actual harassment. If you are lucky you might get a police report and if it happens enough you might get a restraining order that is poorly enforced. Just because kids aren't above the law doesn't mean that the law will do anything about it, especially if they think the teacher should be able to just brush it off.

There's a way around that, too: bully law enforcement. Probably won't work (yet) for teenage kids but the Church of Scientology used it to tremendous success during the 70s and 80s.

>Probably she could sue the parents?

She could also go postal. Both of those would quickly become matters of public record and end her teaching career.

Being cruel and digging up dirt on people is wrong but not illegal.

Depending on what dirt was dug this could be called defamation which is illegal.

Middle school was the worst years of my life. It was absolute torture, the bullying, the teachers' petty power trips, the pointless lull in actual education before high school. Technology was my refuge. I passed the hours just waiting to get access to a computer, and it wasn't until a few years later that I finally got a modem and found BBSes where I could participate in discussions with real people. It was fun, it saved me from I don't know what, and it set me on a path that led to this place 25 years later.

I would have been so much better off with a cell phone.

It's easy to forget that BBSes were not at all populated by a representative sample of all people. The communities you experienced were the norm there but are a vanishingly small part of the modern internet. If you were raised now you might never have found your way to one before your psychological development was co-opted and sent in a very different direction by today's social media offerings.

Exactly the same - but even through High School, I was bullied and abused. The point here isn't "don't give your kids phones", it's "pay attention to your kids, and don't let them act like assholes". But I guess it's just a lot easier to just not give your kid a phone and then pretend this shit isn't happening because your farts no longer smell bad.

The writer seems to be confusing 2008 for 1998. I remember middle school from 2008 onwards. Almost all teenagers were online by then (on MySpace, then Facebook). Nothing prevented your father from checking emails on his Blackberry at the breakfast table, your sister from texting on her cellphone or playing games on her iPod.

Teachers had to ban cellphones in classrooms back then due the teenagers texting or playing mobile games, and there were PSAs about being driven to suicide by cyberbullying. By 2009 you could already obsess over Facebook likes - before then, you could measure your popularity by the number of friends you had versus how many your own friends had - and embarrassing photos could easily end up shared online or circulating among the other students.

It may not have been as extreme as today, but an embarrassing video of yourself could just as easily end up going viral online and leading to social ridicule - see the Star Wars kid.

In my experience, the turning point was between 2008 and 2011.

I was in late elementary school in 2008 (grade 8), and I don't know if any of my classmates had a cell phone. Yes, some people had Facebook, but I think it had a minimum age limit of 15 years (?), and stuff like Instagram did not exist. People still called each other on the telephone.

Fast forward 2–3 years into high school though, and everyone was on Facebook, probably half of my classmates had BlackBerries (BBM was all the rage), and some people had iPhones. A few kids had their own laptops that they brought to school, but schoolwork was entirely paper-based. (Heck, I didn't have home Internet access until after I graduated from high school, but I think I was in the minority there.) Using your phone during class resulted in it being taken away.

Now I look at my youngest siblings, and everything they do is online. They submit homework through Google Classroom while browsing Instagram on the sly (Facebook is for fudder dudders), and their phones are their lives. They don't call people, and txt spk lk this is rly populr again for some reason. And teachers encourage phone use during class for certain things.

I think the turning point might be regionally dependent. I know that social media was already popular before 2008. It simply wasn't Facebook, but other sites such as MySpace, Orkut etc.

I agree, to a certain extent. People were definitely on social media and used online IM (plus stuff like YouTube and Runescape), but I think the hard disconnect that occurs when you step away from the family PC is worlds away from having a phone in your pocket. These days, we're always connected.

I was in 7th grade in 2008. Facebook had just started to become popular at the school. Crucially, no one had a smartphone. People weren't going around posting pictures of what happened in school. I'm sure there was gossip in other circles, but I hardly saw any. My experience of seventh grade in 2008 mostly resembled what happened in the story.

