Today I'm happy to have Janet Gurtler, author of the new YA novel Who I Kissed, here on the blog with a post about the effect media can have on teens going through tough times. This hits a little close to home for me. Recently, a student at the same high school I attended years ago took his life due to bullying. The story hit not only the local news, but social media like a wildfire. It was upsetting to me and several of my graduated classmates to not only see this happening at our alma mater, but to see the bullying continue on even after the student's death. Here's the author's take on the media:
Media Crazy: In the book, Samantha is troubled with guilt and watching the news is not helping. Janet Gurtler explores the effect media can have on teens in tough situations.
In the book, Who I Kissed, when a boy dies from kissing a girl who ate peanut butter, it’s a sensational death and all forms of media cover the tragedy. A peanut butter kiss and Alex is gone. It sounds almost comical, except it’s not. It’s a story that the papers and the online community want to talk about. Samantha is the girl who kissed a boy and made him die. Not only does she have to deal with her own guilt and horror, she has to deal with the worlds. All she has to do is turn on the television to see highlights and updates about what happened.
Sam is compelled to watch and almost treats the news as her just punishment, watching and seeing snippets about the boy and his life and knowing she’s the cause of the person he’ll never become. When I wrote the book, I consulted some journalism friends to see if in a case like this whether or not the traditional forms of news coverage would name the girl who caused the death. The unanimous opinion was that, no, they wouldn’t because the death was accidental and a tragedy.
The flip side of this world we live in today though is social media. There aren’t any hard and fast rules in place. In Sam’s world her name and the story is very much public knowledge. The teens even use social media to bully Sam. She’s taunted on Facebook and because of her overwhelming guilt, she doesn’t even try to report it or fight back. Online bullying is a problem that is becoming larger and is often difficult to manage. Sam is hurt but unable to answer to or unwilling to report or respond to it except internally.
Our society is so inundated with information coming from so many different forms of media. It seems like we expect to know the details when there’s a tragedy like a teen’s accidental death. As a public we want or the juicy behind the scenes. We’re a society growing up with reality television where we know intimate details about stranger’s lives. Teens post pictures of themselves on-line or their parents post their pictures online for the whole world to see.
I’m sure television reporters and shows feel tremendous pressure to get something different to show a different angle of a story. The media seems much more intrusive and the public seems to support and expect it. In many ways, it’s an unhealthy sense of entitlement and a willingness to peer inside people’s windows and see things we’re not always entitled inside to see.
We want to know everything but what is the price for the people who have to deal not only with the tragedy but also with the consequences of being so exposed in the media? Where are ethics, and social responsibilities going when our traditional media outlets are competing against media not governed or concerned with the same moralities?
Many teens today grow up with their lives completely connected to technology which usually includes being online. Media really does take on a much broader scope and sometimes it’s hard not to have the lines blurred between social media and news.
More on the book:
Who I Kissed
By Janet Gurtler
She Never Thought A Kiss Could Kill. . .
Samantha didn't mean to hurt anyone. As the new girl in school and on the swim team, she was just trying to fit in. And she wanted to make her teammate Zee a little jealous after he completely ditched her for a prettier girl at the party. Hurt, but pretending not to care, she turns to his best friend, Alex, and gives him a kiss. And he dies – right in her arms.
Alex was allergic to peanuts, and Samantha had eaten a peanut butter sandwich right before the party. She didn’t know. Overnight Samantha turns into the school pariah and a media sensation explodes. Consumed with guilt, abandoned by her friends, and in jeopardy of losing her swimming scholarship, she will have to find an inner-strength that goes way deeper than the fastest time in the 200-meter butterfly. Because if she can't figure out how to forgive herself, no one else will either.
A bright new star and refreshingly authentic voice in young adult contemporary books, Janet Gurtler adroitly balances the story of a teenager’s moving journey from anguish to acceptance and the whirlwind mania of a news story that she can’t escape. Skillfully capturing the raw, honest emotions of her teen protagonists, Janet paints them into a searing portrait of a tragedy that uproots the lives of everyone it touches.