Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adultcentrism at the Mall

Though it seems like kids are the center of the holiday season, with their demands for toys and their shopping tantrums, the Santa displays and all those stale Rankin-Bass specials on television, in reality, adults are and have always been the center of the shopping season.

Readers will take a step back at this point, put their hands on their foreheads and say, "don't we adults do enough for kids already? Half the time I look around and it seems like the kids are the center of the universe." This is somewhat true, and it's also part of the problem. If you actually look at the broad range of services supposedly set up "for children," or "for young people," you'll notice the wide, wide array of them aren't actually for kids at all, they're for their parents. Parents are the targets because these institutions, all this Christmas holiday hoopla "for the kids," while being done for the kids has nothing to do with them.

This is going to sound corny, but it's a good example of the point here. How many times have you seen a kid this holiday season or ever, at the point of tears for being forced to sit in Santa's lap at the mall? Better yet, how many times have you seen older children frustrated and angry for having to endure this humiliation? It's even made fun of in sitcoms and films, the older kids yelling at or beating up Santa and his helpers or kicking over display pieces and causing a scene.

Those kids are obviously not sitting on Santa's lap because they wanted to be there, no matter how much time and money is going into providing such a thing "for the kids." The rest of the kids enjoy it because they're more or less expected to. In all reality, the idea was arranged originally so that parents could shop and leave their children somewhere where they could at least be entertained for a while. Of course the idea of "leaving a child with Santa" is unheard of, but that's how the tradition started. This is not really an issue, but more of an illustration of what we're talking about.

I've been enjoying writer Adam Fletcher's video blog series on youth issues. As a consultant for communities and schools around the world for re-envisioning the role of young people in society, his knowledge and experience in this realm of thought has always been a great inspiration throughout the youth community. This particular video I think is important, because he describes some of the basic ideas surrounding what we mean when we say things like "youth issues."

There are implicit biases towards and against youth in society that go largely unrecognized because 1, youth don't have the power as minors to really be a threatening voice against such institutions, and 2, because they often don't realize the power they indeed do have to be a force of change. Besides, unlike racism, sexism, and other social prejudices, this is one that everyone "grows out of," so it's often passed off as unimportant. Unfortunately, because it is remains so pervasive, both youth and adult society have to live with the consequences, which aren't always minor issues.

Adultcentrism is similar to ethnocentrism, geocentrism, and any other ideas built on the egotistical perspective of one group over another with the common theme that "the universe revolves around us." Wealthy, white, men in Europe used to define universal human nature throughout philosophy based on the ideas they held about themselves. People used to believe the earth was the center of the universe. In the modern age, the adult remains the center of their own self-created universe .

So when you pass the over-the-top Santa display in the mall and gripe about how the whole holiday has gone to the kids, realize that it's the adults who make it that way. Far more often than not, the only reason kids are given any pedestal is because they are such useful consumers. Marketers know that children are a wonderful exploitable resource that can't complain, and can be used to dig at their parent's pocketbooks very easily, with the implicit expectation that though parents would scoff at purchasing such tripe toys when sitting on the shelves, their kids' pestering isn't as easy to shrug off.

It does exist, but it is rare that you see any of this holiday hoopla geared toward including the children and teens themselves in the "gift giving" part of the transaction. This is because of the expectation that kids just simply don't have the resources (ie. money) to do such a thing, so the whole design of the holiday ends up set up for the parents. Sometimes you'll hear on the radio various charities you can get the kids involved in where they can donate their old toys as a gift for other kids, Toys For Tots is very vocal about promoting itself this way, and it does a world of good.

On that high note, be sure to include the kids in the gift giving this year as much as they are the gift-getters, encourage them to give to charities and give yourself to show your solidarity, it'll give them something far more productive to be doing at the mall.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Latest from the Sexting Frontlines

Fifteen percent of teenagers who have cell phones say they are involved in sexting. Just think, millions of teenagers sending or receiving child porn. All of them criminals. The response to this is to try and get teenagers to cut it out. And those in charge make it clear how much they take this to be a war: "However, the real battle may be trying to get teens to think before they act...Getting teens to think before they act is fight that's gone on for generations..."

In any war there's bound to be young casualties on the frontlines. In the end I doubt this will be any more successful than the 200 year war against masturbation. Neither of which seem to be going away by judicial decree alone, both of which produced many young causalities. These days, it's easy for most common people to blame the media, video games, popular music, and parents as the culprits than to admit that it's only natural for young people to have a sexuality and to express it with each other. Once they stoop to finger pointing, they're essentially admitting defeat.

The article linked above points out a story of an 18 year old who posted naked pictures of his 16 year old girlfriend to friends over a fight against her permission, which is technically a sexual offense no matter what age one is. The issue here isn't that there's never any foul play involved in a sexting case, it's that his subsequent registration as a sex offender was entirely made on the basis of her being a minor. Many sexting cases that end up with the teens registered as sex offenders, as we've noted before, involved nothing but consensual parties.

"What kids are doing today is no different than what they were doing 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago," says ACLU attorney Vic Walczak. "What's different is the technology has changed and it's now more visible."

It's nice to see so many legal professionals agree that laws governing sexting need to be reevaluated and changed to give teens more leeway. Far from just admitting defeat, we're already seeing this underway in states like Vermont and Utah. It appears that when something that is so broadly implicated to the point that one's own children may unwittingly jeopardize themselves because of it, that's when we start to see parents and law makers begin to call their assumptions into question. It's got to be pervasive before anything is done about it, sadly.

It wasn't that long ago when the adults of today were teens. Back in the 80's their thing was "phone sex" on party lines. All the cool kids were doing it. Oh how quickly the generation gap unwinds itself.

Sexual expression in adolescence has always been around and always will be, it was only relatively recently in the history of mankind that it was made illegal.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Debunking the Adolescence Myths

I have a deep respect for Dr. Lawrence Steinberg. Having spent long hours through college reading his textbook "Adolescence," I never found him missing an opportunity to debunk the common myths associated with adolescence in current day society. He seemed very vocal against how they are all too often painted into a box by experts, media, and the criminal justice system alike.

You've heard a hundred times over how adolescents are "troublemakers" and "emotional," and how every waking moment with them is nothing but "storm and stress." Well, Steinberg doesn't want to settle on these misleading characterizations of adolescents in order to sell books to parents like so many experts and those in the media do. Instead, his whole thing is that as an age group there isn't anything abnormal about them, they're just different from adults. This is part of an lengthier interview from the New York Times:

Q. You hear parents sometimes say, "I'm living with an insane person! My child is a teenager." Are they being hyperbolic?

A. I’m not one of those people who labels adolescence as some sort of mental illness. Teenagers are not crazy. They’re different.

