Maren Sanchez, 16, a student at the Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut, was stabbed to death yesterday. Her alleged killer is another student—a friend of hers—who had asked her to the prom. She turned him down (having a boyfriend, after all), and he plunged a knife into her neck.
Maren’s assailant may be mentally ill. No one knows. He may have been taking illicit drugs. No one knows that, either. Certainly, if either was the case, he had little hope of getting the help he needed against the backdrop of our shattered, sorry excuse for a mental health care system.
But he may also have been lost in one of the overblown adolescent dramas that, fed and fueled by technology, can explode as never before. Because every teen is now, to a greater or lesser extent, what I call a “techno-teen.”
Teenagers aren’t just teenagers, anymore. It was always a tough time, because young people’s bodies are changing, and their brains are changing, and they haven’t yet developed reliable control over either. But, now, the intrusion of Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Whatsapp have turned many teenagers into the unpredictable and unprepared masters of their own hyperbolically-inflated, made-for-Facebook dramas.
And when these dramas swallow them up, they desensitize them and strip them of empathy and will sometimes end with one of these techno-teens “deleting” or “blocking” someone who has offended them, not with a click of a mouse, but with the edge of a blade.
If you add in a few hours a day playing Wartune or Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll drain more empathy away and tip more teens into disaster.
The terrible truth is that Maren Sanchez’s killer may have felt no guilt while killing her and no remorse. Sanchez’s terror didn’t stop him. Plunging his blade into her once didn’t stop him. Twice, didn’t stop him.
This is every parent’s nightmare, and we have built it for ourselves: A world in which our very real love for our children leaves us constantly at risk of the worst kinds of very real losses because, with wild abandon, we have been introducing more and more incredibly powerful, addictive and depersonalizing forces into our kids lives as their psyches develop.
A young woman saying “no” to the prom used to be a disappointment you shared with your best buddies. If you lacked self-control or decency, you might call her a name. A young woman saying “no” these days is a social media event that your whole school or several schools might know about. It is an injury not to your healthy ego, but to the thin-walled, explosive blimp of an ego you developed by posting hundreds of photos of yourself on Facebook and Tweeting out your whereabouts to “followers” and thinking you were an incredible combatant—a virtual knight with supernatural powers—on Wartune.
Being turned down doesn’t just mean seeing the girl you like at the dance with some other guy; it means getting her Tweets about how happy she supposedly is, seeing her posts about the big night she had and hearing how she Snapchatted all her friends a picture of her corsage. You aren’t just the boy who she turned down; you’re the actor she unwittingly cast in the feature film called Facebook—and you got the role of loser.
I have said it before and will say it, again, here: Cocaine is nothing as a toxic force, compared to Facebook and other techno-teen drugs. It isn’t even a contest.
More and more parents will get calls like the one Maren Sanchez’s parents did because our adolescents, who are sensitive by God’s design, are now explosive by our design.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.