Plenty of adults say racist things, revert into ungrateful brats during the holidays, and demonstrate a tenuous grasp on world history. And yet these public shaming exercises tend to focus exclusively on teenagers. That’s partly because we see teenagers as redeemable, and adults as beyond help—Jezebel undertook its expose in the hopes that school administrators would “teach” the teens “about racial sensitivity.” But we also criticize teens because we feel that we can control them, either by sending them to the principal’s office or just asserting our generational superiority over them. As one BuzzFeed commenter wrote, “Thank you Generation Y for making me grateful I have dogs and not an ungrateful brat!” When adults shame teenagers on the Internet, we feel like we can separate ourselves from American racism and consumerism by pinning the problem on this new, amoral generation. We all got out fine, but these kids? Worse than dogs.
This impulse to mock and distrust teenagers is so strong that some journalists don’t even bother to investigate whether their assumptions are correct before forever branding teens as spoiled jerks. And so adults have reflexively shamed an “ungrateful brat” who actually shares our distaste for ungrateful brats. A couple of days ago, I alerted BuzzFeed to the full context of their “ungrateful” teen’s comments, but her joke still tops the list. Meanwhile, adults are still using the story as a roadmap for locating teenagers’ social media accounts, then calling them whores and sluts who deserve to die. Who should really be ashamed?