Michelle Carter was just sentenced in the text message case [where she was found to encourage a young man to commit suicide and didn’t call for help when he did so]. Is there a moral equivalent in the Bible by which one could instruct their children so that they do not go down the path of either of the participants in this event?
Is it possible that both were equally mentally disturbed and this is only an anomaly? Is social media distorting our mores and morals?
How would a parent use scripture to keep their children on the correct path when young people are so absorbed in social media to the point it takes over their life, personality, and time?
You actually asked four interesting questions tucked inside your letter. In the case you reference, a young woman was sentenced for encouraging her boyfriend’s suicide. It got attention because there was a trail of text messages detailing her words. Yet, from a moral perspective (rather than a legal one because of proof) there is no difference between this case and one that might have taken place decades ago with conversation substituting for texts. Urging someone to take his life, whether by letter, speech, texts or skywriting is wrong. The message is the problem, not the medium.
We have no doubt that both these individuals were deeply troubled. In fact reading between the lines of the news story suggest a history of bizarre behavior on the part of both players in this tragedy. However, your next question, “Is social media distorting our mores and morals?” intrigues us. Some individuals are born more susceptible to emotional and mental problems than other people. We think that there is no question that trends in our times, including the prevalence of time spent online and bullying social messaging, can exacerbate certain unhealthy tendencies. Today’s media can certainly cause problems for some who might have been perfectly emotionally healthy under different circumstances. From an emotional point of view, the support and balance one gets from a relationship with a real flesh-and-blood friend is not at all replicated by a so-called friend on social media. We wish they’d have come up with another term than ‘friend’ for the slender digital connection made online. At the same time, the online community is a tremendous gift for some who, for whatever reason, would be less connected in any way to people without the Internet. With all its shortcomings, for these people, a frail electronic connection might be better than they’d have done in pre-Internet days.
In other words, we humans managed to “distort our mores and morals” before the Internet, before typewriters, and before ball point pens. It is something we have always been rather good at.
That doesn’t mean that we can be sanguine. The greater the technology available to us, the greater potential it has to be used for both good and for bad. Just as we demand more maturity and practice before we let a child drive a car than we do before we let him roller skate, we do need to pay more attention to our children as technology and communication expand. Just as you wouldn’t hand your sixteen-year-old your car keys with no limitations or rules, parents have the obligation to provide rules and restrictions, alternatives and supervision rather than allowing social media to take over their children’s lives, basically replacing parents as the prime instillers of values. We would suggest that in today’s times, children, teens and young adults need more time with their parents (and parents acting more wisely and thoughtfully) than they did in some other generations.
The many basic messages of Scripture (such as valuing all life) that provide for healthy living are timeless. It’s up to us to figure out how to apply those messages in appropriate ways for our times.
Make sure you have both quality and quantity time with your children,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin