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New year starts with silly list and dangerous game

Happy New Year! Any estimates on how long it will take the majority of us to write 2015 instead of 2014?

Personally, my goal is to be somewhat proficient by March ... but who knows?

Starting off the New Year with lists of things seems to be the norm and recently I discovered what I, at first, thought was a tongue-in-cheek list of what each state was worst at accomplishing.

At least I thought it might be funny until I scrolled down to North Carolina and realized this isn't a joke at all.

Or, if it is, it's a joke on all of us.

So, what was North Carolina's major failing according to Thrillist?

"North Carolina was determined to be the worst state for education based on a number of factors such as education spending, student-to-teacher ratio, and percentage of dumb kids."

Obviously, I take extreme exception to the dumb kids designation, but the other two listed factors seem painfully right on the money!

But while we can quibble about details, we must get serious about education, most specifically, finding a nonpolitical way of funding education so that every crackpot politician who manages to win election isn't tinkering with the system, usually making it much worse.

I know it's a pipe dream to take politics all the way out of education and education funding, but there has to be a way to stop public schools from being batted about like a tennis ball in a tournament.

Of course, the same thing can be said of highway construction and maintenance because the more politicians claim to have removed politics from that equation, the more politicized highway projects have become.

We need to de-politicize a lot of things here in North Carolina and we have about as much chance of that happening as we do of electing politicians who actually care about the rest of us ... none!

Okay, here's a peek at what some of our neighbors allegedly are noted for:

Tennessee: Most dangerous;
"Not in the Michael Jackson Dangerous way. Just straight up 'keep your head on a swivel' dangerous."

South Carolina: Most violent crime;
"Of all 50 states, South Carolina has the highest rate of violent crime at 766 per 100,000 residents. So much for that whole concept of Southern hospitality."

Massachusetts: Worst at happy hour;
"Massachusetts was the first state to ban happy hour in 1984. That means for 30 years, people have been complaining about their bosses after work over FULL-PRICED drinks."

Florida: Most recreational boat accidents;
"Florida has the highest number of boat accidents and fatalities. Yet studies consistently show that Floridians operate boats at least as well as highly caffeinated orangutans."

Ouch! Well, that's enough fun with that list for now but this Thrillist thing might be worth keeping on eye on since apparently it tackles any number of topics with the sincerity and perception that is often missed in polite company.

Dangerous game

Okay, enough of the fun stuff for a moment. It's time to turn our attention to a more serious topic, one that every parent in Franklin County should be making a priority in the coming year.

That topic is social media -- and how it is both used and misused on an almost daily basis, often doing tremendous harm that was not intended.

For example, recently there was a situation in Franklin County involving the bullying of a child -- and bullying is something that must be taken very seriously.

The correct thing to have done was, for the most part, done in this case.

The problem was reported to proper authorities who, from all we can tell, treated the report seriously and began to deal with it the best they could.

Fine, up to that point.

But then someone posted the VICTIM'S name on social media, likely causing far more humiliation and embarrassment than even the bullying was causing.

Most likely, the person posting that information didn't think it through, didn't realize the damage it could cause or how that information could be used to make this child's life even more difficult.

Over the last few hundred years, the mass media, like newspapers and, to some degree, television, have learned this lesson.

That's why we don't publish names of victims of bullying, sexual or other abuse if they are minors and why we are so very careful about unintentionally making bad situations worse.

At least, most of us do. There are exceptions but the immediacy of social media and the loss of that well-thought-out filter has created a "publish without thinking" possibility that didn't exist a few years ago.

Please, think before you release such information -- and teach your children to do the same thing.

Once such information is "out there," there is no calling it back -- and it can be as damaging as a speeding bullet.

Now, on another situation in a neighboring county that may have lasting implications.

Seems that a bunch of teen-age girls were having a pajama party and decided to have a little "fun" by draping themselves in white sheets, crafting pointy hats and pretending to "shoot" people.

That's bad for those of us who can remember the Klan days, but these kids, from all we can tell, didn't understand the implications and the interpretations of their actions.

Then they did the unthinkable -- they posted a picture online.

When a parent realized what happened, the picture was immediately jerked down -- but not before some idiot grabbed it, wrote a piece for an I-report on CNN and reposted it in a much larger context -- and, as usual, the stripped-down, bottom-feeding network that CNN has become, apparently didn't even read it before it went public.

We still don't know the full impact of that naive stunt because the emotions are heated and far-reaching.

Some have clamored for the schools to discipline these girls even though the activity didn't happen during school hours, on school property or with any school personnel around.

The school administration has pledged to turn this into a "teaching moment," which is about the best that could happen.

And, authorities were accompanying the girls from class-to-class just before the Christmas break, fearing retaliation.

The girls, their parents said, didn't have a clue what they were doing -- or what nerves they were touching by play-acting as Klansmen. (Maybe that fact is an example of the failure of the schools to teach history or of parents to do the same.)

Of course, there were adults just waiting, anxious to make this situation into something it wasn't -- and to try to benefit from a naive mistake by kids who seemed to mean no real harm.

That's another of the problems with social media.

There often is no context to what is posted -- and interpretations can vary widely.

Whether it's a picture of teenage girls in Klan-like garb or little kids in a bathtub photographed by parents who think they are "cute," the interpretations by others can be light years away from intent.

People post this stuff without thought of the consequences -- and then can spend a lifetime dealing with consequences.

Whether it is exposing your child to a molester, signaling to a burglar that you're not home because you're bragging about your vacation or naming a young victim of an alleged crime, the fraction of a second that it takes to post these things online can have life-changing consequences. And, there is no cynical, bourbon-swilling, jaded newspaper editor to do your thinking for you; it just goes public!

Please, parents, think before you post.

And do your best to teach your children, especially your teens, to do the same.

Or, better yet, to think twice, and then ask for adult advice before putting it out there for the world.

This new social media electronic world is a very dangerous place.

Think ahead, use common sense and do your best to keep you and yours safe, especially from those who take something innocent and turn it into something it was never intended to be.

Okay, now relax and enjoy the New Year's holiday and try to adhere to all those resolutions you've made for at least a few weeks.

Or, until that pie comes out of the oven ... !

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