After hearing enough of those kinds of stories, middle schools in America just sounds like a really scary place to be. Growing up in China in the 90s, I don't remember being scared all the time for being socially excluded and bullied despite being a computer nerd.

After moving to US as adult, one thing I found really challenging is navigating social environments. It is not until I started viewing it through lenses of Hollywood school dramas, some of the social dynamics start to make sense. I am amazed how stark the contrast is between being perceived as "popular" as opposed to a nerd.

Yeah - I both keep tabs and help (mostly advice comments) to my neighbors on Nextdoor.

I am constantly dismayed at not only the fact that many seem to have an education somewhere at the high school level, but also that they still seem to crave a ton of drama and other similar "schoolyard" socialization habits.

It would be humorous if it weren't for the fact that I live here with them; but that was the choice I made - I deliberately chose to own an older home that cost less than what I could afford, in a decidedly blue-collar neighborhood with no HOA so I could work on my vehicles or do other "loud fabrication activities" that I couldn't in another neighborhood.

Part of me, though, wishes I had taken the plunge and had a home built out in the boonies.

For the most part, my neighbors are nice and thoughtful, but there's a certain segment among them that I wish would just "grow up" already.

I hate this!

I had a tough time in school. I had a teacher tell me how much she didn't like me in 6th grade, and had few friends. The girl with the locker next to me threatened physical violence from time to time, but it seemed she wasn't willing to throw the first punch. We moved in 8th grade, where the new school decided I was lesbian and didn't deserve to have friends. I ate alone most of the year. (They were half right, but I didn't realize at the time).

I had hope this would go away when I got older. I was promised this. Instead what I found was that it was just as bad or worse lest you fit in and just do the "adult" thing. It is now years later and I live in a different country. It took that move to ever feel like I'm accepted by folks in general.

This isn't going away. This is our society. So how do we deal with it? How could Brian have dealt with it?

There's probably a "right" answer. I imagine something like, "leaning into" the joke by posting a response, showing you can laugh at yourself. There are PR firms that specialize at this sort of thing.

Some would say it's a shame that middle schoolers need to develop the skills of a modern PR agency. I'd say, that's just what our society is now, and as usual, (most) kids will deal with the changes much better than adults.

It was already our society. This stuff happened when I was in school well before "smart"-phones.

The only difference is that now there's actually some data, third parties are more directly involved in facilitating making records of these things.

There still aren't (to my knowledge) the safety monitoring cameras that would actually be an unbiased witness over the school; it's still like a bad daytime only jail rather than a better one with actual security for the inmates. Only now some of them can selectively capture moments in time and share them.

So, yes, the problem is a little worse, but it's also more public. Now we as a society can actually have a conversation about the issues and MAYBE, we'll actually have that conversation and POSSIBLY actually advance a little as a culture.

I think that's the key point here, even if the article doesn't quite highlight it.

Technology and social media haven't changed human behavior, but it allows both positive and negative behavior to be amplified multiple times over. And sometimes all it takes is one negative incident to crush an adolescent's self-esteem.

We shouldn't discount the positive that social media and technology bestow, just as we shouldn't discount the negative as well. I don't think the problem is just a little worse - I think, for some cases, it's A LOT worse. And that's the frightening thing. Both the positive and the negative are amplified.

I dealt with a lot of bullying in school. High school was a nightmare. But at least it's over now and I'm hopefully a stronger person for it. But if the kinds of things that the bullies said or did were recorded on social media and amplified...

This may be their society but it does not need to be yours, or your child’s. If you can afford to secede from it and you would want to, do it. Middle school is an educational wasteland to an even greater extent than high school is. Homeschooling and unschooling are things that are absolutely within the capability of an average middle class family if it’s a priority and by the time primary school is over the necessity of school as daycare or a holding pen for children while their parents work is mostly over.

> This isn't going away. This is our society.

Yes, this is our society in 2019.

