It may very well be that New Jersey teen Rachel Canning is as spoiled and rebellious as she is being painted by the media. However, it may also turn out that Rachel’s accusations against her parents are true. If this turns out to be the case, what is perhaps most disturbing about Canning’s story is that it displays a serious problem running rampant in the way U.S. journalists depict young women. The media is constantly calling out teenagers as “rebellious” in lieu of taking a closer look at the realities they are living in. In cases where there are claims of abuse, the practice of the media labeling teens as “bratty” or “spoiled” is an absolute disgrace. This is a dangerous narrative for society to write?
In the case of Rachel Canning and her parents, only a handful of details are known. Here is the way this story has been pieced together by dozens of news sources in the last two days: Rachel is a rebellious and spoiled teenager who is after her parents’ money. She refuses to live by her parents’ rules, which is unfortunate, because it is clear that they only want what is best for her. Her parents are heartbroken and puzzled by how their daughter sees her idealistic home as abusive in any way. Rachel bullies her sister, dates an unsuitable boy, and has spitefully decided to take her parents to court so they continue to provide for her even though she refuses to live by their reasonable rules. Given all of that, it’s no wonder that the media claims that the young girl is spoiled and has labeled her as just another troubled teenager who has brought disgrace upon her family. But what about the details that have been casually brushed under the rug?
Anyone that has been reading up on the case knows that the angle does not change much from site to site. The story outlined above is the general depiction of Canning’s story. But what is not being said? Since the story about Canning first broke, there have been serious allegations, but those have been erroneously avoided by the media in favor of reinforcing the belief that teenagers are just irresponsible little people who constantly cause trouble. Though Canning has the help of legal counsel in this case, she has been verbally slaughtered by the media, and if the allegations against her parents are true, then a huge injustice has been done.
Numerous sources covering this story seem like they are presenting cut-and-dried facts, and according to many, this is just another case of an entitled teen. But there are available details that have been glossed over by several major news outlets. Here is another construct of the same story using only the details provided across the board from multiple sources: Rachel Canning is a hardworking teenager on the brink of adulthood. She has continually proven herself to be a good citizen in school by maintaining excellent grades and participating in extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately, Canning has shown some signs of distress within her home life. A teacher witnessed Canning’s mother making a harmful remark toward her daughter, and after hearing some recent allegations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, Canning’s school has advised that the teen not return home. Canning is concerned about spending time with her father as he has behaved inappropriately towards her in a way that has made her uncomfortable and might be considered sexual. Both parents deny any wrongdoing, claiming that their child is rebellious and a liar. Canning is just trying to get through high school so she can go to college. The teen has already been accepted to several schools and received at least one solid scholarship.
It may be that the media made the right decision in their initial portrayal, and that Rachel Canning is just a bratty teen trying to collect money from her parents. But what if the media is wrong? Canning’s allegations are serious, and should therefore be taken seriously. If the media is wrong this time, it means that not only has Canning been victimized by her parents, but her reputation has been unjustly fractured in a very public way. Regardless of the truth, this case easily falls into the very prominent category of victim-blaming, a disgraceful and common practice. Women are constantly being labeled as liars, and the majority of sources covering Canning’s story is yet another example. While the job of the media is to report the news, and sometimes that comes with opinions and different angles, it should always be considered that the subjects of these stories are human beings with lives and feelings. Unfortunately for women who are portrayed by news sources, the tendency is to take the angle of blame. If Rachel Canning is an abuse victim as she claims, and not a rebellious teen, the girl ought to receive dozens of apologies from news outlets worldwide.
Opinion by Bonnie Sludikoff