Rachel Canning – it’s a name everyone in America seems to know by heart already; though less than a week ago none of us knew a thing about her. In a matter of hours that changed and over the following days her name, her father Sean and her mother Elizabeth, have been cast into the spotlight in a way they all probably wish they hadn’t. Believe me, I know what they’re going through. Within the milliseconds it takes social media to work it’s magic, your life is dragged out for everyone on the planet to see. They delve into the deepest corners of your private life, dig up anything they can get their hands on that might be considered newsworthy, and every he-said/she-said that your family has ever been involved in is now a national headline and used to evaluate you from couches and computer screens across the world. Again, I’ve been there.. I know what it’s like.
The sad truth of this is these parents and this lady (and I say lady, because legally she isn’t a child anymore, regardless of what her actions might lead us to believe) are now the unwilling participants in a precedent-setting argument that social media is not going to let simply fade away into obscurity any time in the near future. Whether a judge rules on her behalf in the end, or on the side of the family, the wheels are set in motion on an emotional level that is going to inspire every wayward teenager that’s ever had a thought of entitlement to “follow suit,” quite literally.
The media, for its part, isn’t helping. Let’s be honest though; it’s not their job to help. They’re not counselors, not interested in the well being of the family, and have no altruistic intent as a whole on seeing this family get the kind of help it’s going to take to get through this ordeal. They are interested in getting Facebook Likes translated to page views on their news articles, viewers on their hourly news segments, and viewers on their talk shows when they trot out the occasional professional to scrutinize and tear apart every one of this family’s decisions over the past years. Journalists write to capture their audience, which is why I’m not a journalist. Television personalities bring on families in a crisis to bolster their ratings in a cut-throat competition to see who can get the guest on first (Again, this is a fact I learned personally.)
There are so many things I want to share about my thoughts on this issue, so bear with me while we cover them subject by subject.
The disparity aspect
This is likely one of the reasons this case is getting such appeal. Aside from being a ground-breaking precedence issue that will likely make it into law books in the near future, it’s also a case of total disparity from what I think people expect to see in such a story. We hear “New Jersey Teen Sues Parents” on a headline and before we can click the link, our brains are already picturing Honey BooBoo and the Clampett family. To find out that Rachel Canning is a beautiful young lady, very articulate (when she chooses to be,) going to private school, is on her way to college, has been an honor student, has been cheerleader captain, and has indeed for the most part stood above the norm kind of breaks the mold for what we expect.
Then we have the other side of things; once the digging starts and emails and voicemails start getting introduced as evidence to a courtroom, we see another side of Rachel Canning. Her July 2nd text message to her mother transcribes as follows:
“Hi mom just to let you know you’re a real f**king winner aren’t you you think you’re so cool and you think you caught me throwing up in the bathroom after eating an egg frittatta, yeah sorry that you have problems now and you need to harp on mine because i didn’t and i actually took a s*** which i really just wanna s*** all over your face right now because it looks like that anyway, anyway i f***ing hate you and um I’ve written you off so don’t talk to me, don’t do anything I’m blocking you from just about everything, have a nice life, bye mom.”
Wow. What else can you say to something like that? To get that message from your child would – well, it would destroy me as a parent I think. Even worse is the fact that her mom and dad were forced to bring something like this out into the public light, in order to help show Rachel’s state of mind during some of the worst parts in a family’s time. These are the things everyone wants to forget, things that might happen to families, but that hopefully are overshadowed by other things as time goes on and you are able to forget your child ever said that to you. Now, the media has blasted it everywhere for public consumption and they’ll never forget it. Whether or not this family gets through this together and comes to terms with it, it’ll never be forgotten.
So, keep in your mind the fact that not only is one side of this argument (Rachel herself) bring out the family garbage to everyone to see and smell, but now Mom and Dad have to bring out altogether different garbage to defend themselves – garbage they would have preferred to keep to themselves and never let see the light of day again.
Definition of spoiled?
The word spoiled gets thrown around a lot relating to this story. Rachel is described as a spoiled brat and I think I even remember an article where her parents said the same. Don’t get me wrong; my parents used that descriptor once or twice in reference to me growing up, but I’m sure I deserved it. I don’t think calling a child a “spoiled brat” when they’re throwing temper-tantrum is a life-changing moment for a child. Then again, I’m sure many out there will disagree with me and call me insensitive to the needs of a young adult, blah blah blah.
