Thursday, December 23, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms

Everyone should watch this.

"Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. They are being besieged by information that calls their attention from every platform, computers, iPhones, advertising, and hundreds of television channels, and we are penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff, at school."

One can argue that changing the education paradigm like this caters too much to kids and makes them lose resilience, but then again, they're already losing resilience when we've resorted to medicating them ("anesthetizing them") just to keep them from getting distracted. Obviously something needs to change.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Youth Center and Police State

UK Prime Minster David Cameron's "Big Society" is looking more like "Big Brother Society" every time we catch wind of one of these. Apparently, a youth can be investigated and even arrested by anti-terrorism forces for organizing a campaign to "save his youth center" on Facebook according to UK police.

A schoolboy trying to save his youth club was hauled from class after his plan to protest outside David Cameron's constituency office was spotted - by anti-terror police. In an astonishing over-reaction, 12-year-old Nicky Wishart was warned he faced arrest.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "The policeman asked me lots of questions about why we were having a protest and who would be there. "I said it was simply because we didn't want our youth centre to close - it's a fantastic place to go and there isn't much else for us to do round here."

He was told he would be responsible for any "trouble" at the well-mannered picket on Friday night. Public-spirited Nicky, one of the PM's constituents in the Oxfordshire seat of Witney, said: "All this is because Mr Cameron is our local MP and it's a bit embarrassing for him."'

Two words, free speech. If government were a more effective utility, then it doesn't need to spy on a kid's Facebook account to begin with.

"I was taken out of class - and the policeman said, 'Are you aware that the anti-terrorist squad are looking at your Facebook account?' He said that if anything got out of hand, they would arrest people. Then he said that I could get arrested for organising it. I was frightened and wished my mum was with me. Then the policeman asked, 'Does your mum know about this?' I said, 'Yes, of course, she supports it.' "But the policeman carried on, 'Are you sure your mum wants you out protesting at night?' He was trying to scare me off - but there was no way I wasn't going to go."

This last statement of his is very powerful. In a climate where we hear how young people and children are being brow-beaten into submission by the police state in order to learn why not to stick up too much against the system, we have the exact opposite happening from so many of them. Let's hope this trend continues, and we'll all have the brighter future the current leaders want to keep from us.

But, as part of the Con-Dem cuts, Tory-run Oxfordshire County Council is axing £4million of funding for 20 clubs - including the one in Nicky's home village, Eynsham. The council claims volunteers might take over as part of Mr Cameron's "Big Society".

The money going into paying police to spy on kids' Facebook accounts set up to "save their youth centers" could be going to fund those youth centers to begin with, but I suppose the government wins either way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA Molests Children

Today I think for the first time I felt that "genuine sense of revulsion toward the abuser" that all of society seems to fall back on. I'm not usually one easily swayed by sensationalism, but this deeply disturbed me. I saw this child screaming and something just kicked inside. I stomped my foot on impulse and practically broke into tears. I am human after all.

There's something wrong with a society that is panicked over child molestation who will willingly sit back and not bat an eyelash at a child screaming "stop touching me!" and clamoring to get away as they're effectively "groped" in full view of their parents. In the natural world, when something preys upon the young of an animal, they're supposed to react, the child's evolutionary response to clamor to a parent, who they "expect" is going to protect them. But when said parent allows the predator to prey upon the child, they've effectively severed the parent/child protective bond.

It's against nature, I say, to do this to children boarding a plane. I wouldn't be surprised if that kid shows all the signs of a victim of true sexual molestation following this episode. This child has done nothing wrong, and has essentially been violated against her will. I don't blame the parent, I don't blame this particular TSA worker. What is to blame is the system that has allowed this to flourish without reproach (except by the sensationalist media). For any service that can make the media justify its sensationalism must truly be a product of evil.

A parent, or any adult who has purchased a ticket for a plane, can at least say "I agree to accept the pat down because I want to avail myself of your transportation services in return," and that is on the surface fine, seeing as it is a consensual interaction. There's the key word, consent! If without consent, the groping of a human being is indeed "molestation," then what has transpired here with this three year old IS nothing but. In her view, she simply rose up that morning, went wherever the adults told her, and was subsequently violated.

