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“Text Rage:” Technology doesn’t CAUSE youth violence

March 26, 2010

I don’t know how many of you saw the piece on the Today Show yesterday about the teen beating incident spurred by objectional texting.

Apparently, a series of text messages were sent between the victim, Josie Lou Ratley and her confessed assailant, Wayne Treacy, both of Broward County, Florida. The text messages didn’t really have anything to do with Josie Lou — it seems Wayne Treacy was trying to reach his 13-year old girlfriend. But, because Josie Lou wouldn’t help him find the other girl, Wayne reacted in anger, travelling over 3 miles on his bike to seek out Josie Lou and beat her violently in retaliation for her text messages. Another 13-year old girls is being held as an accomplice.

The incident is being termed “Text Rage” because it is similar in nature to Road Rage where people react violently to incidents while driving.  It essentially comes down to a lack of impulse control when someone feels they have been wronged.

Rather than examine the underlying cause of the violence, however, many — including an interviewee on the Today Show — went a different way.  The message: “parents, be careful when you give your students a cell phone.”  I see…it’s the TECHNOLOGY that is at fault here…improper use of the tool.  This was the same message that came out two years ago after the Lakeland, Florida cheerleader smack down (what IS going on in Florida these days…this is the same school where a students was doused with gasoline and set on fire recently).  The arm-chair quarterbacking after the cheerleader incident was to blame YouTube and the Internet.

Why are we so quick to shoot the  “messenger” in these incidents rather than the individual who “created” the message?  Yes, technology was involved in spurring the incident, but a cell phone didn’t cause Wayne Treacy to turn violent. And, if a teen is willing to ride his bike over 3 miles to get even with someone, that’s significant pre-meditation. The text message may have set him off, but the lack of character development that should have prevented the behavior was HUMAN. A cell phone didn’t kick Josie Lou repeatedly in the head, it didn’t carry out the beating, — and to be fair to both sides, it didn’t GENERATE the message that was supposedly the last straw for Wayne: a low-blow reference by Josie Lou about Wayne’s brother who had committed suicide last year.

The underlying emotions of empathy and compassion that should prevent teens from “communicating” with each other in this way are lacking too often.  It doesn’t take much to set off snarky, cruel comments. Yes, because these are often delivered via technology, they tend to feel anonymous and “safe” somehow, but we have to understand that we really shouldn’t treat one another this way — in any medium.

Our level of overall violence in the world is not going to decrease until we go back to a more civilized way of  interacting.  You don’t know what will spur the next incidence of “rage,” but I can just about guarantee you that it will not occur because you’ve been kind to someone.

When people ask me why I advocate teaching social skills, character and values in schools, all schools every day, I can point to examples like this one: frankly, because too many of our kids aren’t getting the positive lessons and skills they need to be productive, decent students NOW (and employees, leaders, citizens later) any other way.

Josie Lou Ratley lies in a coma and Wayne Treacy faces jail because they couldn’t control their thoughts, “words,” and actions, and act decently when it mattered. That a cell phone was involved is incidental…and frankly, irrelevant.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Henry Edwards permalink
    April 19, 2010 8:47 am

    Please get your facts correct. The victim did not text anything to the thug who beat her. A co-perpetrator did the texting using the victim’s cell phone. No it’s not he technology, but it is total lack of parenting efforts to instill civilized values in children.

    The 12 who actually did the texting pointed out the victim to the perpetrator. She is a very dangerous person. One who points out a victim for a murder ( It did not go all the way here only by mere chance) is just as guilty as the one who lands the blows.

    Before you get defensive please understand that I have had more than 25 years practicing criminal law and have seen how lax or non-existent parenting ski8llsw leads to horrific crimes. No, It’s not the technology, YES, it is the lack of values that these children have.

    The both of the perpetrators need to be tried as adults. This is not a case for coddling or “rehabilitation” it is time to send a message to them. That message needs to be -if you commit a crime you do the time. As many of the adult criminals have stated, If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Amen to that.

    What is going on in this community of Deerfield Beach? A boy is set afire, beatings occur. Someone needs to clean house there.

    • corinnegregory permalink*
      April 19, 2010 8:57 am

      Why would I get defensive? Why do you think I advocate and support full-spectrum social skills, character and values education fully integrated into the curriculum?

      Answer: because we can’t guarantee that kids will learn these things any other way and the entire fabric of our education system and communities are at risk as a result.

      The horrific bullying incidents that we’ve seen are only the extreme symptoms of a much bigger problem. Anyone who thinks we can deal with it by applying more bandaids like after-the-fact legislation and laws is not looking at the cause of the problem, merely the end-results.

    • Seghen permalink
      May 1, 2010 12:56 pm

      Where did you read that she did not text the message?
      I assumed that this is what had occured but had no actual proof. I am a student who would like to use this incident as an example and would greatly appreciate it if you would be able to send me the link to the article that states that her “supposed” friend did the texting.
      My e-mail is
      Also, can you text me your background information (such as your experience).

  2. Seghen permalink
    May 1, 2010 11:28 am

    How do the police know she sent the text message. His girlfriend could have used the girls phone to send those messages to anger him and then pointed her out when he confronted her. Possible motives could have been that she was jelouse of her or simply just wanted to get him angry. You have to read the text messages carefully and try to determine if they are information that a none – girlfriend would know about him. To anger another peron you would need to know what pushes a persons buttons or what they consider to be important to them and a stranger does not have that information on you but a close “friend” does. The police should be informed and look into it more. Some girls are crazy and they are taught not to be confrontational and hence they use other means as a way to communicate their anger.

  3. August 17, 2011 12:45 pm

    Of course we don’t blame the cell-phone, but I think we can all agree that technology does indeed help to facilitate anti-social behavior. The caution to parents is not, cell phones are to blame. It is more about reminding parents they are raising children in a 21st century explosion of technology and information… with an infinitely greater number of wrong choices and decisions their children can make. Careful thought, supervision and accountability must be given for appropriate youth access.

    But more so that the ground rules for use of a cell phone, youth today need better education in… basic social values, the ones that lead to better choices and decisions, no matter the technology. Teach fairness, honesty, respect and responsibility. To learn about what you can do to support values education for youth, go to
    or write

    • Corinne Gregory permalink*
      August 17, 2011 12:54 pm

      You’re absolutely correct, Wes. That’s why I founded SocialSmarts to begin with — to teach children positive social skills. character development and values that allows them to make those right choices and learn how to have effective, successful interactions with people.

      To you other point about technology being an enabler, you might also be be interested in this related post: I thank you for writing and hope you’ll check back in the future.


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