The word “entitled” gets tossed around equally as much in relation to her story. Whether or not she is either of these things remains to be seen, and is quite honestly none of our collective business as a society, but nonetheless people are still going to put their noses in it. In my honest opinion, yes she’s entitled, very much so, but then again, who isn’t in this newest generation of “give me everything” kids that’s coming up today?
In reality, I know what you know, and that’s only what’s been ousted by the media. Her father is a retired chief of police. Her mother is a secretary at a law firm. They have two other children in addition to Rachel. If I were to guess what the average retired chief makes as a salary and add that to the salary of a receptionist, I’d say this family is middle class America, probably much like my own. They’re not sporting Lincoln Navigators for all the kids and these kids don’t get everything handed to them on a silver platter because unless mom and dad can stretch a dollar a lot farther than I can, they don’t have silver platters in abundance. I truly can’t say one way or the other, but I bring this up only to mention this; replace the word “spoiled” with the word “entitled” and I think we most likely have a better picture of the situation here. In my layman’s opinion, yeah, it sounds like Rachel is just one more of America’s entitled children, but “spoiled” has a different connotation altogether and I think the media is just using it to get ratings. (Shame on them).
Ok, so maybe she’s entitled
The traditional response given by most people when someone accuses someone her age of being entitled is “Well, who’s fault is that?” The target of the blame is insinuated and the response itself a foregone conclusion: it always goes straight to Mom and Dad like a bullet from a gun. Bam! Mom and dad raised her wrong! It’s their fault for raising her that way. They’re bad parents and they deserve what they get.
To counter that thought I’d like to remind everyone we are in the 21st century. I’m also the father of two children, one of whom was paraded around to 40 million people on YouTube and one I still get messages about from people I don’t know on a daily basis. In this case I have the benefit of both hindsight and perspective.
When I was growing up, we took our examples from mom and dad and we were influenced by a few friends we had when we had time to go over to their houses after school or on the weekend. Regardless, Mom and Dad were our primary influences.
Today, kids of all ages spend as little time with mom and dad as they can. It’s a natural desire, I think, to want to be surrounded by their peers, but my generation simply didn’t have the techological luxury to make it possible. As such, today’s children are on Facebook much more often than at the dinner table. They’re closer to the Jetsons than the Waltons. They’re SnapChatting, Skyping, Facebooking, Tweeting, ad nauseum with everyone. Kids today have a much larger opportunity to be affected by others because they are immersed in the others more than in their own families. To put it into a perspective we can probably all relate to, it’s like your kids being able to have their friends over at your house non-stop from the time they get up to the time they go to bed. They’re never more than a picture, text, or live video-chat away from each other. Mom and Dad don’t get to be the sole influence on their children, or even a majority influence on their children. This is the way society is going, whether we like it or not.(Personally, I don’t like it at all, and I’ll fight tooth and nail to see it not happen with my youngest.)
It’s easy to sit back and say “Well, take the iPad away. Take the iPhone away,” but as a parent that’s harder and harder to do as the years continue to scroll by. Twenty years ago it was “take the Nintendo away” and that was OK because the Nintendo was a special privilege. Not everyone had one of them, much less two or three of them. Today, the cell phones, the Xbox, and the other devices aren’t a privilege; they’re part of daily life. When parents DO take them away, they’re left with a teenager or pre-teen sitting on the couch and the parents are left wondering what in the heck they’re supposed to do in order to have “quality time” with their kids.
If you’re an adult that has a family of digital devices in your own living room, try turning them off completely for one full day from the time you wake up till the time you get up the next day. You’ll go nuts without the instant gratification you’ve grown accustomed do. Kids respond the same. They don’t see it as a privilege. They see it as part of their life you just removed just to prove you’re meaner than they are. Parents get slammed with resentment that can last for days. It’s easier sometimes just to let them have the danged thing, if for no other reason so YOU can communicate with them yourself.
The problem of entitlement is endemic in this generation and I think most parents, if they truly think about it, will agree that they don’t realize it was a problem until it is too late. You try the best you can to raise your kids right in an era of global instant communication and hundreds of outside stimuli you didn’t have as a child yourself and you hope they turn out OK. Not until they’re in their early to late teens do you get to see the real person you’ve created; when they really start to talk like adults and have complicated emotional responses mixed with their own logic
Your kids will react to a situation amongst their peers, something on television, or to something you witness together in passing and only when they say something with that entitled, holier-than-thou attitude do you get to hear how truly rotten and spoiled your own child seems to you. Who is this alien being and how did she get to think like that? I certainly didn’t teach them that! The truth is, no, you probably didn’t. They probably developed those views from tens of thousands of social interactions with others on social media, private phone conversations, etc. They’re developing themselves behind your back in ways you’ll never know unless you make it a habit to read every single message they send and receive in live-stream as it’s delivered to them, and let’s be honest; helicopter parenting isn’t a good way to raise your kids either, so you find some middle ground and you do the best you can.
My point is: Does Rachel Canning have an entitled attitude? There’s no doubt she does. It’s obvious in everything about her case. The whole world, and I’m sure her parents too, will admit it freely.
My advice on the entitlement issue this has raised is this: Let’s focus on the legal aspects of entitlement that have finally made their way into the courtoom and how the verdict on this case can afffect legal precedent forever, and let’s spend LESS time judging people we don’t know.
Surviving this In One Piece
There are a few people in the US unfortunate enough to have been exposed to the world the way the Canning family has been. Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t possibly understand what it’s like, and to pretend to is probably going to come off to the Canning’s as insulting. Now, having been there myself, I’d like to think I am uniquely qualified to offer SOME advice, so I’ll do so.
1) Don’t Try To Hide
You can’t hide from this. Through no fault of your own, your life has been drug into the light as a spectacle for sadistic viewers to peer into, to critique, to criticize and to examine. That won’t change. (And my heart goes out to the Canning family because of this.) You certainly can’t put a lid back on any of this. There are things you can do to make this more manageable. And this advice is the kind of advice the media doesn’t want you to have. ( I know that for a fact because a producer for a major International brand just told me that on the phone… which is why I’m sharing this here rather than on their web site.)
2) Leverage social media to YOUR advantage.
If the lives of the Canning’s are anything like ours was for the first three months after our fiasco, they’re getting constantly bombarded with requests for all kinds of stuff. How do you get through it without being a victim? Simple… don’t let yourself be a sound-bite!
When you get calls/messages/communications from the press, reply with something along the lines of the following statement.
Thank you for your interest in our story. To protect our family, we are not speaking to media outlets at this time. If you would like to submit questions for “Insert-your-News-Station-Here”, please do the following:
– Email us the questions you would like answered.
– Email us the time frame in which you need a response. If we can accommodate it, we will.
We will do the following in-exchange:
– Attempt to answer every question we consider reasonable.
– Email you the answers to use on your show, program, website, etc.
-Within x amount of hours after your piece airs, we will post the exact questions and answers you asked us to my Facebook wall, in their entirety. This to protect our family from being mis-quoted, or having our answers taken out of context.
If you edit or take out of context any answer we give you, we will not speak with you again and the world will know you are more interested in spinning your story than telling the truth. Here is an example below:
We took the newpaper’s questions, answered them online for everyone to see, and no one was capable of misquoting us on the issue.
It took about a week for us to get this hammered into the heads of the media, but then things started flowing smoothly. After awhile, CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, Oprah, Ricki Lake, and plenty of other I’m sure I’m forgetting started to leave our phones alone and reached out via email instead. If you treat the media with some respect, but clearly draw your lines in the sand, and stick to your guns, the world will start hearing your story from YOU rather than from them. The media gets the benefit of having your answers in advance for their show/website/whatever, and they almost always publish your answers and thoughts verbatim, meaning you get tens of thousands LESS messages and stalkers screaming at you because they heard something out of context. It’s work for you, no doubt, but it takes the power away from the news vans camping in your yard and puts it back into your hands. Within days, the media will leave you alone for the most part because they know you can talk to the world on Facebook without them, so they need you more than you need them. It can be nice to feel that you’ve wrested control back from the people hounding you! Trust me!
4) Give it one month before you go on ANY TV show or live piece, period.
I had the benefit of a great friend and television producer that helped guide my family through a lot of the mess. The truth of it was, as he pointed out to me, your family is ONLY going to be news the FIRST time you’re on the air. After that, no one cares. The networks will make every possible effort to woo you with all kinds of things, and make you all kinds of promises. Be honest with them all and tell them you’re considering your options and that you’ll let them know in x amount of days.
