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Staff Editorials

Too much too soon: Teens, sex and cyber bullying

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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     While I was home sick one day last week I got around to watching a documentary I’ve had in my queue since it was released in September - “Audrie & Daisy,” a Netflix original about teen sex abuse, social media and cyber bullying. As the opening credits rolled I realized this wasn’t the best film to perk up my spirits, but I kept watching anyway.
    The documentary follows the two stories of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, teen girls from different parts of the country who were sexually assaulted and harassed online and in person by classmates. Explicit photos of the girls taken while they were drunk to the point of unconsciousness circulated in their respective schools. Nasty comments were posted on social media, especially for Daisy after charges were filed against her assaulters. This public shaming - which is done just as much by girls as boys – led Audrie, 15, to take her life and sent Daisy, 14 at the time, into a spiral of depressive, self-destructive behavior. She tried to kill herself several times.
    The sheriff of Daisy’s small town in Missouri made the situation worse; he defended the guys who abused her –– older teens, one of which was a star football player and the grandson of a former state representative. Like a lot of victim-shamers he talks about women as attention seekers; how these boys, the “alleged” rapists, were trying to move on with their lives, implying Daisy wasn’t by dragging out a court case. The charges were dropped, but after public outcry that included the group Anonymous, the case was reopened and the main suspect sentenced to two years probation - a slap on the wrist.
     The film makes it all too clear that this kind of sexual abuse and bullying doesn’t only happen in college, but to kids in high school and even middle school, and can be tragically exacerbated by social media. A friend of Audrie, the girl who killed herself, talks about boys asking the most “developed” girls to text them naked pics in middle school.
    I understand that sexuality starts to blossom during teen years, which is natural, but our girls are way too sexualized way too soon. They’re almost groomed for it. After I finished “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary about the legal teen amateur porn industry popped up as a suggestion and I watched it, too. Apparently there’s an overwhelming demand; the word “teen” is the most popular word search on porn sites.
    Nancy Jo Sales points out in a Time article Social Media and the Secret Life of Teens: “Accompanying the boom in selfie culture is a rise in competitive spirit, as well as a disturbing trend of sexualization. Likes, hearts, swipes — validation is only a tap away. And one of the easiest ways to get that validation is by looking hot. Sex sells, whether you’re 13 or 35.”
    In a different article she says she spoke to girls who said, “’Social media is destroying our lives, but we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.’”
     We’ve all got friends who say things on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that they’d never say to anyone’s face, which makes those forums frightening when it comes to our hormone-driven teens. Bullies are emboldened because they can hide behind their computer; they can be anonymous; explicit images can go viral; and there can be serious legal consequences if things go wrong.
     By the end of the afternoon I was left speechless, with a punched-in-the-gut feeling thinking about my kids – an eight-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy – and the challenges ahead. I have a newfound resolve to talk to my daughter about how to respect herself, and just as important a resolve to talk to my son about how to be a respectable man. Just like Daisy’s brother had written above his workout station, “Monsters aren’t born, they’re made.” 
    Social media isn’t going away, and as “Audrie & Daisy” shows it can be a vehicle for positive change, connection and healing – but in the words of musician Tori Amos who wrote a song for the documentary, we need to teach our kids emotional intelligence along with tech skills so they can “protect themselves and not hurt each other, and to realize how they’re hurting each other.”