When it comes to crime, they are less responsible for their behavior than adults. And typically, in the law, we don’t punish people as much who are less responsible. We know from our lab that adolescents are more impulsive, thrill-seeking, drawn to the rewards of a risky decision than adults. They tend to not focus very much on costs. They are more easily coerced to do things they know are wrong. These factors, under the law, make people less responsible for criminal acts. The issue is: as a class, should we treat adolescents differently?

Q. Is the criminal justice system beginning to take these differences into account during sentencing?

A. It’s been coming up in cases. I went to Washington in November to watch the oral arguments in two related cases before the Supreme Court that ask: should someone who committed a crime as a teen be subjected to life imprisonment without a chance for parole, ever?

With these cases, and another in 2005 where the high court threw out the death penalty for adolescents, I was scientific consultant to the American Psychological Association on its amicus brief. What we said in the death penalty case — and now — was that we have considerable evidence showing that adolescents are different from adults in ways that mitigate their criminal responsibility. But since 2005, there’s been a lot of new scientific evidence supporting this position.

Q. What is the new evidence?

A. In the last five years, as neuroscience has moved forward with functional magnetic resonance imaging and with research on animals, there have been dozens of new studies of adolescent brain development. These show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence. Neuroscientists have shown that the part of the brain that improves most during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complicated decision-making, thinking ahead, planning, comparing risks and rewards. And the neuroscientific research is showing that over the course of adolescence and into the 20s, there is this continued maturation of this part of the brain. So now, we have brain evidence that supports behavioral studies.

Moreover, we’re seeing that behavior can change once the brain more fully matures. Take thrill-seeking, for instance. What happens is that when people move out of adolescence, they become less interested in it. For example, I can’t stand riding on a roller-coaster now. I liked it as a teenager. I can’t stand driving fast now. I liked driving fast when I was a teenager. What has changed? I’m not as driven today by this thrill-seeking sensation. And in our studies, we’ve shown that there is a kind of normative decline in sensation-seeking after middle adolescence. A lot of adolescent crime is driven by thrill-seeking.

Q. How does this new information lead to concluding that courts shouldn't sentence some adolescents to life in prison without parole?

A. Given the fact that we know that there will be a developmental change in most people, the science says that we should give them a chance to mature out of it. No one is saying that kids who commit horrific crimes shouldn’t be punished. But most in the scientific community think that we know that since this person is likely to change, why not revisit this when he’s an adult and see what he’s like?

Read the rest at the New York Times site here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kids in a World of Predator Panic

Not every effort taken in the name of protecting kids is good. If there's anything this blog wants to disillusion our fear-run society of, it's this simple fact. Furthermore, just because one is opposed to the methods by which our current society has chosen to protect kids does not mean that one is opposed to safeguards and protections, or is siding with the predators on the issue.

It's hard to believe, but people do make this assumption all the time. How can they not when they've been essentially programmed by news articles like the following, that invariably link "parental control" with "protection" as if the first necessarily determines the last. The topic of this article concerned the roundup of some kids' online contacts:

The force said the numbers represented the tip of the iceberg and urged parents to exercise greater control.

There, in one short sentence, is the reason that this whole hysteria exists and why it's a control freak's wet dream. Interesting that there's no mention of educating kids on how to be safer, it's just "parents need to exert more control."

Friday, November 6, 2009

On Kids Walking to School

One Florida girl Somer Thompson, and her family die because she was allowed to walk to school and this mom thinks no kid should be allowed to walk to school again. At least she admits she's being paranoid, but it'd be nice to see her go the next step and just admit already that her decision to keep her children from walking to school seems to have more to do with quelling her own paranoia than it does with keeping them safe. Here's her argument:

115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics. There are 73.7 million children in the U.S. YES, I realize that the odds are slim that the worst could happen. But tell that to Diena Thompson, Somer's mom. The odds were just as slim for her, and it happened.

First of all, I should say nobody can or should fault any parent for wanting to keep their children safe. That's not what I'm intending to do here, because nobody can possibly make an argument against keeping children safe. The fact is we're all for keeping children safe--in fact, we don't even have to say it. But obviously there are disagreements as to what constitutes "keeping children safe."

Some people believe that in order to truly keep children safe they have to restrict the kid from doing anything by themselves. Others believe that all that is necessary is to teach the child common sense and baby-step them (carefully balance out what they are allowed and not allowed to do on their own and work them towards self-sufficiency). I fall into the second category--I don't believe we ought to be letting 5 year old preschoolers walk to school all by themselves, but I also don't believe 13 year olds should be barred from doing it when the school is right down the block.

There is no question that the incident she refers to was a real tragedy, and as our hearts go out to the family, we really need to remember to keep our heads and actually learn from this. One's own children are no more in jeopardy after this tragedy than they were beforehand. All one can really do as a parent is exercise good judgment and take the opportunity to teach children about possible dangers and what to do and not to do when walking to school. By restricting a child from doing it completely because it makes you as a parent feel like they are safer, you're in fact choosing not to exercise any judgment whatsoever. A cautious parent holds back no matter what. A good parent teaches children to be cautious. The difference? Teaching takes work whereas holding back doesn't.

If you want to restrict them from these things to spare yourself your paranoia, then it's easy. If you want to make sure kids are safe and have a degree of self-reliance, then it's going to take some work.

Yes, I know my kids are much more likely to get into a car wreck on the way to school than be abducted while walking home. I get it. But Somer didn't die in a car crash. She died after being abducted, while walking home from school. And, as a parent, that is something I believe you could never get over -- never in a million years.

Once again, nobody is disagreeing that for those involved that event is an unthinkable tragedy. What is not making sense though here is that if statistically kids are more likely to be harmed while riding in cars than they are walking to school, that each and every one of those car accidents where a child is life threatened is itself also a tragedy for those involved. Just because car accidents happen more frequently doesn't diminish the profound effect that they can have. Likewise, just because kidnappings happen so infrequently that when they do they usually hit the news doesn't make them more profound.

If you were concerned with safety of kids based purely on the frequency of possible threats, then letting them walk to school would be one of the more safer things you could have them doing. But then again, reducing the issue to simple heuristics isn't practicing good judgment as a parent. The fact is both scenarios entail risk, what you have to do as a parent is make sure your bases are covered beforehand either way.

Call me paranoid all you want. But letting my kids walk alone is just not a risk I'm willing to take.
Okay. You ma'am, are paranoid.

On a side note, I've tackled the issue of paranoia over walkers recently with this post. In reality, unless you live in a major city where crime is rampant, chances are your kids aren't any less safer walking to school in this day in age than they were back in the 1960's and 70's when there weren't as many safeguards out there as there are these days. In fact, they're probably safer. The only change is that people are more aware of the dangers than they were back then.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Should Teens Trick or Treat?

If the only scary stories you hear around Halloween these days have to do with poison in the candy, razors in the apples, trick-or-treat kidnappers, and all those young toilet paper vandals, then perhaps you'd have as good a reason as any to feel as disgusted as this "crabby old fart." Don Mills spends a lot of time venting about his frustrations with young people, but you got to admit he does more to empower them than most of the liberal, coddling, sweet-talkers out there. His recent rant: teenage trick or treaters. And here's what you can expect if you're over 10 and under 20 and happen by his house this year:

Be advised that any damned teenager who shows up at my door this Halloween won’t be getting anything but a copy of the want ads, directions to the local military recruitment centre and a cane to the side of the head.

Nobody could accuse him of infantilizing young people, that's for sure, and it's more than welcome this day in age, but he also provokes an interesting question. When is it no longer socially acceptable for an individual to trick or treat? Are we officially declaring Halloween a kids-only holiday? In the old world, the trick or treaters were not the 3 year olds dressed as Garfield like you see today, they were primarily young men impersonating the dead by wearing various costumes as a means to placate them when out souling on the Hallowmas. But regardless of it's origins, parents have taken over the practice of trick or treating (along with everything else) and shifted the emphasis to the younger set.

But we can't only blame parents for deviating from the origins of the practice. Toilet-papering houses and kicking in jack-o-lanterns isn't exactly what those old-time young men were doing when they were out souling in the Scottish alleyways. These days though, society has forced the young people out from all the festivities all together. The kids prance around and get candy. Parents drag the kids around the neighborhoods, and even the older people at least get to participate to the extent that they're the ones handing out all those confections. What is there for the young people to be doing while everyone else is enjoying the holiday? Now all this doesn't excuse the oft over-reported "young and unruly" behavior, but it certainly gives an explanation for it.

It seems to me that going around trick or treating is the least annoying thing young people could be out doing on October 31st. It may feel awkward serving candy to these individuals, but you also have to consider that half the time you're not even giving candy out to the kids anyways (unless you think the 3-year-old is the mastermind behind why they're standing on your doorstep in the pumpkin outfit). The fact of the matter is, if the parent is the one holding the bag and doing the chant, it doesn't matter what the kid is dressed like. The question becomes, if it really all comes down to age, why is it more acceptable to be handing out candy to 30 and 40 year olds than it is to be handing it out to the pock-marked 14 year olds?

And if we're also going to consider the fact that it's acceptable because the 40 year old is doing it on behalf of their incapable or shy toddler, what makes anyone think the 14 year old isn't also doing the same for a younger brother or sister?

So come on now, young and old alike, the last thing we should have to fear on Halloween is young people.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A "Walking" School Bus?

Should walking or biking to school be such a controversy, even for a 12 year old? Society is no more dangerous or hazardous for walkers than it was even just ten years ago. Banning bikers is also outrageous, since it is highly unlikely a student is going to be molested or kidnapped while riding to school. The only thing that has changed over the years is that schools are more paranoid than ever. While they do have jurisdiction over students while on the premises or riding the buses, they don't have any right to enforce the behaviors of students when they are not in either of those two places. The whole reason why it's a controversy in the first place is just an indication of how far off the deep end society has slipped over protecting young people to the point of infantilizing them.
The 12-year-old [Adam Marino] and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, are defying Saratoga Springs school policy by biking to Maple Avenue Middle School on Route 9. The Jackson Street residents pedal more than four miles together each way to the middle school on nice days despite being told not to by school officials and police.
First of all, if they are really pedaling four miles to school, they really ought to be taking the bus anyways. How does the school expect them to get to school at that distance, presuming the parents are unable to do it, if (for whatever reason) they are not provided a school bus? Something doesn't make sense here.
Their methods may be unconventional, but the Marinos are part of a growing number of Americans challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter" parenting. As fewer children walk and bike to school nationwide, parents have started groups like the "Walking School Bus," which promotes physical activity and fitness in youth by having them walk to school with adults.
These are some progressive parents for sure, and you got to applaud their efforts to resist irrational over-protectionism, but is having a "walking school bus" itself even necessary? Again, we're not talking about elementary school kids, we're talking about 12 year olds. Doesn't society know the difference anymore? But at least they're trying, and they are indeed promoting physical activity, I can see that doing a lot of good. I was just totally unaware that that a trend towards fewer and fewer walkers was happening.

Lukily, the school in this instance seems to agree that they may be over-reaching their legal limits here, and they are scheduled to meet on amending the school code concerning walkers and bikers on October 13th. It's about time someone high up in that administration said what needed to be said:
"Supervised, parent/guardian bike riding may be permitted at specific sites in the future," White said in an interview Friday. The school has no legal responsibility over what occurs on Route 9," she added.
If anything, society is actually safer these days than it was 30 years ago when walking to school was far more common. I've seen reports that indicate this. If parents or schools have anything to fear, it's fear itself. Take time to teach kids about the hazards of walking to school on their own, make sure they know what routes to take, run them through possible trouble-scenarios so that if anything does happen they know how to deal with it. Eventually though, you just have to let them get their feet wet on their own.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Reasons to Lower Age of Consent

If you're an adult, how comfortable would you be if the age of sexual consent were 13? Does the idea of replacing an arbitrary line in the sand with another one send you into a moralistic rampage? If that's the case, then you'll probably have quite a few words against John Spencer, a law professor in the UK, who has been recently arguing for lowering the age of consent from 16 to 13. If such is the case, you may follow the conventional logic of Tory MP David Davies, who recently made the classic "protect-the-children" argument for keeping the age at 16:
"It is vital that the law protects vulnerable young people from exploitation by adults."
1. "Vulnerable young people" are going to be exploited by adults regardless of whether the age of consent is 16 or 13, or anything for that matter. In fact, "vulnerable children" are exploited by adults from the moment they are born in all kinds of ways (unless you think the commercial breaks during Dora the Explorer are there for any other reason), but I suppose the kind of exploitation we're talking about is sexual harm caused by molestation and rape. In which case, it's hard to argue that the law shouldn't prosecute people who molest children--that's not what's being argued. The problem is, too many people are hyped into believing the function of the law is to "protect children," and governments like to spread this lie to continually enforce the status quo. The law prosecutes those who harm children, it doesn't protect them from anything--in fact, it often prosecutes the very "vulnerable children" it's supposedly protecting (story 1, story 2.):
John Spencer will argue that the current age of consent, fixed at 16, criminalises "half the population". Two years ago, Chief Superintendent Clive Murray argued that the law does not distinguish between sexual abuse and "youthful natural instinct".
If you're still not convinced that status crime sex laws do in fact harm young people, take a look at the facts. If you look at the age group break down of registered sex offenders, you'll find a whole lot more 14 year olds than the "dirty old men" you hear about on the news. Now no one is saying that all those 14 year olds are innocent--the majority of them probably did commit acts of rape and "child corruption,"--but one has to wonder why we have politicians talking about protecting young people from "adult sexual exploitation" when in reality the highest amount of offenders are under 20. In fact, you're just as likely to find 5 year old sex offenders as you are 55 year old, and more likely to find 10 year olds than 55 year olds. Ignoring this seems to have more to do with trying not to upset those who were abused as children (the most vocal political constituency on this issue) than it does with conforming our opinions to reality.