5) Choose ONE of each from TV, Radio, and Newspaper.
It’s true, they’re all clamoring to get your story for their respective audiences, get your opinion, etc. Find one that is the least of all evils and work with that one identity. If you tell them that up-front and they all know that you’ll only deal with one network, they’ll get their act together when they approach you. We chose the Today show for our family (more on that later) and we didn’t know until later that they made about $3 million dollars on that episode for about 15 minutes of our time, and that’s a very conservative estimate. Seems crazy doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that kind of money can be made on a few minutes of your family’s time, but it’s true.
In my personal opinion, if you want to maintain your credibility, don’t let them pay you for it. Real media doesn’t pay for stories, with the exception of paying for your airfare, food, and accommodations during your travel to their show. People in general however, are stupid. They’re going to think you got paid tens of thousands of dollars for going on the air, when in fact it meant you had to take time away from your lives and do it for free. They’re never going to get that. Don’t sweat it. You can’t change the minds of everyone. Don’t try. Tell your story, tell it once, tell it openly, and most importantly, tell it the same every time. News media wants fresh sound bites. If you simply regurgitate the same phrase again and again, they’ll eventually get the hint.
Having said that about refusing payment, I had the benefit of the best legal counsel money can buy. The Canning’s might not be in that situation, so if I were you, I might consider telling my story to one network for payment to cover your legal costs. I really don’t think anyone out there can fault you for that. (However, they still will.)
6) Record Everything
It doesn’t matter who you deal with; law enforcement, media, press, tv personalities, etc; you record EVERYTHING. There are plenty of free android and iPhone apps that allow you to record conversations. Every time I sat down at the table with NBC, ABC, or anyone else, I quietly and surreptitiously activated my recording app. They never knew it, because they lived up to their word and did as they said they would regarding our interview, so I never used it. However, to this day I still have every recording saved of everyone I talked to during that ordeal. Hopefully I’ll never need it, but you never know.
If you’re interested in options, here are the two apps I use, one for Android and one for IOS.
7) Protect your family’s image as best you can.
TV shows and radio shows are going to want to use the word “in perpetuity” a lot. Tell them hell no. I gave the media the same rules for everyone. You had my permission to use the actual footage, no “likenesses” or “imitations” of anything we said, ever. Further, they could use the footage or interview for THAT single show only, not other shows. This prevents Good Morning America from selling the interview to Investigation Discovery, or from even using it on another of their own shows. In reality, you probably need a lawyer to help with this, but if I can help, I’ve had a lot of experience with the media in this situation and I have copies of all the signed contracts I signed for NBC, ABC, and the others. (Oh yeah, keep copies of EVERYTHING you sign too!)
Protect Yourself Online
As a personality of interest to the media, you are also ipso-facto a personality of interest to the world at large. There are people all across the world that simply have nothing better to do than screw with you. They will try their best to hack your email passwords, Facebook account, etc. If there is ONE thing I can advise stronger than any other, it is that Sean and Elizabeth Canning get VERY serious VERY quickly about their online accounts. Change every password you’ve ever had to anything, anywhere, and everywhere. Myself and my family were targeted by hackers from across the globe for days and days and days. You probably think I’m crazy, but the contents of your Facebook message history right now are worth easily $100,000 to the right people.
Here are some minimal guidelines to follow:
- No password less than 20 characters long if the website will support it. My Facebook password is 25 characters long… and has never been hacked.
- Every password HAS to have at least one letter, one number, one “character” and one uppercase character. By character, I mean (*, $, !, #, etc).
- Turn on two-factor authentication for EVERYTHING that supports it. (This is a feature that will notify you by phone if you try to login somewhere you haven’t logged in before, even if you enter the correct username and password. That way, even if someone DOES have your username and password, they have to have that text message code you were sent to complete the login.) Just so you know, Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Dropbox, and most every other web service supports that feature nowadays. If I can help you set it up, I’d be glad to.
Taking a break…
No, that’s not a subject line.. that’s me telling you I’m taking a break. My wife has had a long week and she’s asked me to take her out on Date Night, so I’m putting this aside in its unfinished format and will pick it up when I return.
In the meantime, here are my questions to you readers:
- What advice do you have for the Canning family?
- What else should I cover in this article? If it’s reasonable, I’ll do it.