Road rage incidents increasing and deadly

    On December 17, an enraged driver fired into a car occupied by a set of Pickens grandparents who had a grandchild in the back. Apparently they had pulled out in front of the other vehicle.
    On that same day a Little Rock, Ark. man shot at a vehicle, killing a 3-year-old in the backseat. The child bled to death in the car driven by his grandmother.
    A few days later, Google shows that two Orlando men were wounded when some driving infraction led another motorist to follow them and open fire.
    The incident with the Pickens couple is not the first here. On December 28, 2015, a wanted felon shot out the back window of a car driven by a Jasper woman with a pellet-pistol as she was driving too slowly for him during a torrential downpour.
    In July of 2015 a wild scene unfolded at our RaceTrac when a driver circled the pumps shooting at another car which had a infant inside, because he didn’t like the way they were driving. At least two other basic road rage stories were found in our files.
    Nationally, statistics show road rage cases are increasing, though few sources differentiate between those with shots fired and others such as ramming a vehicle or a simple fist-fight. In an article copyrighted 2016, SafeMotorist.com found that over a seven-year period, 218 murders and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded fewer than 50 road rage cases in 2004. That number grew to almost 250 cases in 2014.
    Experts say it’s hard to know exactly what goes on in the mind of someone so angry they try to harm another motorist.
    Local counselor Robin Dunn said those who commit road rage are often either not emotionally mature or are actually sociopathic. He said the emotionally immature may feel they have been disrespected and need to “teach you a lesson,” which can range from basic obscene gestures to violence.
    The road rage cases by drivers with antisocial or sociopathic tendencies are much more dangerous as they intend to injure the person who angered them.
    Dunn said especially for the sociopathic road rage cases, fear of punishment or concerns of injuring innocent bystanders wouldn’t be a factor in their thinking, and thus not a deterrent.
    If you are on the receiving end of an irate driver, let them go on down the road if possible. But if you do end up in an encounter, particularly with someone who is clearly irrational, trying to talk to them won’t work, Dunn cautioned.  Don’t roll down your window or get out of your vehicle. Do call 911. “You never know what frame of mind the other driver is in and whether they might have a weapon. Trying to protect your ego if someone is disrespecting you could result in serious injury or death and is in no way worth the risk,” Dunn wrote in an e-mail.
    Dunn said people who commit road rage would not likely acknowledge they have an emotional problem so there is little they could do to address their own issue.
    Dunn offered a couple of suggestions for anyone who regularly gets near the road rage point: Leave early to not feel stressed; Get plenty of sleep as research has shown a connection between lack of sleep and road rage and to pull over if you know your blood is boiling before you do something you will regret.
    Carlton Wilson, a long time local NRA instructor, said shooting from a car at another car is “hugely, hugely” dangerous. He said that should be recognizable by all responsible gunowners. Futhermore, Wilson pointed out that when a bullet hits a car, even if the shooter didn’t mean to kill anyone, fragments of the bullet, metal and glass go flying inside, any of which could be deadly.
    Anyone who has ever gone ballistic on the road might want to think about the words of the person who called 911 in Arkansas last month, “This little kid’s been shot.”
    Getting even with that guy who cut you off isn’t worth the consequences.

What we’d like to see happen in 2017

Give us a sign – For several years we have editorialized about (and business leaders have asked for) some type of attractive intersection at Highway 515 and Highway 53. Maybe an improved median with plants, trees, an arrow pointing to downtown and other features to let people know they’re in Jasper when they hit that spot on the fourlane. Both Ellijay and Blue Ridge have these types of medians and they do well for tourism.

Don’t Facebook, Be Happy – Several studies have shown that people who are heavy social media users are less likely to report being happy. One recent study from the Happiness Research Institute found that Facebook users may be up to 39 percent less happy than non- FB’ers. Apparently the never-ending cascade of photos of other people enjoying themselves make people feel their lives don’t measure up, according to a Psychology Today study. Of course, the cause and effect could be backwards - people who are already unhappy tend to use FB more. Either way, this year try more face-to-face time or read a book.

Cut it out -– Commissioner Rob Jones and Pickens County government, we are saying it loud and clear and early - we don’t want another massive tax hike this year. In fact, we want cuts. Every year at budget setting time the county trots out some lame excuse as to why they sure would like to cut spending, but just can’t – much like the captain of the Titanic with that iceberg. Start early this year and make cuts.

Fewer legend deaths – We’re not celebrity crazy, but 2016 took the lives of some of the most iconic, influential performers of our generation - Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Glen Frey, Greg Lake AND Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and many others - we’d like 2017 to be kinder to our living legends.

Fill the buildings - According to some regional real estate professionals, Pickens is not only falling behind Cherokee and Forsyth attracting new growth, but Dawson is quickly advancing while we spin our wheels. We need a renewed focus on economic development, particularly looking at what the other counties offer in terms of incentives, tax abatements and perks. What we are currently doing in Jasper and Pickens County is not working - too many empty spaces sitting around Jasper’s main street.

Rain – While things have been damp lately, we are still in the midst of a serious drought and only regular rainy days will do the trick - and we’re talking several days of deep, drenching rain. According to the United States Drought Monitor, we remain in an “exceptional drought” and the La Nina weather pattern we are experiencing this year doesn’t look good for bringing us rain, but we can always hope.

Marble Fest revamp – After he was hired as the  Chamber of Commerce Executive Director this year, Gerry Nechvatal said the Georgia Marble Festival is stale and he wants to see changes made to the annual event. We couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to see what Nechvatal and other organizers do to make the Marble Festival more exciting and a draw for people who don’t live in the county. We know all the changes might not happen in one year but we applaud them for getting the ball rolling.

Trump to succeed - Not everyone supports President-elect Donald Trump, but everyone should want him and his team to do well next year for the good of the country. We are all counting on it, quite literally.

    We’d also like 2017 to be a year of more kindness; and for us to have more concern for the work we need to do close to home to make our world a better place.