But you should have continued the train of thought here. It is our society because we made it that way; and in the process of doing so, other things that we once made and didn't seem to be useful/ethical/healthy/desirable went away. And in the exact same way, the current things that we carelessly introduced but that seem to be not useful/ethical/healthy/etc. after the fact can be dispensed with.

Not that it's easy or immediate. But "this" can very much go away.


Talk to an emigrant from a former soviet country to find out what permanently living in adverse social conditions does to a culture.

Sure, (most) people survive it.

>Sure, (most) people survive it.

Not only do they survive it, it leaves it's mark on generations.

Collect phones at the start of school. Like France.

> Some would say it's a shame that middle schoolers need to develop the skills of a modern PR agency.

If teachers don't care yes.

Yeah. True story from advent of phones: school boys were bullying a boy really badly and made a video with phones. Video leaked, big scandal think pieces in local journals. Modern phones blamed, I kid you not.

Solution: phones no longer not allowed in school. Everybody seems happy.

Sarcasm: because apparently when no one can take video of it, it did not happened or something.

Boy from article in 2008 knew exactly where he stands in hierarchy. Cause he would be sitting alone with no one to talk with every day and optionally beaten like the boy above.

> Collect phones at the start of school

While I don't disagree with this idea at all and think it would definitely make the situation somewhat better, I also think it's naive to think that bullying would go away if kids didn't have cell phones. My (admittedly anecdotal) personal experience of middle school before smartphones and Facebook and the like was that bullying was still a pretty common thing. While taking phones away could stop one specific incident from being the source of repeated bullying, bullies will still find a way to bully even if they aren't able to keep permanent video records of various embarrassing incidents of their targets.

That being said, I think there are additional arguments for not letting kids use their phones during school hours, and I wouldn't see any problem with enacting such a policy.

Mark in the story wasn't bullying anybody. He was just recording and posting, like he always does with everything he sees. He justifies his behavior to himself by calling it a "PSA", informing people that there's a wet floor. Brian is the victim, but he is not the target. In the age of social media, children can cause terrible harm to each other without any adverse intent.

Yes but bullies coudln't send video of their actions to 1000 people at once and get positive feedback from 400 of them within a few minutes. Their audience was limited to whomever happened to be around, positive feedback from an even smaller group, and the verbal rumor mill which wears out quickly. The larger audience, and the anonymous group/mob encouragement is the difference...

No. The small audience was good enough. Hell, sometimes there isn't any audience when bullies bully people and they do it anyway. And the kid that's being bullied is still an outcast in school, meaning that they don't have friends. At least if they have a phone it's possible that they might get positive interaction from people online since they don't get any from their physical surroundings.

Your argument is analogous to “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, yeah, but tools selectively amplify people’s powers. Tools matter.

I think I was pretty clear that I was still in favor of taking the phones away

If you want to make the kids that are bullied be even more cut off from society then taking phones away is a good idea. If you're being bullied then people won't interact with you. At least if you have a phone you could interact with people outside of the circle of people directly around you. It's not like you can choose who you go to school with.

It’s not like anyone else cares. Teachers aren’t unusual.

All you're doing is hiding the problem. It doesn't make a difference for the kid being bullied.

Easy enough. No phones in school. If you're caught, phone confiscated until the end of the year. That's what they did in my kids middle school.

This doesn't solve anything.

First and foremost, it is harder to teach responsible use if they are banned.

Secondly, confiscating a phone is seriously detrimental to a poor person that saves up for their kid's phone and can have a detrimental effect on their out-of-school life. I remember my school banning phones back in 1996. Poor kids didn't have them back then, but the few kids that did have them generally used them to call their parents to be picked up after school activities and/or to check in with their parents after school. These same kids suddenly needed money for pay phones as we weren't allowed to use the office phones. I highly doubt schools even have the pay phones any more.

But more importantly, kids still have online presence outside of school and banning phones does nothing to prevent kids from reporting their schooltime bullying after school. It isn't like phones are the root of bullying.

A representative of the government can't actually confiscate property without due process of law. You also can't consent by going somewhere where for all practical purposes you are legally compelled to go.