And if it was sexual, and not a TSA search, though they yield the same result, people would suddenly care about what she felt as a consequence of this non-consensual violation. They'd officially ordain that child a "victim" and have her in therapy. They'd lynch mob the house of the offender in the twilight. They would feel the utter disgust I felt while watching this unfold, as should be their nature. But because it's a TSA search, it's business as usual.

Friday, November 12, 2010

School Removes Bike Flag

What a way to celebrate Veteran's Day here in the US-- a school once again overstepping its jurisdiction to render a student's free speech rights null. One can't help but feel the irony.

"I took it off because I didn't want to get in any more trouble." That's quite a quote, the implications are staggering--compliance over freedom of expression for fear of retribution. How American are the American public schools again?

Friday, October 22, 2010

ODD Diagnosis Change?

Recent articles suggest many things are going to change with the release of the DSM V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and much of it bound to affect young people. We've heard that things like video game addiction are on the table now along with questionable changes to the interpretation of youth homosexuality, but the one that seems to capture the imaginations is this thing called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Some articles have gone so far to suggest that the DSM V is going to make "free thinking a mental disorder," and thus render non-conformism and rebellious behaviors (especially in children and teens) as mental disorders.

In actuality, ODD has been in the DSM for quite some time. In my copy of the DSM III (back at least to 1987), it's listed as 313.81 under Disruptive Behavior Disorders, with a differential diagnosis linking it to Conduct Disorder, so there's nothing "new" about it being listed as a disorder other than perhaps new (big-pharma-backed) research into it.

One interesting note from this earlier version of the DSM hints at why Opposition Defiant Disorder shouldn't be confused for Conduct Disorder, though baring many of its features. This is due to the fact that ODD individuals appreciate the basic rights of others more and don't violate age-appropriate social norms as much as individuals with conduct disorder. From this, the basic idea (at least as it is presented in earlier drafts of the DSM) is that mild ODD (according to its own criteria for severity) only causes minimal or no impairment in school or social functioning...and therefore not be enough to make the diagnosis.

So the idea, at least as it was at one time, was that the only way a child could be considered ODD was if their rebellious attitude caused them "impairment in their social functioning with peers or adults." If there was no impairment, then a child could be as rebellious and free thinking as their personalities lead them to be. In fact, it's well understood that an oppositional temperament is one of the varieties of human emotion observed right out of the womb, with some infants being more tolerant and others being more oppositional, more or less. The thinking is that temperament is genetically caused, and simply a fact of nature.

I'm not sure what has happened in the definition of diagnosis for ODD, but if they have decided that "social functioning impairment" is not enough to qualify for diagnosis, then they probably went a step deeper and said "not only should the impairment be present, but the behavior itself as well." If that is the case, with the hope of squeezing more of these cases into the "treatable tent," then I think what we have is a deplorable situation which has effects on other disorders as well. "Behavior" whether it benefits the individual or not by itself shouldn't necessarily be labeled as a disorder, just those behaviors that are counterproductive to the individual.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

9 Year Old Sex Offender

Next time you say, or hear someone say "all sex offenders should be shot," just remember this... children and teens make up a majority of them.

State Rep. Melanie George (D-Bear) has a bill that would allow Family Court judges to decide if children younger than 14 (mandated by the Adam Walsh Act) should be listed on the registry. Of course, she can’t get it out of committee because legislators don’t want to be painted as soft on sex offenders in lieu of the Earl Bradley case.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Watery Eyes Cause Suspension

A 16 year old walks into school in Trophy Club Texas and gets served with a suspension for having bloodshot and watery eyes. Was it because of A: allergies? B: grieving the loss of his murdered father? C: smoking marijuana? If you're an administrator at the Byron Nelson High School, you answered C, and held him from returning to class for two hours until test results showed he was not high. No, in fact, the correct answer was B, that Kyler Robertson's father had been stabbed to his death that Sunday and the young man was obviously grieving.

