Social media this, social media that, we are inundated with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week thanks to the wonders of the information age. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, whatever, and everything is linked and interconnected for near instantaneous communications. Truly wondrous times we live in. We are also starting to come to grips with the repercussions of having that kind of access. Many adults are only now, in 2016, starting to realize that just because you have instant communication does not mean you should actually communicate. The immortal cry of “keep yo business off yo Facebook” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJImTFz715s) seems to ring truer and truer by the day.
The kids today though, they love this stuff, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, you name it, they’re on it and they live by it. We old farts that use email and good old fashioned cell phones are looked upon with bewilderment by our kids who wonder how we manage with such antiquated communication platforms. Kind of like when we were using the telephone in the kitchen 24/7 and grandpa still had a pen pal; “that’s real nice gramps”, how quaint. Group texts and group chats are the new social romper rooms where the kids are constantly communicating with each other. It isn’t like this is news but it seems every youth hockey team nowadays sets up some sort of group messaging or app so the players can stay in touch. The kids put everything out there, names, places, events, pictures, addresses, with little to no thought of the consequences. It’s a constant battle just ensuring they don’t tell anybody the house is empty while we are on vacation, which is what I thought was my biggest concern about social media. However, I have come to discover that they also mercilessly criticize each other in these group chat rooms. I mean it’s pretty rough and not for the faint of heart. Kid posts a video of a goal and the rest of the players blow it apart, “soft goal bro”, “goalie was a sieve”, “I would’ve went top shelf” or just plain old “you got lucky scrub”, and that’s the clean stuff. Most of it is so full of expletive language it would make a street kid from Southie blush! Now there are some nice kids that try and support a group chat poster with a “nice goal” or “sweet hit” but this is rare and pretty half-hearted at best. It certainly doesn’t satisfy a kid’s need for that positive peer affirmation, a wholly different topic of conversation altogether I realize, but desired nonetheless. The kid who posts his pic, video, or message inevitably ends up not getting his celebrity-like Game 7 goal adulation, and the whole process gets chalked up as a disenfranchising interaction. What a way to build team cohesion, right? Now I am not indicting group messaging, after all when you swim with the sharks you better be prepared or else don’t get in the tank, but rather the urge to always respond is at the heart of this article.
My son, the Millennial Hockey Kid aka MHK, has been caught up in this absurd, immature, vicious cycle of egotism and low self-esteem yet again. The latest incident involves one of his teammates (who I’ll call Teammate) who posted a short video of a body check he put on some poor house league kid in a pickup game. Teammate executed a less than perfect check and the result was him falling down as well as knocking the house league kid on his butt. MHK, in his infinite knowledge and experience on the sport of Ice Hockey (sarcasm and eye roll) and in a show of superb empathy, decided to let Teammate know what a poor check it actually was via a text message over the teams group chat (sigh). MHK thought hilarity would ensue as the rest of the team on the group chat would pile on with critical comments that would humble Teammate and instill a valuable lesson, i.e. don’t brag about checking a kid that can barely skate. The fact that Teammate is indeed arrogant and egotistical is of course irrelevant, someone please show me a 16 year old boy that isn’t or wasn’t himself at that age, but it certainly goes to MHK’s motive for commenting. Naturally, Teammate did not see the humor in the criticism. Hence our stage is set for the inevitable clash of juvenile egos. Guess what occurs next? You guessed it, name calling, insults, and of course veiled threats of “ass whuppings”, and other childish behavior one can expect from testosterone fueled teenage boys. MHK, bewildered that his plan backfired does the one sensible thing he should do, calls up Hockey Dad for advice. So yet another opportunity to have a teachable life lesson ensues with MHK. Yaaaay, I cherish these moments.
My immediate recommendation came swiftly and in a firm tone, “Son, don’t respond to it. Texting is a low form of human communication anyways and context is never conveyed well. Screenshot the message and if coach asks what’s up show it to him and let him make the decision who was in the wrong.” Brilliant! The encouraging response I received from MHK, “Okay Dad, you’re right, I’ll do that.” Success, MHK listens, finally! Hockey Dad saves the day. We say our goodbyes and I move on with my life, right? No sir, wrong. Two minutes later my smartphone goes off with an incoming text message from MHK, uh-oh. It is comprised of several screenshots of the subsequent interaction between him, Teammate, and another player, we’ll call him Neutral Teammate. Here is the gist;
Teammate: “You’re an (expletive) and you are always trying to boss the team around cuz you think you’re the Captain. Go (expletive) yourself, you (expletive) tool.”