This is so trivially obvious I presume you are merely unaware that this doesn't actually work this way. The second the parent shows up the property must be returned.

> You also can't consent by going somewhere where for all practical purposes you are legally compelled to go.

There is no legal issue. E.g. this happens to people in the army (and conscription is legal under US law), who are not allowed to have unauthorized communications equipment with them.

The army is a poor model of what happens in civilian life.

Conscription is legal, the military can send you to die taking a hill ergo it is legal for the government to kill people without their consent. See how silly that line of logic was?

Kids don't give up all civil rights by going to school. This has been established.

They are in loco parentis. They can do most things your parents can do, no due process required. Minors don't have the same rights as adults.

You are correct they have to return the phone to the parent though, but they can certainly ban phones in the classroom.

Agreed l but not returning it until end of day works. I’d suggest just forcing all kids to keep their phones in their lockers.

An alternate take from the earlier time:

    Now it’s eighth grade and Mark has become addicted to
    making smaller kids afraid.  Sure, he needs a lot more
    ‘victims’ to get the same feeling, but that’s okay.

    Now it’s eighth grade and Mark has become addicted to
    alcohol.  Sure, he needs a lot more
    ‘drinks’ to get the same feeling, but that’s okay.
Pretending that "the old days" weren't full of kids doing whatever it took to hit the dopamine joy-buzzer is stupid.

    Smartphones and social media have transformed students into
    creatures craving one thing: content.
The author's phone must be a truly remarkable device, what with being able to mind-control people all on its own. Here in the real world, people have transformed THEMSELVES into those creatures...

    Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen.
It shouldn't be spent warehoused in a school either, but here we are.

No one is talking about the phone as a physical device. The "phone" is the multibillion-dollar industry dedicated to indiscriminately making every human spend every possible second of their day 'engaging' with media out of a simple paperclip-maximizing business imperative.

This industry doesn't need to make users happy anymore than the tobacco industry makes its own customers happy - as long as the dopamine is within arm's reach they've got most people hooked so much more than tobacco ever could. But unlike cigarettes, no one can cut open a slice of your social media lungs and show you that your mind is covered in tar. And since no one dies directly of exposure, we're left trying to convey how life could have been better without the second-order effects of using the product. If your lungs don't function with all that tar, you avoid physical activity because 'you don't like exercise' (when you can't breathe anymore). And if your brain has been trained to seek fulfillment from your phone that's because 'you like using your phone more than doing other things' (when you can't think of anything else you like to do anymore).

It's not really same at all though and I think the article does a good job of illustrating how social media can coerce a normal kid into doing something that normally a bully would do without ever actually feeling like he did something wrong.

There is no "bully" moment, there's no confrontation of your perpetrator, it simply feels that everyone is against you. The enemy isn't a single person making you feel bad. It's everyone.

I know I didn't face the threat of that kind of stress at school. Embarrassing moments were allowed to pass in a few days and did become enshrined documentation attached to your identity.

> Pretending that "the old days" weren't full of kids doing whatever it took to hit the dopamine joy-buzzer is stupid.

They were, but now we have a device which can massively amplify shame. Worse, evidence of bad, stupid, or shameful behavior is archived forever for later judgement by people in your professional and personal life. This is not mentioned by the article but it should have been. People do dumb and embarrassing things when they are young (childhood up through college), and they used to have the ability to leave their past behind them when they became adults. Now that privilege has been taken away from them and they have to police their behavior and speech or some asshole might post it without their consent on Instagram. I am so glad camera phones were garbage when I was a kid and that social media was in its infancy when I was in college.

Sigh. Please don't use indented text to quote. It's unreadable on mobile.

HN please fix this.

Be kind to others...fast forward 10 years and imagine some authority looking into Mark's social media history. Yeah you may be a big alpha in middle school, but you'll be labeled a bully and a social pariah the rest of your life.