It's more popular to think of teenagers as potheads than it is to concede that they are actually grieving dead relatives, partly because culture has made all young people out to be out of control potheads and young people themselves have beat the "dead relative" excuse into the ground for decades. At first glance, it would seem to just be an honest mistake that should have been quickly fixed. The teen was coming in late with bloodshot eyes, we can understand a little bit of suspicion, at least enough to warrant a quick observation. Chances are, if his eyes were bloodshot and watery and he had been smoking pot, he would have smelled of the stuff. There are no indications that any odor was detected.

Rational people would have shirked this off as a "typical teen" not getting enough sleep (with no odor present), or perhaps allergies, or something else. Even more rational people would have just asked him what was wrong with his eyes. Instead, they held him for two hours so that his mom could run him out to get tested, return with negative results, and still suspended him for three days.

District spokeswoman Lesley Weaver would not discuss the case with FOX 4...

They only never discuss cases with the media when they know they've made a mistake. And it is their mistake, that as far as I know, they haven't removed from his permanent school record. He has one now, not because of something he did, but for something they "thought" he was doing. His mother has to go through an appeals process in order to clear his name.

And for the district spokesperson to make this more about the school's lack of ability to test rather than it's obvious lack judgment really adds insult to injury. Does she really want the school to be able to test every student coming in with bloodshot eyes? That still doesn't seem it would have been enough to keep them from slapping a suspension on his record.

This is what happens when you turn a school into a prison. They make up their own law, execute and enforce their own law, all without due process, yet they have no authority to enforce law. Unless it is cleared, this blot on the record won't help him get into college, that's for sure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Benefits of Teen Sex within Relationship

You probably picture the teen who's having sex to be morally depraved and out of control, whose only potential outcome is pregnancy or STD infection (or perhaps both). Or maybe you don't, but if you do, it's probably because whenever you tune into a news story regarding teen sex, this is what you hear:

[Casual teen sex partners] are more likely to experience problems in school, being suspended or expelled, being less likely to aspire to or expect to attend college, being less attached to school and more likely to earn lower grades, the study said.

What mainstream society is only beginning to come to terms with is that it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to teens having sex with other teens. Often the reason that such eventualities persist is because of the draconian system of sexual repression teens have to pair their biology off of--the very system supposedly set up to prevent these issues. In fact, as this research has found, if teens are allowed to carry out relationships with one another, regardless of whether they are sexual with one another, we might see more positive news for a change, like this:

The authors say students who have sex only with romantic partners have generally similar academic outcomes as students who abstain from sex.

Of course it seems the majority of the article described here talked about the consequences of non-romantic sexual activities, but they didn't let it obscure the point, which is that not all sex between teenagers is unhealthy or dangerous. Now I'm not naive enough to believe that if teen sex were more encouraged we'd see less negative results, but under a system that discourages all teen sex, even healthy expressions of it, we should expect nothing else.

The authors said their findings raise some doubts about abstinence-only education programs that link all types of adolescent sex to a wide variety of problems for teens.

Abstinence-only doesn't work.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back to School?

Does it not frustrate anyone that they always seem to advertise back to school only a fourth or a half of the way through the summer? Everyone already knows why, it's because if they can't have parents spending money half way through the summer, then they're going to have to get them to spend money half way through September. People must be more willing to part with money in the summer.

Five cent notebooks and binders aside, it makes no sense to me anyways, with the greater and greater emphasis on standardized testing and teaching to the tests, why kids these days would need the real money-making items, like "markers" and "scissors."

Secondly, why are all these back to school adverts and paraphernalia always rendered in either child scrawl, play magnet letters, or cutesy A-B-C stylization? I was certain "back to school" meant that high-schoolers are going back to school too. But that's the only part of this that makes sense--they're not as important to this shopping season because all they're going to need are those 5 cent notebooks and binders.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Charged for Finding Lost Girl

Everyone needs to see this, because if we don't see it, our society will never learn. Here we have a 14 year old kid facing a charge for kidnapping because he (and his mom) tried to help a lost three-year-old girl find her mother in a store. Sure, taking the child outside the store was probably not the wisest move, but if he really was trying to kidnap the child, resuming his shopping itinerary after the incident would have been an even worse one. As it happens, he showed no resistance in handing the child over to her mother when they eventually did meet.

