The Tragedy of Tyler Clementi

No words console a family when a child dies, especially a loss caused by cruel and bigoted peers who don’t comprehend digital world distinctions between right and terribly wrong. A much-loved boy, a gifted musician, a young man who made others smile and relax with beautiful music — and whose sexual identity was no one’s business but his own, even in the confusing milieu of a freshman college dorm — is dead.

For the rest of us — parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other adults — much can be said. Tyler Clementi’s suicide dramatically illustrates, yet again, the youth disconnect between privacy as we knew it in the past and the increasingly few layers that protect us today. With no clear definition of privacy, children, adolescents, and even young adults perceive few behavior boundaries –those lines in the sand that delineate the ethical from the unethical, the fun from the vicious. How many more children do we have to lose?

Whatever can we do?

Relentless modeling, teaching, and reinforcing behavior expectations and values is one way adults can act. Emphasizing the difference between intention and consequence is another. What matters most is that we adults resolutely raise expectations, distinguishing digital rights from digital wrongs at every opportunity — meals, lessons, classroom activities, carpools, athletic activities, religious training — everywhere and no matter what else we are doing. The technology is here stay, but the uncompromising adult focus on raising digital citizens is far behind.

We are in the middle of a public health epidemic, defined not by bacteria and germs but by uncontrolled, technology-motivated behavior. The condition is debilitating on any day, but it’s when combined with bigotry, fatalities occur. We mustn’t fool ourselves — not one of our children possesses total immunity.

2 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Tyler Clementi

  1. O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
    That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
    Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
    That ever lived in the tide of times.
    Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
    (Mark Antony in Julius Caesar by W. Shakespeare)

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