Heck, let's imagine advances in NLP and video processing where people automatically get labeled as bullies. Being regarded as such could be the new scarlet letter. The Internet doesn't forget.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Unless Instagram is gone in 10 years. Does anybody go back and look at old MySpace profiles? Are they even still around? Every single one of these platforms is proprietary, and likely won't be around very long. After the bullying is done, and the service becomes uncool, the bullied kid still suffers.

On the bright side, the bully could grow up to be a really amazing person, and and maybe won't be labelled this way his whole life.

Think about this:

How many times in the past 24 hours did you unconsciously check your email, browse Facebook, visit a website, or check some other app?

Do you ever find yourself looking at your phone, and not remember consciously deciding to look at it?

If you're like 90% of smart phone users, this happens to you all the time.

Sure, you can be like the 10% that doesn't fall victim to the "slot machine" psychology of the modern internet. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the other 90% aren't going to impact your life.

I feel the quality of conversations has vastly decreased, on average, because of the intense level of smart-phone addiction that is so common now. Even if nobody is looking at their phone. ("Attention residue" is a real thing.)

>I feel the quality of conversations has vastly decreased, on average, because of the intense level of smart-phone addiction that is so common now. Even if nobody is looking at their phone. ("Attention residue" is a real thing.)

It's a continuum. I used to write letters once. I loved email when it was new ("new" where I lived and amongst my friends). Within a few years, people who once wrote me a few pages of letters would rarely write more than 2-3 lines in email. It's gone downhill from there.

I can't help but wonder if there's not another side to this coin.

Just as gangs run prisons to effects both bad and good, I wonder if the new norms these young cyborgs (can't live without the technology that's glued to them) don't have a silver lining about them.

Parents have a window into their kids' social circles that they didn't use to have.

The four big bullies who'd corner the skinny kid in the alley and pummel him can instantly be repelled by a 4 ounce piece of plastic. Not repelled, deterred.

This brave new world has terrors aplenty and perhaps it's not a net positive that every teenager comes preinstalled with a battery of apps. But maybe it could be a net positive and we haven't realized it.

I can't think of much more terrifying as a 14 year old than if my parents had a window into my world. And I had a great relationship with them.

I would have rather gotten beat up once or twice as a kid, and learn to handle it, than have constant parental surveillance.

Privacy really is dead.

Isn't that just a matter of having parents that respect your privacy (in other words: good parents)?

I definitely think there's a silver lining (at least here in Russia). My theory is that smartphones reduce street crime and bullying by providing stimulation.

Back in the eighties when I grew up, the world was much, much less stimulating than it is now. Bullies bullied weaker people, hit on girls and tortured animals just to get their dopamine fixes and to alleviate boredom.

Now all the potential bullies have smartphones full of apps. And the homescreen apps they have on their phones are the result of a decade of competitive evolution -- they are apex attention predators. As a result, their smartphones provide them with more than enough stimulation to keep them occupied all day: porn, dating, gossip, news, games, gambling.

As a result, I haven't been mugged in a decade (knock wood). There were a couple of tries, but I just disregarded them.

I say this is good.

I'm quite glad there were no smart phones when I was in middle school. There were sufficient humiliations, and I'm glad they weren't amplified outside a relatively small group.

If you're interested in a movie that explores similar themes of anxiety, social media, and just trying to survive middle school, I recommend Bo Burnham's film "Eighth Grade". Its average review is 90/100 on Metacritic, and is available to watch for free on Amazon Prime:


> is available to watch for free on Amazon Prime

In my country it isn't possible to watch any show on Amazon for free. You have to at the very least pay to be part of a club called Amazon Prime before you can watch shows. Is it different where you are?

Isn't that what he said? If you have Amazon Prime you can watch it for free as part of your membership.

Oh ok. I was confused by the use of the word "free", which you've used as well. Perhaps it means something different to Amazon customers.


This use of the word “free” to mean “included in the price you’ve paid for your membership” might not be clear to non-native speakers.

