Saturday, October 20, 2012

If a child asks for bread, will his father give him a snake?

Near Drake, Saskatchewan

Ditch Bouquet near Lake Blackstrap

The conversation at coffee turned to bullying the other day. Here are some of the comments made there and on other occasions:

  •     “Children need to learn not to be so sensitive.”
  •     “We used to bully each other, but it was never chronic; we knew it would get out and our parents and the parents of the kid we were bullying would know each other well and both would come down on us like a load of bricks.”
  •      “Cyber-bullying would be a criminal offense, like libel and slander, if it was done by adults.”
  •      “Some kids invite bullying.”
  •      “I don’t understand why children are allowed access to a medium that can’t be supervised.”

      There’s a grain of truth and an attempt to find an answer in each of the comments, seems to me, but I hope that Amanda Todd’s suicide leads to something more substantial than speculation. I find the most merit in the last comment; children aren’t allowed to play with guns or drive cars, so why are they given full access to a medium through which they can bully another person to death, be lured into taking off their clothes in front of the webcam for some sexual pervert or be inundated with misinformation, propaganda and worse? We don’t allow children to go physically where we can’t keep an eye on them, so why doesn’t cell phone texting or Facebook dialogue raise bigger inability to protect and guide flags in parents, teachers and lawmakers?
     I learned a long time ago that the immediacy and anonymity of the web distorts the way many people dialogue with one another. As chair of the board of a private high school, I was the recipient of numerous scathing emails from a parent surrounding a decision to expel a son for marijuana use while in attendance. At the same time, all offers to meet with the parent face to face were rejected. In other words, the medium enabled a certain person to bully me in a way that normal conversation wouldn’t. It’s very McLuhanesque, isn’t it? The medium becomes the message, or, at least, controls its content.
     But not every parent can be conversant in the insights of Marshall McLuhan, nor can they be expected to stay fully on top of their teenagers’ every activity, considering how they dive and dodge to avoid adult scrutiny as they explore their independence, scramble about for recognition and influence among their peers. Where parents and teachers can’t protect and guide, therefore, the problem may well become a task for lawmakers who now regulate at what age a person can drink alcohol or drive a car, at what age one may marry without parental consent.
     So here’s a proposal: a law that makes it illegal for a person under the age of 16 to possess or use a cellphone—except for simple audio calling—or the internet, and equally illegal to provide a minor with same.  This may seem draconian to some, but let’s be real here. Given the world-wide web, there is no sure-fire remedy on the horizon against the promulgation of child pornography, no easy way to prevent exploitative connections between pedophiles and children, no means for preventing children from getting caught up in webs of bullying, unless we learn how to deny sexual deviants’ and schoolyard bullies access to our children while monitoring their activities just like we do when we supervise playground play, teach Sunday or regular school classes or take them on travelling vacations.
     There’s more to it than that, of course. Better, more relevant education, for one, responsible and skilled parenting for another. But at the moment, too many children are being damaged by unsupervised internet use. The suicides have to be the tip of an iceberg if logic applies.
      WE are the adults here; for too long we’ve been giving our children matches as playthings, snakes with which to amuse themselves.  

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