Guilty or Not, I Think We Should Show a Little Empathy Toward Lori Loughlin

It’s important that I start this article with a disclaimer. I do not in any way condone or excuse the alleged crime of Lori Loughlin or the other parents involved in the highly-publicized college tuition admissions scandal making headlines. I also do not condone, minimize, rationalize or excuse the crime that I committed toward the end of 2013. I own it fully.

This isn’t really about either of the crimes. It’s about the way people react to it.

I was well known in Central Maine at the time of my crime and early 2014 arrest. I was the publisher of a popular magazine, the founder of a regional film festival and had just finished a term on the local City Council. I received awards along the way for all of my endeavors and to the people on the outside of my small inner circle, I was a pillar of the community.

Lori Loughlin rose to fame playing wholesome Aunt Becky on 80s/90s TV show Full House. While she kept her career alive after that with the occasional Lifetime woman-in-peril movie-of-the-week, she was never an actress who took roles where she swore, was violent or displayed skin/sexuality. When the wholesomest-of-wholesome networks, The Hallmark Channel, began pumping out carbon copy feel-good shows, she was a natural choice to become a regular on the channel. Most recently, she rejoined the Full House reboot on Netflix, reprising the role that started it all. She wasn’t just DJ and Stephanie Tanner’s Aunt Becky. She was Aunt Becky for anybody under 45 years old.

I was bailed out of jail roughly 40 minutes after I got there. In those 40 minutes, the State Police issued a press release (with incorrect information), the local newspaper had been to my office looking for me and TV news vans were parked in front of my house. I was the top story on TV news for the next several days and my arrest was played on the front page of the newspaper. Every time I made a court appearance, a newspaper reporter, photographer and at least two TV cameras were there.

From the moment Lori Loughlin’s name became part of this tuition scandal case, a day hasn’t gone by where there isn’t a load of articles online about what’s going on, even when she hasn’t made a public statement, has made one brief court appearance to hear her charges and then plead not guilty. The media can’t get enough of her and something as simple as standing in her driveway with her husband becomes public fodder. But let’s not just blame the media. The media is not a public utility. It is private business that makes its money giving consumers what they want.

 

Being singled out

There are over 200 people living within 5 miles of me who, like me, are on the state sexual offender registry. Not a single one got 20% of the media coverage I received, and many of them are there for graphic hands-on offenses that resulted in much harsher sentences than I received. I’m not saying I didn’t deserve what I got for behaving inappropriately in a chat room with a teenager, but those who committed far more heinous crimes received far less attention.

There were nearly 50 parents indicted in the college admissions scandal, but aside from Felicity Huffman, can you name one other involved beyond Lori Loughlin and her husband?

I don’t think it’s that difficult to attribute why Loughlin’s case – and mine on a much more regional level – garnered so much attention. People get a morbid enjoyment out of finding out a public figure is not as perfect as they portrayed, and get a cheap thrill out of seeing that person dealt with harshly.

As I personally learned, facts don’t need to get in the way of a good public flogging, especially on social media. It was surreal reading the venom spewed my way by so many people who neither knew me, nor the actual facts of the case. They served as judge, jury and executioner in the very opening days of what was a years-long legal ordeal.

I’ll admit I was as shocked as anybody else when the Lori Loughlin story broke. It was just something you never expect to read. But now, six weeks later, I’m really getting tired of people passing judgment on the merits of the case. We know very little of what has actually happened and we won’t know for a very long time, regardless of what “a source close to the family” told a magazine. The evidence appears damning, but how do I really know what’s been reported is accurate? There were key pieces of my case incorrectly reported for months. When you’re in the thick of a legal situation, you don’t call the media to split hairs about their reporting.

My career was over the day I was arrested. The board of directors of the magazine fired me and the annual film festival – only two weeks away – had to be canceled. My son was young enough that his classmates has no idea what happened, but my daughter was so bullied, she left her school, finishing that year at home and transferred to another school the following fall. My wife started to be treated like dirt at work – and even though she put up with daily sideways glances – was eventually fired for “underperforming.” I know it had to do with me. All of this happened before I ever entered a plea.