He was promptly arrested and carried out of the store facing media crews who seemed to already have the story in mind before even asking the questions.

The Sentinel underplayed the story inside the local section: "A small child is safe and a teenager is in custody after an attempted abduction.''

In the public eye, Edwin was busted and convicted. And don't think his friends, neighbors and classmates don't know. But look at the evidence. We have the little girl's mother losing track of her daughter. We have Edwin's mother not taking the girl from Edwin and turning her over to a store employee. And we have Edwin in handcuffs.

I'm not sure the problem here is with the 14-year-old.

This effectively signals the end of Samaritan-ism. We can all play Who Killed Cock Robin here, but in the end, everyone had a roll in creating a problem where there wasn't one, and ultimately, a youth that will never ever again try to help anyone, no matter what. And who could blame him?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two Kids a Week Charged

I thought I'd just share this report. This is the untold story of what a ridiculously high age of consent does to a society. It's more than likely twice as bad here across the pond, but let's have it out. AoC, let your works be seen.

229 Kids on Sex Charges

UP to two schoolkids are charged with sex offences against other children EVERY WEEK, a News of the World investigation reveals today. Shock new figures show that 229 suspects aged under 16 were hauled before courts over three years. The appalling scale of sex crimes among school-age children is clear from details obtained under freedom of information laws.


In that case Mr Justice Saunders slammed the system of dealing with children in sex offence hearings. He said: "I don't think anyone who has sat through this trial would think for a moment that the system that we employ is ideal. But I am not quite sure about what one does about it under the system we currently operate."

Last night the NSPCC said: "These statistics show a large number of children are involved in criminal proceedings and we are dismayed that their needs are not being met. We need to remember that they are children. Young witnesses are regularly questioned in a way that's inappropriate for their age, while defendants struggle to deal with criminal proceedings they don't understand."

Our statistics, based on the latest available figures from 2006-08, show an alarming number of youngsters being forced though harrowing court trials. Those convicted can be put on the sex offenders register. But other statistics show that of seven children aged between ten and 11 who were prosecuted for rape, NONE was found guilty.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes only a brief reference to sex activities between two kids. It states that, for most crimes, anyone under 16 commits an offence if they do anything that is illegal for an 18-year-old. In a magistrates' court a convicted child can face jail for up to six months, and in a higher court up to five years.

Obviously, there are a lot of issues tied up in this. Ironically, their Sexual Offenses Act of 2003 sounds light-years better than the laws in many states here in the United States, where even young children can be tried as sex offenders simply for engaging in sexual play with one another. Some states have so-called "Romeo and Juliet" clauses, but many times those increase penalties for younger children and decrease penalties for older children and teens respectively--meaning, the younger the child is who commits the offense, the harsher the punishment.

The fact of the matter is, it's costing taxpayers money to prosecute every minor who engages in sex play with another minor.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Selling Sex, Denying Sexuality

They just keep putting words in odd locations around Justin Bieber to get all the pre-teen girls' eyes to gravitate to certain spots in the photos, and it's getting more obvious by the minute. You think this cover supposed to trigger the teen's buying reflex? Of course it is.

Every couple of years adults scramble to turn some young person into a sex symbol so they can exploit them. That's the business. We can pretend it doesn't happen, or we can acknowledge that not only are children sexual, but we're actually profiting from it. Right now, it seems no teen is as exploited as Justin Bieber, and obviously so much of his look is an example of marketing at it's most calculated.

Sometimes you have to really admire the gall of society to stick words at a boy's hind-level on the cover of a CD to entice girls to throw their allowances on it, and at the same time, categorically deny young people the legal ability to have a sexual interest in one another.

Unless of course we were supposed to take that calculated placing to be something different, like a fart taking shape in the words "One Less Lonely Girl" trailing behind him--as if he's become such a sensation even just a fart could cure a girl's loneliness. Seriously, they keep putting words where they want the teen girls' eyes to look, and it gets harder to take any picture of him seriously.

