Yesterday, I came across the article I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother, an article that has gone viral over the past 24 hours.
The article was written by a woman with a brilliant but violent 13-year-old son — a child who has clearly been failed by the mental health system. The article first appeared on her blog anonymously, but when it was picked up by the Huffington Post, Gawker, the Washington Post, NBC’s TODAY Moms, and other outlets, it appeared with her name, the area she lives in, and in a number of cases, a photograph of her son. She used a pseudonym for her son’s name, but not for her own. In other words, anyone who knows who she is will know who she’s talking about.
Why does it matter? Because in the article, she says the following:
“I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother.”
That’s right. She is comparing her child to mass murderers. In public. Under her own name. On the Internet. For the world to see.
Her 13-year-old son.
I’m not even going to speak to the issues that the article raises about the mental health system. I can’t even get that far because I’m so appalled that any mother, a day after 20 children are killed, would use her own name to write about her 13-year-old son and suggest that her son is like the person who killed them. There isn’t any moment when it’s appropriate to compromise a child’s privacy in that way. But when people are raw, and hurting, and scared, that’s a moment when it ought to be perfectly obvious that you don’t do it.
I’m even more appalled that so very few adults seem to care about the potential impact on her son. She is either getting kudos all around for being so brave, so honest, so real, or she is being called out for being retrograde in her attitudes about mental illness and violence. But very few have commented about the effect on her son. It’s as though they’ve written him off. He’s just a talking point. A springboard for discussion. An avatar of people’s worst fears.
But not a child struggling.
He will know about his mother’s post. So will everyone who knows his mother: his teachers, his schoolmates, his friends, his neighbors, his community members. So will millions of strangers. How exactly does this article enhance her son’s functioning? His mental state? His sense of safety? His ability to navigate the world?
It pains me to imagine how he must feel right now to have his private conversations and actions broadcast on the Internet for all to see. It pains me to imagine how he must feel to read some of the horrendous things that people are saying about him.
And yes, his feelings matter. His feelings matter quite a lot. Because he is a child who needs help, and for that help to matter, he has to feel safe, and he has to feel respected, and he has to feel that his private life has boundaries around it.
The words are out there now. They can’t be taken back. They will hang over him like a shadow.
I can understand the exhaustion and the helplessness that his mother feels; I can even understand harboring fear for the future in her own heart. Fear is fear; it can’t be argued with. But if you’re going to write about something so personal, so wrenching, so frightening, so painful that involves your minor child, common sense dictates that you use pseudonyms — not just for the child, but for yourself and for everyone else concerned. And for the love of God, you do not use a photo.
I’m speaking here as a mother. I am fierce about protecting my kid’s privacy. I don’t post anything that has my kid’s name in it without getting my kid’s approval, and if that approval doesn’t come, the post doesn’t go up.
I’ve been bothered for a long time about the extent to which people talk about their children without protecting their anonymity. I write under my own name, because I’m an adult and I make a conscious decision to share information about my life. I don’t share everything; I share what I’m comfortable sharing. But I would not make that decision for my kid. Not now. And not ever.
So many people seem to have lost all sense of privacy and common sense. I don’t know why that is. But I do know that a conversation about mental health, or a blog piece about the pain and suffering in one’s life, should never come at the expense of a child’s privacy. I don’t care who the child is and I don’t care what the child has done.
We’re adults. That’s our responsibility. We should know better.
The Huffington Post. “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother': A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html. December 16, 2012. Accessed December 16, 2012.
© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg