Learning from Tyler Clementi’s tragedy

Before the news of Tyler Clementi trickles into the stream of consciousness of Hawaii middle and grammar schools, I thought I’d sit my daughters down and have a talk with them about life, love, sexual orientation, high technology and death.

My girls are very Internet savvy and have their own computers. We’ve put safeguards in place, but any parent who thinks such measures are fool proof are kidding themselves. So we keep an eye on their activities. I snoop on their pages. And they have come to me when something felt wrong to them.

I told them about Tyler, a student at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, an accomplished violinist, a quiet and friendly young man who was trying to figure life out. I told them about how his roommate activated his computer web cam while Tyler was in their dormitory room and captured him and another engaged in a sexual act. And I told them, these two girls with access to their own web cam, how it was pushed out onto the Internet. How humiliating, I told them. How embarrassing.

Delicately I discussed with them how, when young people leave home and go to college or join the military, they want to do things that they couldn’t get away with at home. A lot of times that means exploring their sexuality: alone, with someone of the same sex, or with someone of the opposite sex.

They crinkled their noses. I knew they were uncomfortable. But let them be uncomfortable at home. Let them learn these things from their parents. Don’t leave such an education to so called friends that don’t really have any idea what they are talking about, or, worse yet, a total stranger who has no interests beyond their own momentary violation of a child.


I’m pretty disenchanted with the religious education I was raised on. I knew people in the church that didn’t protect the altar boys who were convinced they had to do this and that to serve G*d. I understand the sense of community people have who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, I understand being Born Again, but I don’t understand how Christianity can be so loaded with barriers. If you’re Christian, you are supposed to see Christ in everyone  you encounter. I have an easier time at that outside a religious community than I did when I was within one.  And I think my free-style acceptance of homosexuality is more in line with Christ’s teachings than its denial.

That said, I encouraged my girls to always look out for the underdog, to take a stand against bullying, to follow their instincts when it comes to doing the right thing. I’m pretty sure both of them have bullied and have been bullied. And I told them that now that they are getting older, it’s important that they spot and guard against it. By the time a child is nine or 11, they know which classmates are easy targets and which ones are the bullies. Now is the time for them to distinguish themselves as girls who are conscientious, confident and kind.

I for one have been known to send out a Twitter or a Facebook update that was less than sensible or sensitive. The rules of social media are very fluid, and if you’re like me and have a job you want to keep, discretion is rule number one. Thank goodness I work with people who have let me redeem myself after a few fox paws. (LOL) Faux pas.

So let us learn from this tragedy. The two young people who hit send on that video have a terrible burden to bear for the rest of their lives. Let’s all carry a little bit of that burden. Let’s start looking at each other with more respect, and with an appreciation of our differences. It would make our worlds more tolerable. Virtually, and IRL.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


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