2. Firstly, if you start out defining the age of consent law as "a law that protects children," you create a tautology whereby you can criticize anyone arguing against the law as arguing against "protecting children." This is a politically convenient attack, but it's false. Secondly, once you start out saying the law protects children by definition, now you have to ignore the problems the law causes for young people in the cases where it doesn't protect them (such as when two minors have consensual sex with one another and each get charged with statutory rape). Once again, this is an efficient excuse if you're a politician, but not if you're a rational person.

One has to congratulate Classically Liberal for pointing out a reality that so many choose to ignore and so many more don't know exist:
It takes so little for this happen to a child. A girl in school has oral sex with a boy in school. She becomes a sex offender for the rest of her life. Streaking a school event, as a practical joke, becomes a sex crime in the new America. Two kids “moon” a passerby and are incarcerated in jail as sex offenders, where they may well learn a lesson or two about rape. A teenager, who takes a sexy of photo of him, or herself, is paraded around the community as a “child pornographer” for the rest of his or her life. Two kids in the back seat of a car have fumbling sex. The law says one is an offender because the other is a “victim.” One week later, a birthday passes, and it is no longer a crime. One week’s difference and a life is ruined. In other cases an act that is legal on Monday is illegal on Tuesday because the older of the two turned one year older. That becomes enough to qualify him, or her, as an offender.
Or maybe you share the opinion of Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, who said:
"The proposition that the age of consent should be lowered is absolutely appalling. The situation is bad enough at the moment with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexual diseases."
3. Every country has its own domestic problems that need different laws to cover them, and since many governments have exhausted the "it is immoral" excuse, (for some reason, they think it is more moral for 16 year olds to avoid being labeled as sex offenders for consensual sexual activity than it is for 13 year olds), they decide to throw in some horror-story domestic issue to latch onto it in order to justify their morality-based opinions. There is always going to be the floodgates theory--if we do this, it'll open the floodgates for rampant sex abuse and teenage pregnancy, therefore, the status quo ought to be preserved. Well, I'm going to give Widdecombe here the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Britain does have high rates of teenage pregnancy. If that's the case, that's not a shining endorsement of the status quo now is it?

Anyone can play the let's compare countries age of consent with their teenage birth rate game and come out with a pairing that supports whatever conclusion they want to draw If we were to compare Spain (age of consent is 13) to the UK (age of consent is 16), we'll find that more pregnancies are correlated with a higher age of consent. There are no doubt countless comparisons one could make. The fact is, teenage pregnancy is going to happen regardless of what the arbitrary line in the sand is. Culture determines sexual deviancy more than the laws do because laws only prosecute, they don't in fact uphold the cultural moral sentiment as much as people would like to think:
The Government's controversial teenage pregnancy strategy, which has cost taxpayers more than £300million, was meant to halve the number of conceptions among girls under 18 in England between 1998 and 2010, but teenage pregnancy rates are now higher than they were in 1995.
We know from experience here in the US that "Abstinence Only" and abstinence pledges increase unhealthy sexual promiscuity in young people rather than decrease it. It seems the UK's teenage pregnancy strategy (sex education and better access to contraceptive use for young people) has had better results, but it's still mixed. It seems no matter how restrictive or free a government is when it comes to sexual activity with young people, teenage pregnancy is always going to be an issue. The argument that such a move to lower the age of consent would "open the floodgates" doesn't appear to be all that powerful. If anything, evidence seems to be pointing in the opposite direction--for instance, condom distribution programs have been found to promote condom use and therefore stimulate healthier sexual activity among young people (source 1, source 2, source 3.)

Given all this, it's unlikely that the age of consent in a particular country has much to do with the rate of sexual promiscuity, and certainly lowering the age of consent isn't going to let child molesters and rapists off the hook, seeing as there are laws against rape already. It seems more likely that upholding an age of consent at 16 is done for the same reason as keeping condoms out of school for fear they'll promote pregnancies...more so out of personal opinion than out of reason.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Let Kids Mature

Liberal thinker John Stewart Mill defended liberalism over two hundred years ago:
"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." --On Liberty
But denied it to children:
"It is perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury." --On Liberty
It's easy to see just how important Mill's liberalism (in the US, more so libertarianism) has come to be so commonplace in western society that this view about the inhumanity of children still prevails to this day. I argue that while setting up certain social provisions to protect and nurture young people is important, cutting them out of the adult world entirely by force of some arbitrary law is not necessary. Furthermore, I argue that restricting young people from maturing is not in their "best interests"--something those very same laws were designed to protect.

Children have a innate sense to go and do as they please from a very young age. Only in the time of infancy are they docile. In later stages of development they have a "freedom of movement" as Henry Jenkins described it.

This comes into conflict however, because a child can often get themselves injured or in jeopardy because they've passed a threshold whether physical or artificial, that they did not know it improper or dangerous to cross. Such a threshold could be a street curb in busy traffic or a status crime law saying they can't behave sexually with each other. It is easy to suppose a very young child could step out into a street and be hit by a passing car because they didn't understand that the street is a dangerous place to be. This is where Mill says we have a duty to exercise oppression and restrict that child's freedom of movement across these certain dangerous or improper thresholds. It'd be hard to argue with that.

However, you could also say that by crossing certain thresholds in life, one learns about life and therefore "matures" as Mill would put it. This is easily imagined, and therefore society generally allows children to cross certain thresholds on their own, just so they can have the experience of doing so. This is part of the maturing process and is as essential to children and young people as protecting them from hazards--if not more.

But when does it become too much? When does restricting children access for their own safety turn into paranoid over-protection that marginalizes them and keeps them from properly maturing like we want them to?

We say things like, "children are incapable, and therefore should be kept from doing this."

Mill attacks the argument that women are naturally less good at some things than men, and should therefore be discouraged or forbidden from doing them. He says that we simply don't know what women are capable of because we have never let them try (since one cannot make an authoritative statement without evidence). We can't stop women from trying things because they "might not" be able to do them.
"The anxiety of mankind to intervene on behalf of an altogether unnecessary solitude. What women by nature cannot do, is quite superfluous to forbid them from doing." --The Subjection of Women
Note he says "the anxiety to intervene on behalf of nature..." That's what motivates parents and lawmakers to subject anyone, whether they're female, or young. The anxiety forces them to fear the harm a kid could get into, and adults will often go to great lengths to suppress young people if only to quell the anxiety--intervening with a child's natural journey of maturation by condemning it and suppressing it. It has little to do with what the child or young person is capable of, and everything to do with the adult's anxiety for them. Able young people are turned into pacified infants, those that challenge convention (reasonably) are lumped in with the criminals, those who behave differently are pathologized.

The problem here is, how do we raise a child to the "full maturation of their faculties" to grow up and participate in the liberal society when we keep them from doing that very thing for their own safety and our own "peace of mind?"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dads Photographing their Kids

You're a father of two children and decide to take them to the park for a family day out, and as you watch your children play on the inflatable slide, you decide to take some pictures of them enjoying themselves. It isn't long before you're stopped by some irate women demanding why you're taking pictures of kids in the park. You insist you're only interested in taking pictures of your own, and a park official gets involved. The women call you a pervert and continue ignoring what you say and claiming that you're just going to put the pictures on the internet. Meanwhile, your kids are left baffled atop the slide wondering what's going on.

This is the state of the UK these days, a society on the verge of, and in need of a serious wake up call. It's hard to overstate the paranoia over children in the UK, because not a week goes by where something doesn't land in the paper critical of the bizarre and sometimes downright insane hysteria afflicting its law enforcement, its government, and a very vocal minority of it's citizens. In this story, even the police agreed with the father and allowed him to continue his legal behavior at the dismay and shock of all those attempting to stop him. Even the park official backed off once she'd seen that he was indeed telling the truth, so the outrage here (for once) doesn't involve what actually happened as much as it involves why it happened.

The argument could easily be that hindsight is 20/20, and that there's no way of knowing beforehand what some guy with a camera is doing, but it shouldn't make a difference. It is legal to take pictures of anything on public ground. And if they were concerned that much, just having the park official ask and perhaps review his shots is enough of an intrusion (which is all the police and the park official did in this case). You don't have to stand there and fight with him and call him a pervert, or steal his camera and smash it (which didn't happen, but I wouldn't put it past them), or stand around shouting "pervert!" to alarm everyone.
‘This parental paranoia is getting completely out of hand. I was so shocked. One of the police officers told me that it was just the way society is these days. He agreed with me that it was madness.’‘
People react to the obvious non-threatening situations like these because they are oblivious to the truly harmful things around them. The truly harmful thing here is that actual kids are growing up in a harsh world that is created by adults for their own protection. This is not a protection meant for "actual kids" (as in, the two kids on the slide), but one meant for the protection of the adult's perception of "children": children are helpless, strangers are dangerous, anything is justifiable so long as perceived harms are thwarted and those that are perceived as helpless are percieved as "saved." As you can see, little of it has to do with protecting actual children from actual harms.

In a world where most child predation happens in the home, between relatives and associates the parents trust, people pay a whole lot of attention to this "stranger danger" phenomenon than it actually deserves. But what else is new? People are scared of things they don't know--things they know to be harmless, as far as they are concerned, are harmless (even if they're not). All a child predator would need to do, knowing this, is gain the trust of a parent, and then it seems they'd have free reign.

But we can't blame parents for this. Parents are made to feel, in such a society, constantly intimidated for bringing their children with them anywhere, they're alienated from their parent responsibility and served with all kinds of needless "safety devices" (tags, microchips, leashes, content locks) that promise to do the work of parenting for them, and then called "perverts" when they try to do anything with their kids in public. With all this hysteria, it's amazing most people out there seem to agree that it has gone too far.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Air France Discriminates

Air France no longer allows men to sit next to unaccompanied children less than 12 years old. Translation:

The French airline Air France no longer allows unaccompanied men to sit next to unaccompanied children of less than 12 years.

"This happens for safety reasons," said a speaker of the airline on Monday in Paris. No further explanations were given by the spokeswoman. The rule does not apply to women.

According to the information of the magazine "Le Point" this goes back to a series of complaints in the USA according to which passengers have behaved immoderately when seated next to unaccompanied children. Part of Air France pilots consider this rule pointless and refuse to apply it, the paper writes. British Airways had opted for the same rule in 2006, which attracted criticism from men who felt discriminated against.

"This happens for safety reasons." No further explanation.

You'd think their PR department could do better than that. If that's their only reason, then it's a stupid reason. And if such is really done for safety reasons, why not include 13 year olds? Are they any more safe from in-flight molestation? This is nothing more than sickening sexism and paranoia.

Ebert's Paranoid Insults

Roger Ebert of all people had some choice things to say about young people in a recent column this month entitled The Gathering Dark Age in the Chicago-Sun Times, where he essentially criticized the movie-going interests of young people in recent years and used it to make a point about the dumbing down of America. To be fair, Ebert was not overtly unkind to young people. He recognized the reality that there are a minority of teens who value good film making and he emphasized their non-conformist plight--the issue with his statements is that he grossly underestimates the so-called majority of young people (the ones who flock to films like Transformers over his beloved The Hurt Locker).
If I mention the cliché "the dumbing-down of America," it's only because there's no way around it. And this dumbing-down seems more pronounced among younger Americans....It proceeds from a lack of curiosity and, in many cases, a criminally useless system of primary and secondary education. Until a few decades ago, almost all high school graduates could read a daily newspaper. The issue today is not whether they read a daily paper, but whether they can.
The fact that more teens like box-office draws like Transformers doesn't mean they're dumb, it just means that they enjoy lighter faire. Teens have been doing this since motion pictures began becoming popular. As Roger Ebert might remember, in the 1950's teens used to flock to inane horror and science fiction flicks devoid of any demension, it wasn't because they were dumb, it was because they wanted a fun outing with friends or lovers. The movie was simply set up to get them together, and the same thing is going on in the modern age.

His arguments about the growing commercialism in media are spot on, but it's a shame that he continues to drag young people's movie-going interests into it. As one commenter to this column points out, the reason why young people may not be "flocking" to The Hurt Locker (the film Ebert thinks young people should have paid more attention to if not for their youthful ignorance) is because of its R Rating- a barrior that is put up by adults to keep the young people away. It's all too typical that adults will impose a limitation on young people and then condemn them for following suit--condemn them for not rebelling against the social order as expected and then slap the cuffs on them when they do. They just can't win.

To be fair, the worst insults come from the commenters, both young and old alike.

So many of the comments are either adults condemning young people for being dumber than they supposedly were as teens, or young people condemning themselves to the delight of older readers (and Ebert himself) who seem to get off on it. When confronted with the possibility that what they're saying is in fact insulting to young people, they choose to begin hurling blame at the grand conspiracy of the world that is turning the younger generations dumber--such paranoia in the guise of social consciousness is no model for young people--they don't need to be convinced that young people are dumb by a bunch of adults concocting conspiracy theories about how their kids are in peril (as if we haven't heard that before).

In the end, it just a very low blow for adults to repeatedly condemn young people for the mistakes being made by adults. If kids are indeed getting dumber, it's not their fault. Teens have no say in running this world because adults won't let them, so maybe that's the first indication about who's really at fault for this...if we're going to start playing blame games.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indifference to Bullying

After a bit of a summer break, I returned to see this chestnut in the headlines: Openly gay teen sues Mohawk school district, Claims leaders' indifference failed to stop ongoing abuse. Since we read all the time about how schools cause more problems than they solve by being absurdly reactionary or just downright irrational, a story about a school not doing enough to prevent a crisis seems like a rare thing these days.

Readers will remember it wasn't too long ago that the story of the Springfield boy who committed suicide due to the school's indifference toward the severe bullying he'd been suffering with dropped a similar feel as this one. On the same occasion, we also heard of the middle school that sought to prevent bullying by banning all touch whether good or bad. Why does it seem that some schools either deal with bullying with an all or nothing approach?

We know all schools have to deal with bullying, that not every case of bullying a school is dealing with winds up in the news (and not everything in the news is true), and that on the whole schools do an adequate and reasonable job preventing unthinkable crises from escalating. It's really about doing what is adequate (as in, doing enough to protect victims of harassment in schools), while still remaining in the realm of what is reasonable (as in, not throwing down overly simple solutions--like banning all touch). But in these individual cases, sometimes you just have to wonder whether they are erring too far one way or the other.
He’d been picked on in seventh grade for not acting or looking “how a boy should look.” Students threw food at him, called him names, broke his cell phone and iPod, and constantly hurled names his way. Last year was worse.

“I had a hard time concentrating at school because I was constantly being harassed,” the teen said in an interview Wednesday. While all this was happening, Jacob and his parents say, Mohawk Central School District officials did nothing.
Due to the fact that the student is openly homosexual, there's always going to be the possibility that the school, for some reason, didn't count harassment on the basis of sexual orientation (something young people don't legally have) as actual harassment, or was for any reason of opinion willfully ignorant to it. The lawsuit goes on to describe various incidents of complaints made by the student and his family that the high school principal repeatedly took no action on, it also describes how a teacher explicitly on a number of occasions made the student's sexual orientation the subject of ridicule and humiliation.

Those who are implicated--the school, the principal, and the teacher--all deny these charges. If it is the case here that the school knowingly ignored his complaints of harassment on the basis of his sexual orientation, then that is one issue. If they knowingly ignored his complaints simply because that's their policy, then they're just not doing what is adequate. And if such is the case, let's hope they don't throw themselves too far in the opposite, unreasonable, direction as a response.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Are You Affraid of Children?

The Associated Press recently wrote an article detailing why children are such effective devices in horror films. We may recognize the character of Damian from The Omen, Anthony from the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," or the kids in Children of the Corn and Village of the Damned. According to experts, this phenomenon may not be all that new, and in fact the fear of children (pedophobia) may be the result of something more deeply ingrained in the adult psyche.
"You see the idea in 'Angels with Dirty Faces,' the Dead End Kids, and in the postwar years, the teenpic or 'juvenile delinquent' film of the Cold War that poses the teenager as internal threat to adult values," Sharrett explains.

"Children are seen as 'blank slates' to a degree, and also as essentially 'unknowable,' because they live in a world very different from the adult world, in which fantasy and reality intermingle," he says. "Parents wonder what their children will become, and while they wish the best for them, they often feel as if they have no control over them. It is this essential lack of knowledge, and the fear that the children have a secret world which adults can't enter, which drives our fear of childhood as a separate domain."

"It's a little bit of 'Body Snatchers.' They look somewhat like you and even act a bit like you and eventually, they come to replace you."
The idea that children are scary is, like most attributes ascribed to children, a concoction dreamed up by adults. Adults perceive children to be helpless and innocent with the subtle "in joke" lurking in the background that they are indeed not, and that because of this they pose a threat to the adult world. In reality, children are not helpless or innocent, but neither are they necessarily poised to kill off their parents or endanger society, but this fear isn't anything new. Noted psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause wrote, in The History of Child Abuse, that this primitive fear of children is seen in all cultures and throughout all of history up to the present, and that it has always been the main cause of both the suppression of children and child abuse:
"The main psychological mechanism that operates in all child abuse involves using children as what I have termed poison containers--receptacles into which adults project disowned parts of their psyches, so they can control these feelings in another body without danger to themselves."
DeMause goes on to describe a tradition in Greece whereby it is believed that when an adult is infested by a "demon," the only way to release this demon is to relegate it into a child, because children are thought to be pure or untainted. Once the demon was supposedly harvested inside the child, he or she would have to be bound up to prevent them from "tearing their ears off, scratching their eyes out, breaking their legs, or touching their genitals," because it was believed the child would surely act out the violent projections of the parent. He also points to the rituals surrounding child sacrifice from all corners of the globe as being a further expression of attempting to control this universal fear.

The western world doesn't believe in demons by in large, but the same underlying principle still applies. Instead of subjugating children to counteract the demon threat they pose to adults, youth in the 20th century and the present were and are often subjected in more social ways to counteract the projected threat they pose to adult social values. The AP article goes on to describe the youth threat in post-war America where a whole new cast of demons were praying on children and corrupting them to destroy adult society:
"In a way, this can be seen as a reaction to the nascent rise of juvenile delinquency in the late 1950s -- when American youth culture was first firmly established, along with the rise of rock 'n' roll, as a perceived threat to then normative postwar values."
And this continues to the present day. The fact of the matter still remains: regardlesss of what adults project onto children, children are human beings. They're not "Body Snatchers," beings who resemble adults slowly working to replace human society and they don't absorb adult "demons" either. It all goes to show you how fallible the human psyche is--fantasy and reality always intermingle, whether you are two or twenty.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public Education- "The War On Kids"

Here's an informative excerpt from the "War on Kids" press kit--a startling documentary about where public schooling in the United States has gone recently. As with any documentary film of this type, the worse cases are given the most screen time, but why not? This is, after all, the side of public education that no one wants to think exists, and most interestingly, it's the side that's becoming increasingly more common.

Do we continue to ignore these issues, act as if they're just "minority cases" until they become even more commonplace? Or do students, teachers, and school districts begin working together to better these environments themselves from the inside out? Do we continually pass responsibility to governments and bureaus, who have no connection with the schools they're controlling? Or do we reestablish control to the administrators, teachers, and students who actually make up our school communities? Do we continue to pass responsibility for conduct issues onto the police, intrusive private security systems, and behavior modifying medications? Or do we get over our fear of disciplining kids and discipline bad behavior? Do we run a school on "Zero Tolerance," or Common Sense?

