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January 24, 2013 / Rabbi Laura

He’s just a kid trying to be a man

“He’s just a kid trying to be a man.”

How many of us have said that about our own children or the young people we know?

I am not an avid follower of the tabloid scandals. I could care less who is dating or broke up with whom, or who is someone else’s baby mama/daddy.  But for some reason I have been focused on the Manti Te’o story that has filled our news feeds for the past couple weeks.


For those who have been sleeping under a rock, Manti Te’o is the star University of Notre Dame senior football player who has been the alleged victim of a cruel hoax in which he developed a relationship with a young woman who never actually existed.  According to Te’o, they never met in person and their relationship existed online and over the phone.  Today Katie Couric aired an exclusive interview with Te’o and his parents in which viewers get their side of the story. (BTW, I don’t usually watch daytime TV either. I TIVOed this one.)

Brian Te’o, Manti’s dad,  articulated from a place of love exactly what I had been thinking about his son. “He’s just a kid trying to be a man.”

I remember being a young woman in deep like – or maybe even in love.  I remember talking on the phone so late into the night that we both fell asleep with the phones to our ears.  I remember being so blinded by the romance and the idea of love that I couldn’t see the warning signs that perhaps he wasn’t a good person for me or to me.  I remember feeling so grown up when romance was part of my life.

And I’ll admit that I even lied to guys once or twice in order to gain their sympathy, attention, affection.

Manti’s story of young love is all too real.

I also think the reason why I have been so drawn to Manti’s story is because we are witnessing a public figure allegedly (how many times do I have to use that word?) experience something that happens far to often and is probably symptomatic of the time and culture in which we live.

Teens and young adults play pranks on each other. We did it back then.  They do it now. Sometimes it is funny. And sometimes it turns out very hurtful.

The official term for what allegedly happened here is catfishing.  According to Urban Dictionary

catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

Manti didn’t break any laws.  If we find out that he was a perpetrator of this hoax, at the most what he did was unethical and stupid.  Regardless of his role, Manti was a scared young man who wanted the approval of his peers and the love of his parents. When faced with an overwhelming situation, he didn’t know how to handle it.

first love

The saddest part of this story for me is that for Manti, this relationship was real.  Even though the relationship was a hoax, and he an alleged victim,  for him the feelings were real. He felt the love and the pain. The grief and now the shame.

As a mother of teen and young adult sons who are learning their own ways through the winding paths of love and relationships, I wonder…

How can we do a better job of teaching our youth to navigate their relationships?

What should we be doing to teach youth the boundaries between healthy fun and hurtful pranks?

What can I do as a mother, rabbi and Jewish educator to assure my sons & my students that no matter how scared, how embarrassed, or how overwhelmed they are, I am here for them?  My love and support will be constant. I will  help guide them out of the challenges, the pain and the shame.

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