‘The Code’ challenges teens to consider consequences of social media

teen boy comforting upset teen girl

“The difference between speaking up and lashing out, and the cost of both.”

These are the themes presented in The Code, which just did a four-day run at TPAC to kick off the 2019-20 HOT Season for Young People.

A play by the Vancouver-based Green Thumb Theatre, The Code addresses the issue of cyber-bullying in schools.

two teens argue with one holding a mobile device

Elizabeth Barrett, Nathan Kay and Mason Temple in ‘The Code.’. Photo by Leah Gair

But this story didn’t just hit home for the students.

“As an educator, The Code resonated with me because it brought a visual representation to life of what I see my students struggle with daily,” said Ashby Boze, Theatre Arts instructor at Hunter Lane High School in Davidson County, who recently came to TPAC. “They want to be liked by their peers, but they also want to protect themselves from the pressures of social media. They are in limbo and quite unable to process their emotions as quickly as they can fire off a nasty comment on social media.”

Written by Rachel Aberle, the show uses humor and nuance to challenge teens to hold themselves accountable for their words and actions and understand the stakes of misusing social media.

“This show is very real with what is happening in the world of teens,” said Kelli McClendon, Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair at Father Ryan High School. “Students are ‘on’ social media at a much younger age than before and children become obsessed with how many likes they receive on posts.”

The story goes like this.

Moira takes pride in standing up for what she believes, but spearheading a protest brings unexpected consequences when school administrators cancel the spring dance. Moira endures harsh backlash from fellow students, with cruel messages online and at school. Luckily, she has the support of her best friends, Simon and Connor, until Simon reveals romantic feelings that Moira doesn’t return. Feeling hurt and angry, Simon joins the barrage of harsh critics, and Connor is forced to take a hard look at where his loyalties lie.

For Boze, the show conveyed a vital message that she hopes will resonate with her students.

“Too many children place their worth in likes and comments instead of actual interaction with other humans,” Boze said. “In today’s social media fueled world, it’s easy to be mean and to demean others; however, The Code’s underlying message was one of kindness and of truthfulness. I hope that my students, and all students, are able to take away that message.”

a teen girl using her mobile device with a teen boy in the background

Nathan Kay and Elizabeth Barrett in ‘The Code.’ Photo by Leah Gair

Hundreds of high school students got the chance to visit TPAC’s Johnson Theater to see the timely narrative unveiling the reality of what young people face with social media and relationships in an increasingly digitized world.

Educators like Boze and McClendon have seen firsthand the power social media has over kids. After seeing The Code, both teachers reflected on their main takeaways.

Boze noted how important it is for loved ones to be vigilant in warning kids about the dangers of the internet.

“Teenagers have many tools to help them better communicate with the ever-changing world in which we live; however, their first lines of defense have failed to warn them of the perils of social media,” Boze said.

For McClendon, we need to remember that in the end, students are still students.

“These kids feel very deeply about issues, so while they seem much older, they are still students, learning how to react and respond to life,” McClendon said. “We discussed the performance when we returned to school and they all agreed that you shouldn’t post on social media when you are angry or hurt because anything that is posted on social media stays there forever!”

To learn more about the 2019-20 Season for Young People and other TPAC programs, visit TPAC.ORG/Education.

Connect with Michael Aldrich on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @michaelwaldrich.

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