Update: an even more obvious example has been spotted!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ban Facebook, says Principal

Principal Anthony Orsini, of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J., has been making his case, urging parents to ban their children from using Facebook and all social networking websites. He's one of a growing number of disturbing public officials committed to advancing a school's jurisdiction over a child's every behavior from the standard eight-hour day to a 24 hour, round the clock, system of control and intimidation, and he's not bashful about it.

Already the response has been partly predictable. Most people are beginning to think that all this Orwellian nonsense spewing forth from certain school officials these days (at least since the infamous Webcamgate) has officially jumped the shark. Now they're entering the land of make-believe where they don't only want control of the students, but they want control of the students as individuals beyond school. They want to legislate how the child spends his or her time beyond school, and they want to accomplish it by intimidating parents to act as their agents of enforcement. And thankfully, people are just getting sick and tired of it.

One of those people is creative adviser and writer Chris Matyszczyk over on Technically Incorrect:

I have barely come to terms with the idea that someone at a school thought it appropriate, wise, or even sane to spy on kids via Webcams on school-issued laptops. Has technology really taken over human thought processes quite so much?

So I temporarily lost the ability to spell my own name when I was confronted with the rather heartening news that a school principal has asked parents to get their kids away from Facebook and any other social-networking site.

His words, obtained by WCBSTV, clearly are as heartfelt as they are eye-shattering: "Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still), and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social-networking site. Today!"

Orsini asked parents to avail themselves of parental-control software. He asked them to check their kids' messages online. And he asked them to spank their children once a week with their laptops. Yes, of course I made the last one up, but if Orsini were in charge of the judicial system, one suspects that he would prefer the soft cell to the soft sell.

Hark at this from his e-mail: "There is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle-school student to be a part of a social-networking site! None."

Online gaming was not immune from Orsini's troubled tirade: "For online gaming, do not allow them to have the interactive communication devices. If they want to play Call of Duty online with someone from Seattle, fine; they don't need to talk to the person."

He offered that kids should not be allowed to have computers in their bedroom. They should be in a public place where everyone can see what is going on. He would even prefer parents not to allow kids to recharge that family laptop in their own bedrooms.

Of course the reasoning behind all this? To prevent bullying. It's no secret that Facebook is often used as a tool by youth to bully others, and of course, that's shameful. But this is yet another example of the "knee-jerk reaction" to the problem. Restricting all young people's access to social networking sites (assuming such could even be accomplished) isn't going to solve the problem of cyber-bullying. You can't solve any problem by applying broad-stroked, swift, all-encompassing solutions. Bullying needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis. Parents need to be informed in the first instance of any bullying that the school becomes aware of, so that proper actions can be taken to prevent further abuse. Recent anti-bullying legislation in Massachusetts is paving the way for this more common sense approach.

The knee-jerk approach is to outright ban a child's access to information and networking resources, and then sit back and assume that because you've implemented some restrictive regime that the problem has been solved. This will doom your plans to failure, assuming it were even possible to do such. Inside of school, the school has discretion over the child. Outside of school, the school should never think it has any authority over the behaviors of it's students. Children are individuals first, students second. Not the other way around.

Instead, our friend Chris sees a more practical application for this principle's request and proposes one of his own:

"Still, it will be interesting to see just how successful his attempt to bring sanity to his school of more than 700 kids will be. It is not easy to bring sanity to any middle-school student. So much is happening in their heads, hearts, and minds that it isn't surprising that their behavior is so combustible.

Older folks, on the other hand, have no such excuse. How many of them are themselves now burning away their time and intelligence on Facebook and MySpace? How many of them are even trying to befriend their own kids on these sites? I wonder, therefore, whether Orsini's best advice about social networking might actually be more appropriate for adults than for kids.

