by Donna Nahlik, Chestnut Health Systems
With all of the talk in the news and on social media in the past few weeks about Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, the phrase "Freedom of Speech" has become a hot topic of debate. Robertson, founder of the company Duck Commander based in Louisiana, was suspended by the A & E Network for controversial comments he made in an interview with GQ magazine. Robertson's supporters were quick to claim the suspension as a violation of his rights to free speech. Social media sites exploded with posts and petitions calling for the network to reinstate Robertson.
All of this can be confusing to teens...who are exposed to the media frenzy...but do not know if or how this matters to them. In actuality, this is an excellent opportunity for parents to talk with our teens about the notion of free speech...and how it really does relate to them.
Please note that the discussion I am suggesting has nothing to do with the content of Phil Robertson's conversation with GQ. That is a conversation best left for each family to have according to your own belief systems. What I am suggesting is something different altogether.
If you ask people to explain what "Freedom of Speech" means, most will say that it gives a person the right to say whatever they want and to voice whatever opinion they have. Is that true?
Well, yes...and no.
At the center of the right to free speech is the notion that the government cannot inhibit a person's right to state their opinion. Nowhere in the first amendment does it say that people should be able to state their opinions without any sort of reaction or consequence. That is what many people seem to misunderstand...teens included.
Our rights to free speech do not include the right to say whatever we want without any reprisal at all. Employers have the right to expect that their employees are going to adhere to company policies and standards for behavior and verbal expression. In fact, many companies have explicit rules about what employees can and cannot say...especially in the media.
Teens need to understand that this concept extends to them as well. They have the right to express their opinions. In fact, teens are often especially passionate about the things they believe in and are quick to post or tweet about controversial issues. What they need to understand...and this is where parents can help them...is that once their opinion is out there in social media or in print, it is part of how they are perceived by others. Colleges and potential employers have access to the things that we post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and that could impact decisions they make regarding admission to college or extension of job offers.
I am not saying that we should all completely avoid expressing our opinions in print or on social media. It is important to share your ideas and opinions in a thoughtful and respectful way. It is also important though, to remember that if we speak about another group of people in a way that is going to incite hurt feelings or anger, then the people we spoke about may respond. Remember...they have the right to free speech as well.
Talk to your teens about their posts on social media. Make sure they understand the importance of really thinking about issues before putting something out there for others to read. Encourage them to research topics before coming to "snap judgments". Be respectful if their opinions do not agree with yours. Help them understand that disagreeing with a family rule is fine, but that people can't ignore or break rules without penalty just because they disagree.
Most of all help your teens to "get" that...yes...they have a right to express their opinions. What comes with that right is the reality that once their opinion is "out there" for all to see, they better be ready to back it up, own it, and accept that not everyone will agree.