It’s not that I’m an advocate for indiscretion. I certainly don’t advise teenage girls to plaster their Facebook pages with pictures of themselves in clothing that covers little more than their sense of humor. Yet, I found myself siding with the Noxzema crowd after reading an article by Katie J.M. Baker on jezebel.com. Baker highlighted a recent entry on givenbreath.com, a blog run by Kimberly Hall, an Austin women’s minister. Hall’s post titled “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl),” serves as a warning to any teenage girl who has befriended one of Hall’s three teenage sons online.
Hall begins her post by writing, “Last night, as we sometimes do, our family sat around the dining room table and looked through your social media photos.” This is where I threw down my Internet referee yellow card. I may have grown up in the tech age, but I’m not so mesmerized by all things digital that I think it’s okay for family time to involve Facebook. That’s creepy. Like, really creepy. Do parents have nothing better to do nowadays? Isn’t there something good on National Public Radio or a flower bed that needs tilling?
Apparently not, because as Hall explains: “If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our online island.”
Isn’t it cute when 40-year- olds say “sexy selfie?” It shows they are down with the hip crowd and the culture. Here’s another one for Hall to add to her big book of references: John Donne once said no man is an island. He did not say no man is an island except for the Hall men, who are, in fact, islands. Yet, in Hall’s mind, she has constructed a utopian online environment for her lost boys – a safe haven free from exposure to things so unseemly, so indecent that their definitions might be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Parents are, of course, responsible for protecting their children, online and off. But what happens when Junior walks out the door? What happens when he goes to the library or to his friend’s house or picks up his phone? He’s a kid – a kid whose parents have (hopefully) not only protected him but also equipped him with the means necessary to protect himself and make informed decisions.
But Hall doesn’t see it that way. She fails to see her sons as people capable of navigating their way through adolescence and the things that come with it, such as members of the opposite sex. Instead, the Hall boys must be shielded at all costs from the horrifying, predatory evil that is teenage girls. Understandably, Hall has gotten tired of having to put a moat of physical, mental and emotional chastity around her children. So, in an effort to make her job easier, she has issued one simple request to all middle school temptresses:
“Girls, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made an online mistake (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down anything that makes it easy for your male friends to imagine you naked in your bedroom.”
Last time I checked, the human mind doesn’t need a visual representation of some- thing in order to imagine it. Men, women, boys and girls are all equally capable of fantasizing. It wouldn’t matter if Hall waved a magical censorship wand over the entire world. The thing she is so afraid of happening will happen. Does Hall want to wake up one day to find her three adult sons are incapable of having or maintaining normal, healthy, adult relationships? Of course not.
On one hand, Hall seems capable of recognizing that her sons will develop mature relationships, saying: “Every day I pray for the women my boys will love. I hope they will be drawn to real beauties, the kind of women who will leave them better people in the end.” She can’t acknowledge that a photograph does not define a person. She can’t acknowledge some women who are respect- able, intelligent and articulate made questionable decisions when they were teenagers. The only thing Hall can see in a duck-faced girl is someone unworthy of her sons’ love – someone who made it easy.
That kind of damning thought process is nothing new. We’ve all heard someone reflect on a woman’s outside appearance by saying, “Well, she’s just asking for it.” Hall’s message permeates the same kind of archaic thinking, albeit thinly veiled, in concern for girls’ welfare. I would urge Hall to redirect her concern to its rightful audience: her sons, the three blonde-haired boys whose shirtless photos were interweaved among Hall’s message, until she replaced them.
I was never on the debate team, but I can’t help but think when you’re discussing controversial subject matters like child sexuality, modesty and boundaries, your message would resonate more if you refrained from including photos of your sons in swimsuits. Especially when you have just issued a cyber memorandum to all girls to cover up, lest they be shunned by society and resigned to hollow, loveless lives.
I’m not saying Hall’s message is devoid of validity. Yes, these girls need to buy bigger denim shorts. Yes, they need to show reservation. But it’s not Hall’s job to monitor, regulate or reprimand young women. Her job is to parent her sons. If she thinks that means blocking Facebook accounts, then by all means, she has the right to do so. But before she clicks that button, I would implore Hall to consider one thing: There’s no “block” in the real world.