Neutral Teammate: “This isn’t good guys, serious divisions on the team before the season even starts, let’s figure this out.”
Teammate: “There is nothing to figure out, he is a (expletive) and needs coach to get him back into the group message.” (since Teammate apparently kicked MHK out after the first comment)
MHK: (To the rest of the team) “See that boys, do you like how Teammate talks mad (expletive) about guys behind their backs. Go back to the drug store and get some chill pills bro. Have a good summer, cya at camp. I’m out”
Awesome! MHK did exactly what I told him not to do! Now here come the justifications as text messages start flowing, proudly proclaiming how he didn’t put up with Teammate’s crap. Apparently it was time to reiterate the life lesson, so I took a deep breath and counted to five before I started to lay down the wisdom, again,
“No son, in fact what you did was just show everyone on that team, to include the coach by the way (who wisely monitors these little chat rooms), that though you may be in the right you are now biggest a-hole on the team.” The incredulous MHK response, “huh, why?”
“Because what you fail to realize is that though you were in right and Teammate completely overreacted you made it a point to make him look stupid in front of everyone. It was unnecessary because he already did that himself with his first over reaction to your comment. By shoving the knife in, figuratively speaking of course, you just demonstrated that it is more important for you to be right than to be humble and nobody likes to be on a team with anybody like that.” Silence. Perhaps he gets it? Nope…
“Whatever Dad, you’re overreacting, that’s not what the guys think.” I counter, “How about what Coach thinks?” Response, “Nah, he knows the deal, you just need to chill.” Okay kiddo, guess we will see wont we? When you find yourself without an A or C on that jersey this season I am certain this conversation will come up again, after all Hockey Dad does not forget. I sign off with a, “have a good one, love ya kid, be safe.” No sense in pushing it, like the man says, you can lead a horse to water….
As I reflected on my own wisdom and insight into human behavior I started to scroll through my work emails from the previous day, catching up, cleaning out inboxes, deleting junk etc… Oh, I notice one from a co-worker (we’ll call him Coworker), wonder what’s up with him? Start reading, then wham! Son of a bitch! Who the hell does he think he is throwing me under the bus like that? Coworker is accusing me of being selfish and unprofessional! He thinks my ideas suck! Unbelievable the stones on this guy! I know what I’m going to do. I am going to cc the boss, his boss, the boss of both our bosses and everyone else I can think of in the department and tell him just what he can do with his BS. Coworker isn’t going to talk to me like that. So I start furiously typing. Screw you buddy. You’re an idiot and everyone is going to know it because you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. I’ll show him, type, type, type, and great, done! Let me check for spelling and grammar, wouldn’t want to invalidate my argument with a poorly written email after all. I read back my masterpiece of a response out loud. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound very professional does it? This kind of reads dumb? Oh, that doesn’t sound too good. Boy, I really come off like a schmuck calling him out like that don’t I? I hesitate as I mouse over the dreaded “reply all” button. Once I click it, it’s gone, not coming back. With doubt creeping over me I take a breath. Then the epiphany hits me with the force of a Zdeno Chara slap shot to the skull. The words of a wise mentor come to mind as they did not 20 minutes ago when lecturing MHK;
“Steph, you may be the smartest, most right guy in the room but, when you’re an a-hole, nobody will want to work with you, don’t give it any energy.”
Yep, that’s right, Hockey Dad hit delete and flushed that turd of a response. The bottom line was I wrote it because I was insulted, hurt, and straight up offended by Coworker but my response would’ve have been received even worse by my entire department. I was one mouse click away from committing the same juvenile mistake I lectured MHK about, wow. Take it from me, practice what you preach because living what you say is a more powerful message than just the lecture alone. If I can still learn that then there is hope for MHK after all. Good luck fellow Hockey Dads, may all your life lessons go over better than mine do. Till next time.
Stephen F. Austin – Hockey Dad