Parents of teens might want to make time to talk to their kids about why it’s potentially hurtful to rush to judgment of others, a case in point being the recent social media feeding frenzy over a cell phone snapshot of Willow Smith, the 13-year-old daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
The rush to condemn Willow Smith over an Instagram photo of her (fully clothed), stretched across the foot of a bed, on top of a blanket covering her shirtless friend Moises Arias, 20, is a little scary to me because the assumptions being made by media and fans are very serious.
Thursday Jada Pinkett Smith asserted to celebrity photographers that there was nothing sexual about image, telling them, "You guys are projecting your trash onto it, and you're acting like covert pedophiles, and that's not cool," according to E! news.
If someone is accusing a young man of 20 of having sex with a 13-year-old girl, that’s statutory rape.
It is also a big leap from the Instagram photo I am looking at and the felony offense in question. Until I'm proven wrong, I'm inclined to believe the mother's interpretation of the relationship over the salacious headlines.
Looking at the photo of Willow and Moises, I see something worth a chat between Willow and her parents to discuss both how her reputation suffered when the photos were posted and to find out if anything improper was going on.
Moises, played Rico on the Disney channel television show "Hannah Montana," and is widely reported to be a friend Willow has known since childhood.
In the photo, the two were not touching each other.
There was no caption with the photo to suggest this was anything more than friends who are very comfortable with each other and in their own skin, hanging out.
The fact that a boy is not wearing a shirt, even while sitting on his bed with a girl nearby, does not mean something sexual is happening between them.
Having four boys of my own – ages 20, 19, 15, and 10 – I have come to realize that some guys, especially those who are sporty or outdoorsy types who surf, sail, swim, or live near a beach, tend to live a shirtless life.
Sadly, I suppose two kids hanging out does not generate the kind of heat you can get from headlines like the one CBS News ran, “Willow Smith in bed with older man, fans outraged.”
Yes, I get that the headline is technically accurate, but the inference of “in bed” has a very serious connotation.
CBS News also characterized the way Moises was sitting as a “questionable pose.”
The question with which I am left as a parent is, “Could we all slow down and get some real information?”
I first saw the photo on my phone's news feed, without the leading headlines.
Therefore, I feel a bit like the boy in the story "The Emperor’s New Clothes" who didn’t know what he was supposed to be seeing and simply reported the fact that they guy wasn’t wearing clothes.
Similarly, when I saw the photo without any backstory, all I saw was a girl and a long-time guy pal with whom she feels so at home that she can hang out with him and not worry about his state of undress.
What I want to share is the story of my son Avery, 15, and his friend Sarah Peterson who sadly committed suicide several months ago.
Avery, Sarah, and another girl were pretty inseparable last summer.
The girls were constantly in his room, all of them sitting on the bed because there is no other furniture in his room other than a dresser and computer.
There were times when I worried how this might look to anyone who didn’t know they were all just friends and actually dating other people.
“We hang out at her house too,” Avery had told me when I made a fuss. “Just because it’s a bed doesn’t mean you have to have a dirty mind about it. Sheesh!”
After Sarah’s death, her father, Eric Peterson, sent me an email telling me he was so glad Avery had spent time with his daughter as a close, platonic, friend.
“When we moved here we let Sarah and her friends trace the outlines of their hands and feet at random places on her ceiling, with each hand or foot accompanied by a name and date to identify the owner of the appendage and when they visited,” Mr. Peterson wrote.
“Though we rarely let boys go into Sarah's room, we did make exceptions when they were part of a group of boys and girls. The other day when I was in Sarah's room I noted that the outline of Avery's foot is, as far as I can tell, the only foot or hand on the ceiling belonging to a male, though I haven't examined the entire ceiling closely enough to ensure this is a singular honor."
It made me cry, because I remembered the time when I had called that friendship into question and nearly forced it to end because I could not imagine a boy and girl being platonic friends.
I could not see past my own negative connotations and assumptions.
If Sarah were here, I would apologize.
The best I can do is to tell other parents that, in my experience, friendships, innocence, platonic love, and trust can be fragile things.
If someone tries to capture one of these beautiful truths in the bell jar of an Instagram photo, it is perhaps the saddest thing I have ever seen for an image to be shattered by a careless hand.