Knowing the difference between right and stupid

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Kids do dumb things. Always have. Always will.

Some they learn from their parents. Doing stupid stuff also happens naturally as brains develop and lack of experience influences poor decisions. Ideas that seem brilliant or hilarious in the moment can, upon reflection or prosecution, be exposed as knuckleheaded — or even criminal.

Some symbols blow up rational thinking like a stick of dynamite in a mailbox. A Confederate flag, brandished for whatever reason, incites fury in many a conscientious mind. Same with a swastika. Did you know that the swastika actually goes back thousands of years before Hitler was born, and that its meaning in Sanskrit is “conducive to well being?” But in modern times it represents something else entirely: Hatred, racism, genocide. Put a swastika on your sleeve or burn it in the ground next to a football field and you have departed the safe domain of harmless pranks.

Smart kids doing something stupid might not understand this dynamic. Point fingers at the erosion of nuclear families, the absence of religion in the home or whatever you wish, but in our view, poor decisions emerging from developing brains are getting an extra push in the wrong direction from the place most young people live today: In the kingdom of social media.

Somehow, when we alleged guardians weren’t looking, it became OK for kids to digitally persecute their peers to the point of suicide. Like sniper fire, there’s bullying and shaming from the safety of cyber sidelines. Reason is too easily unplugged. Children share nude or otherwise explicit photos of themselves. Seemingly without it ever occurring to them that it’s a bad idea, permanent, damning records are being created in the archives of social media that will haunt these young people for a lifetime. Is it any wonder that what’s appropriate in the real world can actually look foreign through the lens so many kids are using today?

To be fair, the swastika burned into the turf at Lake City High School might not have been done by students at all. With “CHS” accompanying the swastika, big assumptions have been made. Maybe the restless spirit of Richard Butler built a nice little frame job over an otherwise innocent rival high school.

In all likelihood, however, this event was perpetrated by adolescents. It’s stupid and, yes, it’s repugnant, especially painful in a community that will never completely shed an evil brand as a haven for racists. But this vandalism could also provide an unexpected classroom for a valuable lesson learned. Let’s choose that course and explain to our kids why this act crosses a line that should never be crossed.

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