Pennsylvania’s The Patriot News, November 3, 2009
By Lynette Long
A fifteen-year-old high school student was gang raped after leaving a Homecoming Dance in Richmond, California. Bystanders used their cell phones to photograph or videotape the event rather than call for help. In Deerfield Beach, Florida, five boys surrounded seventh-grader Michael Brewer, doused him with alcohol, and set him on fire. Brewer survived the attacked but has burns on over 65% of his body. Sixteen-year-old Chicago honor student, Derrion Albert wasn’t so lucky. His death was taped on a cell phone as a group of boys brutally beat him with wooden boards. Each of these crimes was particularly disturbing because not only did the perpetrators show no respect for human life, but no empathy for the pain and suffering inflicted on the victims of their crimes. All of these attacks horrified a nation that is struggling to curb teen violence and understand why so many teens seem so out of control.
As a society we tend to look to the already overburdened school systems to fix problems with our youth. Traditional interventions of increasing school security, teaching values in the classroom and increasing police presence in and around schools, will do little to curb either the frequency or the intensity of these attacks. Schools didn’t create these problems and they can’t fix them. Teachers and administrators are the psychological victims of teen violence as they spend their days working in “urban war zones.” The problems with our youth start long before they enter school and can only be addressed by educating parents and making them accountable for their children.
The sad truth is a cultural shift and technological advances have changed the way we parent our children, reduced their respect for authority, and their ability to authentically connect with others. Traditional time intensive methods parenting have been scrapped for efficiency. The rocking chair has been replaced by an electronic swing, story time by a video, and face-time by glimpses through the rear view mirror of a car. Board games which once fostered interpersonal interaction and sportsmanship have been replaced by first person shooter games like DOOM and CALL OF DUTY that desensitize children to killing. Face-to-face interaction with groups of friends has been replaced by “instant messaging” and social networking sites like FACEBOOK. The primary mode of one-on-one conversations has shifted from talking to the more cost efficient texting.
Children need contact with other humans to grow up to be healthy adults and these early years have a profound effect on adult behavior and attachment. Babies and young children need to hear the sound of a human voice not the jingle of a stuffed toy. Babies need to find comfort in people not machines. Older children need to spend more time with adults and fewer hours glued to a television or a computer screen. Middle school and high school students need more supervision than can be provided by an occasional check-in call with their parents. And whether a couple is married or divorced, all children need both of their parents to be active in the parenting process. Children need their mothers and their fathers. The lack of involvement by either parent, not only puts an undue stress on the custodial parent, but is likely to create a deep sense of abandonment and anger in the child.
The reality is many of our children are parented by machines and feel less and less connection with their parents and consequently humanity. The television is the babysitter, the computer the social meeting place and the cell phone the touch point. Machines may keep our children entertained and allow us to parent our children remotely, but machines by their very nature are cold, detached, and place no value on human life. Children need love to grow up to be healthy adults and you can’t get that from a television, a video game, an Ipod or a computer. There is no substitute for human contact and until we change the way we parent our children, no amount of security or surveillance will protect them.