Exactly, another small mind trying to control a world it will never understand. If the principal is so worried, then why not teach the kids about the dangers he perceives?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Knee-Jerk Reaction

This is about the padded bras for seven year olds controversy, a bathing suit that has already been banned from sale in many localities. And while some are saying "good riddance to that female-repressing, pedophile-attracting piece of cloth!" others, like in this opinion piece, are exercising a bit of common sense.
But this is the age of Mumsnet. And there's nothing the Mumsnet mob likes better than a bit of a moral panic, particularly if it can be linked to a downmarket chain store. Such is the website's sway at the moment, that its criticism of the bikini saw it lambasted by David Cameron and taken off the shelves in record time, with Primark offering to donate any profits made on it to a children's charity. Call me a sexual libertarian, but that does seem to be a bit of an overreaction and proof that – when it comes to children – we are prone to knee-jerk behaviour.
I love coming across a word that so precisely fits what we see adults doing in society. If people are good at creating cutesy little labels for children and teens' silly little behaviors, then let's create a silly little label for the adults' silly little behaviors as well, we'll call it, pulling the knee-jerk. And nothing could be a better representation of the knee-jerk than the overreaction as described above, but then again, who are we to interfere with such a generous and "from the heart" donation to a children's charity? Why does it seem that children's charities wait around to soak up people's guilt money from one moral panic to the next?
A particular bugbear is the way in which outfits which pander to a little girl's desire to be grown up are being presented as a virtual charter for paedophilia, even though there is no evidence of a link between so-called "sexy" clothing and the sexual abuse of minors.
It's an age-old excuse, "we can't liberate children because then the monsters will get them," and it unfortunately seems to be the prevailing attitude despite it's ludicrousness. It's only obvious that adults just don't like seeing a mature child, it doesn't fit their social paradigm. Then this article really turns up the heat on the opposition and spits their own rhetoric right back in their face:
Suggesting that a mother shouldn't dress her daughter in a padded bra because it might attract unwanted attention is perilously close to telling a woman in a mini-skirt she is asking to be raped.
You go girl!
The real issue with the premature sexualisation of girls is not the way it might affect how others see them, but the way it might affect how they see themselves.
Of course this is the other side of the moral panic issue, and it's at this point the article begins devolving down it's own trail of tears to the land of moral-panic, but it's understandable, because unlike the child molester link, low self-esteem in girls is a real life issue. However, the so-called sexualization of children doesn't inevitably lead to low self esteem, and pinning the responsibility for shaping each girl's level of confidence on a clothing store is just being irresponsible.

It's not the stores' responsibility to nurture the pro-social development of children. That is and always should be the parent's. We saw the same moral-panic reasoning with the "Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them" shirts, which prompted a whole storm of knee-jerk reactions all around the country, and the same is happening all over again with these padded bras for seven year olds. You could almost set your watch by the accuracy of this endless social waltz.

God forbid children grow up faster than we deem them too. God help us from the knee-jerk reaction.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Puberty Doesn't Make You Stupid

Once again, professional journalists leave professionalism at the door to reinforce adult prejudices and upset young people. Time has recently run an article called Does Puberty Make You Stupid? Lessons from Mice, about a recent study that seems to indicate that teens in the throes of puberty are not as good as older teens at basic puzzle tasks. The article isn't exactly clear at what kind of activity pubertal teens are so inept at, mixing research on pubescent mice and typical associations made about the so-called hapless nature of teens into one hodge-podge of speculation.

Could this article have been written with less tact? Could it have possibly been written any more disrespectfully? Can't we call "stupid" here a judgment call? I hardly believe the research on mice puzzle solution times translates into "pubescent teens are stupid" as the thrust of this article seems to be suggesting. And one can justify an article angle of this type on the grounds that it's supposed to be humorous only if they're then prepared to take the litmus test--if we change "puberty" to "being black" is it still so funny? If not, then it's not justifiable.

Up until 20 years ago, scientists believed that the human brain was largely mature by puberty. Apparently, they had failed to notice the irrational behavior and flaky thinking of teenagers. Now, of course, we know that the human brain continues to undergo serious restructuring well into the 20s.
The research may be onto something a little less pedestrian than this obvious pandering to the parents. You don't suppose the fact that teens are treated like mice has anything to do with the fact that their behaviors are so similar when it comes to puberty? Stick an adult in a cage and restrict their movements to the extent that teens are experiencing these days, and let's see an adult not begin to behave "flaky."

