Teens Show Up To Film A School Beatdown, And Let’s Not Blame This Mess On YouTube

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472467056Technology unfairly gets the blame for so many problems in our society. Access to computers and phones isn’t going to cut off relationships with other people; it provides new means to stay in contact with far-flung friends and family. Kindles and the like aren’t going to destroy the ability to read ‘real’ books; they provide access to a library’s worth of books that can be carried in a single backpack. And the existence of the ‘viral fight video’ trend on YouTube doesn’t indicate that the kids today, are not, in fact, all right — it’s just the most recent manifestation of the worst of humanity, not a new one.

The latest instance of a fight video was reported at Kentucky’s Bryan Station High School by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Apparently a biology teacher was surprised when a student suddenly walked into his classroom — followed by about a dozen peers with their camera phones out. The teen proceeded to call out one of the biology students, and the two began fighting. Like you do. All of the students involved, including the crowd of camera-phone wielders, are facing the maximum suspension from school, though no arrests were made.

A lot of people would like to blame this altercation on the availability of camera phones and video sharing sites, but crowds gathering to watch or even root for a fight is not a new sensation. I graduated from high school four years before YouTube was even an electronic twinkle in its creators’ eyes; people still flocked around when they thought a fight was going to happen. They just gossiped about it over peanut butter and jelly in the school cafeteria instead of posting footage to the Internet.

Herd mentality isn’t new, and it’s not something endemic to high school, either, for that matter. This kind of ugly bystander effect happens with adults too, and the problem isn’t technology. The problem is a critical deficit of empathy, a lacking sense of responsibility, a failure to own up to the fact that being aware of a bad situation and doing nothing about it — because it’s going to be funny, not because of any danger to yourself — makes you complicit.

It’s easy to assume as parents that kids will just default into growing up into decent human beings, but that is not really my experience as a former high school teacher. Kids need to be explicitly told — by parents, teachers, and hopefully one another — that pointing and laughing is not an acceptable alternative to intervening, and that doing what’s right isn’t always what’s cool, easy, or popular. They need to hear it from someone, and whatever other virtues the site has, they’re probably not going to hear it from a YouTube video.

(Image: AdrianHillman / iStock / Getty)