“You can watch this for no extra charge as part of your Prime membership” would be clearer.

You wouldn't say something is free to watch for Netflix customers would you? The service is what you're paying for. Using the word free at all seems wrong here, and I am a native speaker.

That's because you can't pay for individual movies on Netflix and keep them as a perpetual license. You can, on Amazon, so it makes sense here to say, "On Amazon Prime for free" as opposed to "You can purchase a perpetual license to download or stream the movie on Amazon or iTunes."

>Your pedantry

From the HN guidelines:

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

Free is a very loaded term, to the point that native speakers argue about it. It is not obvious that the person who commented is a native speaker, and his comment history suggests he is not from the US.

Wait, why did Brian's follower count drop? Being the kid who fell in the puddle should be boosting his follower numbers.

Boy, this sure is a rosy picture of how school bullying worked in 2008

My son is a 12-year-old 7th grader in a public school in Manhattan. Phones are absolutely banned in the school building, and no one wants to lose their phone. The story could happen during out lunch, but not on school property.

More generally, the school has a big focus on anti-bullying and the kids generally seem much nicer and more together than my memories of middle school.

No phones, all phones are confiscated and you never get them back is a very good policy. Likewise with knives and guns at schools.

> all phones are confiscated and you never get them back

That's an interesting concept! Here in Ontario, Canada... it's my understanding that teachers have limited ability to take phones away from students... but they don't really want to because it becomes a liability issue. Some of these phones are worth $1000 and if the teacher misplaces it or another student swipes it, the teacher can be on the hook.

If the policy is that the student doesn't get the phone back at all, that changes things significantly.

> If the policy is that the student doesn't get the phone back at all, ...

That policy is commonly called stealing -- though it probably has a more specific label under law.

Schools traditionally have been implement civil-asset forfeiture for small stuff because people rarely kick up a fuss, and the schools can quietly hand things back when they do.

But if they start taking away people's smartphones there will be push-back.

Research has shown that anti-bullying efforts may lead to more bullying. Similar to how the anti-drug (DARE) program may have to led to more drug use. The counterinuitive unintended consequences.


Also, just because kids seem nicer and more together doesn't mean that they don't bully. Appearances can be deceiving. Though there are merits to confiscating phones from kids, we mustn't forget it also has drawbacks. Kids can't document bullying. Just because the phone is gone doesn't mean the bullying ends. It just means that the bullying can happen in secret and silence. We shouldn't forget that many child molestation by teachers and bullying by kids were brought to light because of smartphones. Smartphones are a tool. It can be both bad and good.

Back when I was in high school, events like someone slipping and spilling soup all over themselves would be repeated forever and ever.

They typically came with a <sarcasm> really cute and endearing </sarcasm> nick name like... Shorts.

Which you finally got over in college because you told your new friends the story and they laughed with you not at you. You became shorts by your own volition or dropped the moniker by the same means.

Edit: I was thinking high school above, but this story happened in elementary school.

Shit - I just remembered a story where I wore jeans for the first time to school on a day where we didn't have to wear our uniform. Previously I'd been sweats only. One of the girls I thought was cute made fun of my fashion sense and I ran out of the room crying. My grandma brought me some sweats and I went back to class.

I'm so glad there wasn't social media at the time. My memory of the event has faded drastically since then. I don't want to watch a video.

I guess this is kind of a counter argument to my own statement. I think the damage done would have been worse had there been video. I mean, this was obviously something that affected me and I consider myself a fairly well adjusted person. I wonder how a video of this I could have watched over and over and over again would have made me feel. It's hard to say.

My experience is the same. High/Middle schoolers (circa late 90s early 2000s) would remember every little detail if you did something embarrassing. The most notorious would usually come with a nickname to cement it.

This story is very heavily straw manned to make a point, but I can believe that social media would amplify my above experience by magnitudes, so it's not unjustified. I just don't believe that Brian would have been quite so lucky back in 2008 either.