The Hallmark Channel fired Loughlin the day after the story broke and the Full House reboot said she wouldn’t be returning. Her daughters, who had a healthy social media presence, immediately stopped posting and in the case of her youngest daughter Olivia Jade, lost sponsorships. Neither of her daughters returned to school for fear of being bullied. Depending on which news source you read, the family is either leaning on each other for support, or they’re at each other’s throats pointing fingers. All of this happened before she ever entered a plea.

 

Put yourself in their shoes

The counterpoint to all of this is that when you court attention for doing good things and put yourself in the public eye, you’re going to receive a greater amount of attention when you do something bad. The solution is not to do something bad, but people sometimes have horrible lapses in judgment. I think most people would say that both Loughlin and I had everything that was coming to us, and from a legal point of view, I agree.

From a personal point of view, I can’t agree. I probably would have laughed at Loughlin’s situation 10 years ago, making jokes about it and believing it was only happening to her in a vacuum, but I’ve been through this kind of thing now. When you are well known and you make such a massive mistake, not only do you get what’s coming to you, but so many other people get what they don’t deserve. I think it’s important to not only remember them, but also to recognize that Loughlin is being publicly dragged through a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Her life is going to be radically changed no matter the legal outcome.

While you’re watching Loughlin’s case unfold remember that the alleged crime affects far more people than just the defendant and they need to be kept in our thoughts as part of a bigger picture. While I wouldn’t have been capable of it 10 years ago, I urge and practice empathy now.

Hopefully you’ll never understand what’s it’s personally like to go through a public shaming and protracted legal ordeal, nor any of your close loved ones or friends will either. When that happens, it’s easy to develop empathy and to then apply it to similar situations. I ask you to practice that empathy now instead of having the “look at the car crash on the side of the road” reaction most Americans and those in the media are having.

Practice empathy. It feels better.

 

 

Protecting our children on the Internet has very little to do with being online

I’d love to be more optimistic about this topic, but we need to stop fooling ourselves. Protecting children from the dangers of the Internet is far more impossible than we want to admit and the best way to protect your kids has nothing to do with any of their apps or devices.

I recently read a blog by a very well-meaning person who had techniques to protect children using the “three most popular” social media apps. I truly believe this person had nothing but good intentions, but their “three most popular” social media apps list was probably outdated two years ago. It didn’t mention Snapchat and didn’t seem to recognize that most teens have abandoned Facebook at this point.

It was the kind of advice that does enough to assuage most parents’ concerns without having to think critically or learn too much. And I think it unintentionally does more to hurt than help.

The Kids Are Smarter Than Us

When it comes to technology, younger generations are always going to be ahead of older ones. I believe this comes from technology being so intertwined and synonymous with pop culture.

Facebook became popular a dozen years ago because younger people were using it. Facebook got lame a few years ago because older people started. The youth migrated to Instagram and Snapchat, which are now slowly being infiltrated like Facebook was. What are the next hot social media apps going to be? It’s going to be up to a younger generation to decide and it will be some time before they let us know.

Technology development moves too fast for anybody to keep up with it, much less an adult who has an otherwise full life with a job, a home and children to raise.

You can use filters, firewalls, and other barricades on the apps or sites you know your children are using, but what about the ones you don’t know about?

I have an 18-year-old daughter who has filled me on so much of what is out there today that parents don’t realize. Protect your kid all you want on Instagram. They know how to make an account-within-an-account. While they know how to do that, we barely understand what it even means. She can rattle off the names of a dozen new apps and more come out every day.

Believing that you will ever know more or be one step ahead of your children when it comes to the evolution of technology is a dangerous assumption to make.