You don't have to be a parent or a student to find this issue disconcerting. Your tax money goes to fund these institutions. The students may not have any power to do anything about it, but any adult who pays into it does.

You can watch the trailer and find out more about this film here, The War on Kids.

Blame for problems with schooling in America is often assigned to insufficient funding or the inherent failings of today’s kids. In rare cases, parents, teachers, and administrators are also implicated. However, all efforts to improve the quality of education are doomed to fail if the system itself is not examined and understood to be the most significant impediment. After over six years in the making, THE WAR ON KIDS reveals that the problems with public education ultimately stem from the institution itself. Astonishingly all efforts at reform consistently avoid even considering this to be a possibility and the consequences to children and the future of American democracy are dire.

In 99 minutes, THE WAR ON KIDS exposes the many ways the public school system has failed children and our future by robbing students of all freedoms due largely to irrational fears. Children are subjected to endure prison-like security, arbitrary punishments, and pharmacological abuse through the forced prescription of dangerous drugs. Even with these measures, schools not only fail to educate students, but the drive to teach has become secondary to the need to control children.

THE WAR ON KIDS begins with the history of “Zero Tolerance” policy. In the 1990s, almost all schools began instituting guidelines that were originally designed to keep weapons and drugs off campus. Very quickly, school officials began to arbitrarily decide what should be considered a weapon and what should be considered a drug. Hundreds of situations followed where children were (and continue to be) suspended or expelled for possessing food knives, nail clippers, key chains, chicken strips, aspirin, and candy. Kindergarteners were even suspended for playing cops and robbers and using their fingers as guns. Under the guise of Zero Tolerance, administrators have been able to wield tremendous power without the burden of responsibility and this authority continues to be increasingly abused. Students invariably feel despondent and fearful in the Kafka-esque state that has been created.

The film reveals that students’ civil rights have been virtually obliterated. They can be searched, drug-tested, denied the right to express themselves verbally and in print, as well as be physically punished without due process. They are routinely deprived of protection from self-incrimination and in some circumstances can even be strip searched without the consultation of parents. Courts typically uphold the rights of schools to behave in whatever manner they deem appropriate where children’s rights are involved.

Ultimately schools now look astonishingly like prisons in their structure and operation and the film shows that it is hard to tell them apart. A side by side comparison in the form of a tour displays the apparent inferiority of the average public school with regards to prison in terms of its resources and upkeep. Most disturbing of all, the school environment is clearly much more oppressive and dreary.

Schools have become obsessed with security and THE WAR ON KIDS shows how none of the profoundly invasive measures are effective. Security cameras were present at Columbine High School, for example, and did nothing to mitigate the massacre. From the students interviewed in the film, it is clear that cameras are unwelcome and breed paranoia and fear and may actually contribute to creating a hostile environment. Locker searches and metal detectors have been shown to be ineffective and contribute to creating an oppressive environment.

Police footage is shown from a 2003 SWAT team raid on Stratford High School high school students in Goose Creek, SC when the principal suspected illegal drug activity. In spite of the aggressive search involving guns and dogs, no drugs were found. The raid highlights the persistent scrutiny that students are under and the complete lack of boundaries that exist when children are involved.

Beyond physical intimidation, psychiatric abuse in schools is also rampant. Experts are interviewed about the epidemic of ADD and similar diagnoses. The preponderance of evidence is stunning and implicates drug companies in blatantly nefarious activities. Ritalin and other pharmaceuticals that are being heavily prescribed to children are not only physically harmful with lifelong consequences, but can and do lead to murder and suicide. What is presented as treatment is more dangerous and debilitating than the condition it is supposed to cure. In addition, the condition itself is clearly dubious, and the kids getting treated are often the ones who question teachers and authority. Invariably, these kids are drugged into submission.

THE WAR ON KIDS shows how schools are authoritarian institutions that by their nature cannot be reformed. Children are subjected to the most invasive forms of control and are deprived of the most basic and fundamental human rights that are afforded even to prisoners of war. The net effect is chilling not just for the kids who are subjected to these extreme forms of control, but also for American society’s future as a generation grows up with no first hand experience or understanding of civil rights in a democracy.
You can watch the trailer and find out more about this film here, The War on Kids.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Real Child Predators

A word from Bill Maher on who the real "child predators" are:

“But that is America for you, a red herring culture always scared by the wrong things. The fact is there are a lot of creepy middle aged men out there lusting for your kids. They work for MTV, the pharmaceutical industry, McDonald’s, Marlboro and [K-Street]….And recently there’s been a rash of strangers making their way onto school campuses and targeting your children for death. They’re called military recruiters….

You know who else is grabbing your kids at too young an age? Merck, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline…by convincing you that your kids are depressed, hyperactive, or suffering from ADD. In the last decade the number of children prescribed anti-psychotic drugs in America increased by over 400 percent, which means either that our children are going insane (which we might look on as a problem), or that more likely we have created for profit a nation of little junkies.

So stop with the righteous indignation about predators, this whole country is trying to get in your kid’s pants because that’s where he keeps his wallet…So many of our kids are fat drug addicts nowadays that it’s almost as if Rush Limbaugh had puppies!

So we can pretend that the biggest threat to our children is some creep on the internet, or we can admit that it’s us. Because when your son can’t find France on a map, or touch his toes with his hands, or understand that the ads on television are lying (including the one where the marine turns into Lancelot), then the person fucking him is you.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Toddlers on Steroids

The scientist and his books presented in this video are utterly destructive. It's no surprise to me that youth are "rebellious," anybody who is constantly bullied every day of their life by another group of people and are left completely defenseless to it by none other than the same group of people, would naturally start showing strains of resistance. To me, it's no surprise that young people act the way they do when adults get off insulting them with such childish schoolyard taunts as "they're like toddlers on steroids!"

Firstly, they act like children because they're treated like children. Society itself is set up to treat them like children. Don't take my word for it, noted academics such as Dr. Robert Epstein agree that the teen brain is structurally no different than the adult brain, based on years of empirical findings. They are more than equipped to handle responsibilities in the world, the only thing that is really holding them in a state of regression are ageist and adult-centric policies.

Secondly, the link between "hormones" and "teen mood swings" and "temper tantrums" is unfounded and misleading. It has been shown time and time again that hormone levels affect the growth of biological processes (bone growth, hair growth, reproductive growth...etc.). The myth that these biological processes "necessitate" this period of "storm and stress" goes back to the opinions of G. Stanley Hall, one of the founders of psychology as a science in the United States well over 100 years ago. Since that time, we've learned a lot, and the whole field of psychology has changed.