Sophisticated brain-scan studies by Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have shown dramatic changes throughout the teenage years as excess gray matter is pruned from the prefrontal cortex — the seat of higher-order thinking and making judgments (like not smoking weed right before your chemistry exam). Meanwhile, behavioral studies have shown what every parent already knows: teens have poor control over impulses and a tendency toward risk taking.
As a former psychology student, I can at least confirm that excess neuron proliferation and pruning happens throughout life. Synapses that are no longer being used are constantly dying off and being replaced by ones that are. While it is correct that teens are more risk-taking than adults, why does this always necessarily have to be a bad thing in the adult media? Do they want complacent youth who never question authority or take risks? Are not entrepreneurs risk takers? If teens are going to be greater risk takers, the expression of their risk taking--whether it inspires them become entrepreneurs or provokes them to drive offensively or do drugs has almost everything to do with how adults have raised them. If the teen is doing something to put themselves in jeopardy, don't blame their biology, blame the parents, blame society.

But in a magazine whose readership is notably adults, don't expect that to happen any time soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Age Discrimination

The real story of Colin Carlson is with his talent and ambitions, and no doubt remains to be written. At thirteen, he's pursuing two degrees at a university level, and plans on going for Ph.D.'s in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as a degree in environmental law all by the time he's 22. And just like all trailblazers, he's already running into some tough opposition.

UConn, his school, has rejected his request to take a course which includes travel to South Africa as part of it's summer field work requirement. Though he's qualified in every way, and no one doubts he couldn't hold his own on site with the other students, it's his age that's holding him back. Now he's claiming he's being discriminated against because of his age. And though he doesn't want to have to fight for this opportunity, he's determined to see it through:

"When people are drawing lines in the sand, you're going to have to cross them," he said. "I'm not going back."

Of course he's talking about the arbitrary age limits that are encroaching on his ambitions. Now obviously most ordinary students aren't placed into the position that Colin is, and extraordinary young people are inevitably going to face the adult-defined legal restrictions, but even more ordinary students face many unnecessary legal restrictions on a daily basis. And even when legal restrictions are waivered (as his mother has offered to chaperone his voyage as well as sign away all the university's liability for him), extraordinary youths seem to inevitably run into adult thickheadedness. Obviously nobody wants to restrict a young person pursuing their goals, so long as those goals are along a preset scale of expectations.

Let's hope, however this turns out, that Colin gets to go to South Africa.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

School Lunches: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The inedible school lunch is one of the most recognizable jokes in our culture, and yet it remains largely forgotten about by mainstream society despite the fact that kids have been cringing for decades. And it's easy to forget, because after all, those making the decisions (the adults) aren't the ones who will be staring down those endless trays of spongy pizzas, mystery meats, and soggy greens day in and day out.

But one teacher is working to change putting those lunches in the face of adults everyday for a change. Mrs. Q over on The School Lunch Project blog has committed to eating school lunches every day and posting her experiences with pictures. The results? Some good, some bad, some ugly.

But think for a moment, how would you feel, as an adult, having to eat this food every day of your life? Or maybe you're still in school and actually do. Mrs. Q adds extensive commentary and analysis on this issue, and obviously the school lunch issue is very complex, but I'll attempt to simplify the basic reason why nothing much is changing:

1. Nutritious = expensive... Tostitos = cheap
2. Good food = costly to prepare... Cheap food = easy to prepare
3. Bad tasting = well... adults don't have to eat it.

A better alternative? Make sure you check out this post where our brave teacher lays out a few guidelines on how to make school lunches better.

This is why I brown-bagged it for 12 years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I've Been Quoted!

Once you've spilled a lot of e-ink, you begin noticing yourself popping up in very interesting places you never thought you'd be. Let me just say I'm flattered to have been quoted in the "review section" at the official site for Dr. Robert Epstein's new book, Teen 2.0: Saving our Children and Families from the Torture of Adolescence, from a post I made to this blog over two years ago concerning Epstein's research on the adolescent mind and an earlier edition. Since that time, I've kept a link to the Epstein-Dumas Test of Adultness up, which you can take online, because I find the research to be a fascinating glimpse behind the myth of adolescence.