The Kids Are Not as Smart as Us

We have the benefit of life experience. We’ve been knocked down, lied to, cheated on, betrayed, conned and hurt plenty of times. By virtue of time, those negative experiences have happened far less to younger people. Lessons we may have learned that make us leery of people are ones they haven’t recognized yet.

At some point, you got that first “Nigerian Prince wants to leave you money” e-mail. While you’ve probably had so many fake, scam emails in the years since that they don’t even register as real now, do you remember that first time? Even if you quickly dismissed it as having to be false, for just a second, didn’t you want to believe?

When I was engaging in the nefarious online behavior that eventually led to my arrest, I was able to convince very smart women to do things online they would otherwise never do in real life. They met what they thought was a nice-looking guy in his early 20s who was sweet. That was a video. Nobody noticed when it looped and I had short clips of him smiling, waving, making the peace symbol, etc. that I could insert when needed. While the woman was talking to a video on one side of the screen, I’d be taking information from our chat, figuring out who they were and learning more about them.

I learned patterns of behavior in the women I engaged with and predicting what they would say or do became easier. I learned how to manipulate women who never thought they could be manipulated. Most still hadn’t realized when we were done. This behavior was disgusting, wrong and I deserved the jail sentence I got for it. You can read my book or other articles on this site if you want to learn more about what happened.

But for every guy like me who gets caught and addresses the issues that brought them to that point, there are probably 100 more who never do. They’re still out there and if those guys can manipulate educated adults (likely on websites you’ve never heard of, but your kids probably have) what chance does the younger generation have? Wisdom only comes with age.

The Kids Live in the Real World

You may be able to lull yourself into the false sense of security that you’ve got your child’s internet activity locked down at home, but what can you really do when they leave the house? If you’ve banned it at home, how can you find that Snapchat account they opened at the sleepover at their friend’s house? How can you prevent them from sitting at the lunch table and using another child’s account on that kid’s phone?

Here’s the truth we don’t want to face: We have far less control over our children than we tell ourselves. We’re not with them 24/7 and can’t monitor all of their actions. You’re not the magical parent who can say “Don’t ever do this” and the child always listens. Sure, they’re not going to put their hand on a hot stove, but looking at Instagram photos seems far less dangerous in their eyes.

The Kids Are Looking for Guidance

Thankfully, kids are hardwired to seek solutions from sources that seem safe and protective. Kids want to learn and that curiosity should not be feared. Yes, they want to learn about social media, but they also want to learn how to be safe, even if they don’t express it.

And they’re going to learn from somewhere…

If you run your home like a dictatorship and believe your positional authority as the parent gives you total control over your child’s mind and spirit, you’re in for a rocky road. Teaching your child how to think is far more important than teaching them what to think. Giving them the skills to make good decisions is far better than telling them what the good decisions are.

My kids are far better adjusted than I ever was because I grew up in a house where silence and avoidance of unpleasant things was the norm. My wife deserves all the credit for our kids.

I ended up where I did in life because I was taught to avoid negative thoughts and feelings (which helped me become an alcoholic and porn addict) and that actions don’t always have consequences (which helped me end up in jail.)

Here’s the rough part: you actually have to be an active parent. You need to build bridges of trust and communication. You need to help develop your child’s critical thinking skills around right vs. wrong and cause & effect. You need to help them understand the choices they make produce certain outcomes and if they can predict those outcomes in advance, they can make better decisions.

Right now, we’re in a world of parents who know their children don’t possess those skills, so instead of being proactive and building them, we are being reactive and trying to manipulate their behavior to very mixed results. You can’t instill the experience of wisdom, but you can teach critical thinking skills early on.

I don’t have a step-by-step guide of how to raise your specific kid or how to know they have developed the mental tools they need. Again, active parenting will help you figure that out.

We’re going to make our greatest strides against the evils of the Internet when we pour far more energy into teaching our kids how to protect themselves from danger than trying to do it for them. That just leaves them curious and less inhibited when they finally get online.