More recent studies (although not the ones that make the front page of parenting tabloids), suggest teen mood disturbances may have more to do with the fact that they aren't getting enough sleep, because adult society works on a different clock than teens are biologically set for...naturally putting them at a disadvantage and in a state of grogginess. Hormones play as much a role in teen mood disturbances as they do in adults, but don't take my words for it, the facts are out there.

Why do we never hear of this explanation for teen misbehavior? It mainly has to do with the fact that it's easier to just "blame teen biology" for their behavioral problems than it is to reorient teen life (to go to school in the afternoon and stay up later) so that they're better able to function.

They're like "toddlers on steroids?"

Adults are name calling now? Who's supposed to be more mature?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Prosecuting Youth Sexuality

Should teens be locked up or registered as sex offenders for having safe and consensual sex with one another? A prosecutor by the name of Kym Worthy from Wayne County, Michigan doesn't think so, and is proposing that the age of consent law be changed to protect teenagers from "unnecessary prosecution." I saw this posted over on Moral Outrage today, the full story can be found here.
All it takes is one overzealous prosecutor to change a kid's fortunes forever.
Perhaps they ought to start thinking of doing something like this in Utah, where it may take a supreme court decision to come down on whether two teens having consensual sex was in fact an act of mutual statutory rape. According to the editorial, Michigan has one of the strictest "black and white" status crime laws when it comes to teenage sex. Young people need protections against rape and assault just as anyone does, but not to the extent that they can be jailed and put on sex offender registries for doing it consensually with one another.
Sex among minors is not ideal, but it happens. Michigan would be wise to carve out an exception for teenagers or give judges more discretion in dealing with this issue.
Parents there would do well to write Kym Worthy and let her hear your voice on this issue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smoking Pot in School

Young people make mistakes too. Apparently a 17-year-old student in Purdy, Washington smoked a joint during a presentation he was giving concerning the legalization of marijuana. His subsequent arrest may have made him a martyr, but it may not have been the wisest way of getting the message across. Regardless of where you fall on the issue of legalizing marijuana, I would hope we can agree that there is little active campaigning a student can do in jail.

This is not to say he was not a bright student, with a 3.7 GPA, it only means he probably should have known better. There are plenty of other (legal) ways to get the point across. One could argue that if the laws regarding marijuana possession and use weren't so draconian he wouldn't be in that predicament, but by all accounts, this was a school building he was doing it in, and certainly not a place to be lighting up, legal or not.
He then finished his essay, sat down, finished smoking the joint and then ate the end after it was fully smoked. The teacher of the class contacted the school resources officer, a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, who found a small residual amount of marijuana on the student, Troyer said.
The reason, in case you were wondering, this blog is called "Puerile Psyche" is to point out the rather immature, or "puerile" way society conducts itself with children and young people. Often society will do things for the supposed benefit of its children that are actually harmful or destructive to them, or go contrary to their own stated purposes.

The fact is young people are part of society, and they also do things against their own better interests. Sometimes these mistakes are not their fault, but are only mistakes because adults have deemed them illegal (any status crime law). And sometimes their mistakes can only be put down to the same all-too-human poor judgment.

I personally believe marijuana laws are far too restrictive when comparing the damage caused by many legal substances to that of pot, but there are more effective ways of getting the message across. This is not so much a youth issue, as it would be illegal for anyone to be found with pot in public, but certainly a useful bit a wisdom can be gained. Challenge authority, and don't do anything that'll keep you from challenging it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kid is Sex Offender AND Victim

It's downright paradoxical that a person can be both a victim and the perpetrator of the same crime, and simultaneously be charged with the crime and treated as the victim of it. Nonetheless, that is what can and does happen in the wacky world that is "status crime" offenses. Recently a 13-year-old girl in Ogden, Utah has been in such a paradox after having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend. Utah law makes no mistake: sex with anyone under the age of 14 is prohibited, regardless of who's doing it. Her boyfriend also has been hit with the same paradoxical charge.

There comes a point where one has to wonder who these laws are attempting to target. Are they really meant to prohibit all sexual conduct with AND between young people, or are they meant to protect minors from "sexual predators?" As the law explicitly stands, it seems the former more than the later. So long as that is the case, we'll continue to see children and teens becoming registered as "sex offenders", and no one will do anything about it because "it doesn't happen often enough."

The worst part of this story seems to be that the court only found out about the incident after the girl became pregnant. In that predicament, she not only recieved little support as a "new mother," but was slapped with a conviction in juvenile court for "sexually abusing" her "underage boyfriend"--who also was hit with the same charge against her. She appealed this conviction back in 2004.
Her motion noted that for juveniles who are 16 and 17, having sex with others in their own age group does not qualify as a crime. Juveniles who are 14 or 15 and have sex with peers can be charged with unlawful conduct with a minor, but the law provides for mitigation when the age difference is less than four years, making the offense a misdemeanor. For adolescents under 14, though, there are no exceptions or mitigation and they are never considered capable of consenting to sex.
So essentially, the younger the kid is, the more severe the charge they receive if they have sex with kids their own age. Kids under 14 get charged with felonies, while kids over 14 get charged with misdemeanors so long as their victims/offenders are aged within 4 years of them. For kids aged 16 and 17, there is no crime. How does this serve to protect children--particularly younger kids? Doesn't it stand to reason that if a child can not be considered capable of having any sex (be it consensual or not), then they can't be held responsible for sexual "offenses?" The law in Utah is obviously designed to weigh the criminalization of the sexual exploitation of younger children more heavily but obviously wasn't intended to make the children themselves into criminals.

But do the courts listen to reason? Apparently not, and they denied her appeal with this decision, almost acknowledging the fact that their own laws don't make any sense and abiding by them anyway:
The Utah Court of Appeals last December upheld the judge's refusal to dismiss the allegation, saying the law's "rigorous protections" for younger minors include protecting them for each other.
Maybe she'll have better luck with the Supreme Court...but don't count on it. According to an assistant to the Utah Attorney General, "Matthew Bates," the statute is not unreasonable, and is DESIGNED to, and I quote: "the statute in question is designed to prevent sex with children who are 13 and younger, even if the other person is in the same age group." With this glaring admission, the last piece of the puzzle is in place. The Utah courts don't care about protecting children, they simply don't want children engaging in sexual acts with one another, consensual or not, and will go to any lengths to criminalize all those who do.
Randall Richards argued that prosecuting children under a law meant to protect them is illogical.
It's left up to the girl's attorney to be the sole voice of reason, but he's wrong on one count. By their own admission, the statute is NOT there to protect kids after all. It's there to prosecute them--in which case, it ceases being all that "illogical."