If you know a high school student, or you are a high school student, and you haven’t reckoned with how that little device in your hand can wreck your life inside of a minute … it’s time to recognize just how dangerous social media can be.
Today’s story, the latest in a long line of terrible ones, comes from Indiana, where a junior at Plainfield High School made the decision on Sept. 28 to post an inappropriate photo on Snapchat, and ended up altering several lives for the worse. Ben Slaton and his family recently talked to the Indianapolis Star about Ben’s mistake and the resulting wreckage, with the hope that it won’t happen to any other students.
Ben Slaton, a 16-year-old junior, had been a strong quarterback for Plainfield, a starter since freshman year whose play had drawn interest from colleges including Michigan State and Wake Forest. But in September, he was seated in a classroom close to a teacher wearing a skirt. Slaton made the regrettable decision to take a photo of her and send it to three friends. The Star reviewed the photo, which “does not show the teacher’s face, but is clearly inappropriate,” in the Star’s words. “It shows her feet on the floor, legs uncrossed.”
Ben Slaton’s father Damon does not justify his son’s actions in any way. “By no means is what he did acceptable,” Damon Slaton said. “He set the entire chain of events in motion. He broke my rule by having a cellphone in school. He made another conscious decision to take a picture in class – an inappropriate picture. It was. And then he made the conscious decision to share that picture with three other people.”
What happened next happened fast. A screenshot of the photo made its way around Plainfield, and the next day, Ben Slaton was brought to the high school’s office and, soon afterward, was escorted to the local police station. The school initially levied a three-day suspension, and then expelled him for the remainder of the semester. Friends gave Ben a wide berth. Parents told their children to avoid hanging around with him. Rumors about what had exactly happened spread throughout the school.
Ben and his family had to deal with the consequences of one terrible decision in one moment, and not even Ben’s past positive record helped him. “Ben’s actions on that day earlier this semester are unfortunate, and he has received many consequences from the school academically and athletically,” assistant principal Brent Schwanekamp wrote in a letter of support for Ben, per the Star. “He had not had previous discipline of any magnitude, and this behavior was out of character for this young man that I have known since he was in elementary school. It is clear that Ben showed terrible judgement on that day, but he has demonstrated remorse and is hopeful for forgiveness.”
Like the story from earlier this year of a softball team kicked out of a championship tournament for an inappropriate Instagram photo, this is a case of someone making a terrible decision on social media. Even so, as the Star notes, Ben isn’t the victim in this story; the teacher (who declined comment for the Star story) is. The picture still exists, of course, and this kind of a violation of privacy can have long-lasting effects.
The Slaton family made the decision to transfer Ben to another nearby school for the rest of his high school career, and the family will be moving from its current home. They considered the possibility that Ben could teach younger students the lessons he wish he’d known, but decided a fresh start was a better option.
Ben Slaton said that he’s spent months thinking about what he should have done differently in that moment back in September, but can’t any longer. “I can’t look at it like that,” he said. “Now I have to look at it like, ‘What am I going to do from it?’”
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