While I can understand where you’re coming it’s probably much harder to brush something off that’s been recorded and passed around vs. being recalled from memory.

Definitely. That's why I'd say that the power of modern technology amplifies the issues that you'd normally see in the 90s/00s

I think the problem here is that it's legal to post content of minors without parental consent on the Internet, but more specifically on the major platforms that minors use.

When my child's daycare wants to work with the local university to do a behavioral study of toddlers, they ask for parental consent to film interactions. I can decline. Actively preventing disclosure without consent is beneath the major platforms; at best, it's a checkbox at sign up.

What should the age limit be? COPPA says 13 but these platforms oppose, resist, or pay that lip service to that.

> Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, has expressed opposition to COPPA and stated "That will be a fight we take on at some point. My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age." [1]

Maybe that age limit should be raised to 16, and maybe harsh GDPR-style privacy fines should be assessed against platforms that fail to prevent usages that violates COPPA.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Online_Privacy_Pr...

One approach would be to take the issue to individual school boards. I think it's probably initially easier to propagate prohibition of posting content of any current student as part of a school system's acceptable use policy to ever greater numbers of school systems than to go the law making route.

A better solution might be to not attempt to replicate the criminal justice system, but possibly to classify this more like a traffic infraction. Only there should never be a monetary cost, it should be a community service one for both the child and the parent.

Maybe you're right about raising that age.

A 13 year old could probably drive a car around town safely. Kids are capable of racing karts at high speeds and riding off road on dirt bikes. They are more than physically capable of operating a vehicle.

We don't give them a driver's licenses, because we don't think they responsible enough. If they're not responsible enough to do something as simple as drive a car without crashing, maybe we shouldn't trust them to build vast social networks without parental oversight.

The problem though, so many parents just turn on their own phones, so it would be another box to check on the sign-up form that gets ignored like a EULA.

The platforms can never read minds, and our court system isn't ready to actually process the results of something like...

In order to use a platform you must agree to the conditions of use, which includes indemnifying the platform from harm (Blah blah)... making the parents liable for the child's actions on that platform. Which could also allow suit of and prosecution...

In short making a mountain out of a molehill to try to make everyone better people. Though the real issue is that society wants to view the train-wreck, to have someone worse than the individual so that everyone else can be built up on the body of the scapegoat.

This isn't difficult or new. I was talking about scanning images that other people post of children and making sure those images have proper consent, and not the situation where children sign up in the first place.

This is already done for adult content and copyright. It should be extended to protecting the privacy of minors.

All of the replies to this thread focus on what the parents or children can do individually. That doesn't scale, the focus should be on regulating the major platforms.

These platforms already have processes in place to automatically and manually scan for adult content and copyright. Google has image search. This should be extended to protecting the privacy of minors.

"Is a child in this picture?" sounds like a classic computer vision problem.

How would a service provider verify your age (without doing nasty things like forcing accounts to be linked to real identities)?

WTF.. Because bullying that ostracized certain kids didn't exist before social media -- that's why Columbine didn't happen?

We have got to stop this "good old days" nonsense. That doesn't exclude or excuse the real problems that social media and always being online can cause, but stop pretending that dad wouldn't have been reading the paper or rushing off to work, or otherwise disengaged from Brian in the morning, his sisters wouldn't have heard from the school grapevine all about him falling down.

How about the kinda weird, quirky kid, who finds that putting videos of himself on Youtube helps him deal with his problems, like ADHD or dyslexia? Maybe without those videos, that kid would never have the confidence to succeed in the classroom.

> Teach your children that boredom is important.

Give me a fucking break! Exactly how does that lesson go down -- I imagine it's pretty similar to abstinence-only education. Some kids will listen, and it will probably screw up their lives anyway.

Why do people think kids are a blank canvas they can paint on? Were you when you were a kid?

> Tell them to go outside and explore the real world. Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen.

Because every single kid in the history of the world hasn't heard that, either from their parents, on TV, from a teacher.

Is middle school just a thing in the USA (I assume from the comments) or other countries too? I don't know anything about it. How many years is it, what age range? It's always the same number of years?

(Also, people from the USA use the words 'sophomore', 'freshman' etc as if they're internationally understood, I have no idea what they mean, although I've heard them many times. Something to do with middle school perhaps.)

In Australia there's just primary school (Kindergarten + years 1-6), then high school (secondary school, years 7-12), then university (tertiary).

I think there are a couple different systems. When I was in school it was primary (1-6), junior high (7-9) and high school (10-12). I think more common now is primary (k-5), middle school (6-8) and high school (9-12), but it might vary from place to place.

Middle school is either grades 6-8 or 7-8 in USA. If 7-8 sometimes called Junior High School. High School is grades 9-12

Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior are the names for the high school grades 9-12.

Kindergarten is usually for children 5 or 6 years old; 1st grade, 6-7 years old, etc. By 12th (senior) year of high school, kids are usually somewhere between 17-19 years of age.

Having lived through the 80s and 90s, this actually made me feel like today is better than before.

Really? Sounds like a nightmare to me. Why do you think it’s better?

For one, life was much more violent. A kid of low status, nerdy, or kind of weird (like me) could expect physical violence weekly, if not daily. Second, parents, and adults in general, were out of the picture. I actually suspect that some parents would even enable or encourage the conflict. And, then, we lacked social support networks like kids have today today.

Kids then were still as bored as they are now. But, instead of being able to use video games and apps to get their dopamine rush, they had to rely on causing trouble (which likely contributed to the increased violence) or risky decisions. Finally, there was no where place to escape to. There were no other social options. Kids today are at least able to socialize, gather, and meet online. For instance, I'm amazed to learn about how my nieces and nephews form large social communities of friends on-line. They have rich social lives, even though some of their closest friends are scattered around the globe.

Maybe my perspective is skewed. But, if you think I'm exaggerating, at least watch a bunch of films from that period. Maybe you'll know what I mean.

I honestly expected to read this post and sympathize. But, instead, as I read the descriptions of the kids of today, I felt ashamed that I actually felt a little jealous.

Seconding all points. Having grown up in 80's Russia, this is exactly what I feel.

Good points. Thanks.

Middle school was hard when I was a kid. Maybe it's harder now, but it wasn't a picnic 20 years ago either.

It was never a picnic and I go back farther than 20 years.

I'm not discounting new brands of terror, but propensity for cruelty is the constant--the medium of cruelty is the main difference.

Is it legal to take humiliating films of children in private settings and publish those films globally without the consent of any of the parties? Or would the person posting, and the company distributing the film be liable for criminal acts?

Perhaps this could be solved with a series of criminal and civil prosecutions.

I can't speak for US law but I'm pretty sure it is (it is in my country afaik).

However, I can imagine it's close to impossible to execute if you don't know who posted the material or it has been reposted like in the article.

Wow, the bullies these days just mean-post on social media? In my day they'd pull knives on you.

No. They pull a knife on you now, while their friend films it and posts the video online of you crying afterwards.

Yeah, I was in High School around 2008. Facebook was already a thing, as was obsession over followers. Smart phones had been around for a bit, many kids had them and had their phonest as had Twitter and a few other things.

Middle school just kinda sucks. It was easily the worst period of my life, and I don't think that's a rarity in America.

My parents moved a lot. Every couple years. They were some sort of diplomatic staff. But just exactly what they did was never very clear to me.

But anyway, I was always the new foreign kid. Some times were good, and some were bad. But stuff didn't follow me from one place to another.

I wonder how that would work out now.

My anxiety disorder kicked off around the age I realized I was too old to be that shy - about 7th grade in early 90s.

I don’t know what I would have done if reality back then was anything like the second half of the story and not the first. I’m grateful it wasn’t at least.

American Vandal Season 2 digs into this topic a bit. I'm sometimes caught off guard by how deep that show goes in such a comical manner.

There's different times today, people want to be famous, a viral video might launch a career.

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