Unlike many researchers writing about teenagers these days, Epstein uses the word "torture" to mean the forces that unnecessarily restrict and infantilize young people rather than using it to mean the old storm and stress model often used to justify more controls. Also unlike many of his contemporaries who focus on the differences between adults and adolescents, he's done a great deal to promote the message that they're really not all that much different and that most of the restrictions against them are not only culturally based and unnecessary, but in some cases can be dangerous to their development.

In anticipation of this book, it's also fascinating to peruse some of the reviewers also included on that page, particularly the words of Newt Gingrich, who has in the past come out in support of "ending" adolescence.

“Adolescence was invented in the nineteenth century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in human history..."

If you're unfamiliar with Epstein's work, I invite you to check out his website or view this blog post of mine. In the meantime, Teen 2.0 is set to be released on April 14, 2010, which happens to be National Youth Rights Day--talk about a fit scheduling.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I was waiting for the dust to settle on this case because it's literally so earth-shattering that I didn't want to find myself jumping the gun (as I've done numerous times before). If you haven't heard about the case of the student class-action lawsuit against the PA Lower Merion School District, one so big it's been given it's own "-gate" by the media, then here's the run down.

The Lower Merion School District has been accused of spying on it's student population through webcams mounted in the district's official laptops. They're one of the first public school districts to give out laptops to their student population, but apparently didn't tell parents or students that these devices were being used to not only log everything the student writes or sees when using it, but even more disturbingly, to actually monitor what the student is doing at home while using it.

If you listen to the school department heads, they've never used the remote monitoring for any other purpose than tracking down missing or stolen laptops, but the real firestorm of controversy over this comes from a student who apparently was facing disciplinary measures for engaging in inappropriate activity at home via a screenshot they were able to obtain from his laptop's webcam. Apparently they mistook some candy on his desk to be drugs, or thought he was dealing drugs, called him down for questioning with the screen shots in hand, and that's when they broke the news to him that they'd obtained their evidence through the school-issued laptop.

Outraged, he and his parents filed a class-action suit against the school district and a judge has ordered the school department to shut down all use of its remote monitoring devices. Now the FBI is even looking into the case to see if federal wiretap or computer intrusion laws were violated. The school district admits that it's laptops came with devices used for covert monitoring, but denies any wrong doing.

Isn't this unreal? Usually inflammatory comparisons are pointless in these kinds of cases, but this one I think has every right to be compared with George Orwell's 1984, particularly the use of the Telescreens that "both acted as transmitters and receivers" and hung so innocuously in every residence. One can't help but agree with this local blogger who writes:

But if this story is at all true … holy shit. Spying on kids, in their bedrooms? What if they, you know, decide to change clothing? It's one thing to track how students use school district property — if they're visiting hardcore porn sites or whatever — it's quite another to use a webcam to monitor and capture their daily activities, outside of school, in the supposed privacy of their own homes...

This person goes on to say, "I can't imagine a more asinine invasion of students' privacy." And neither can I. And certainly this writer has some interesting thoughts on the issue as well that ring true:

Schools are in an absolute panic about kids divulging too much online, worried about pedos and marketers and embarrassing photos that will haunt you when you run for office or apply for a job in 10 years. They tell kids to treat their personal details as though they were precious. [The only message they're sending kids is] your privacy is worthless and you shouldn't try to protect it.

My thoughts exactly. Regardless of how this case turns out in the end, the very idea that school districts thought they could get away with this strikes a pretty powerful chord at the heart of exactly how far off the deep end society is heading in the pursuit of keeping kids safe or out of trouble. They've begun to act like the very threat they're supposedly trying to shelter the kids from. When you think of people watching your child online, you think of creeps who don't have your child's best interests at heart--you don't typically think of the child's school as one of them.

But maybe you should, because this isn't the only school district that seemed to be perfectly fine with this entire setup. Just last month a PBS Frontline documentary "Digital Nation" aired featuring a school administrator from the Intermediate School 339 in the Bronx bragging about his own laptop spying program (includes the video):

"They don't even realize we are watching," "I always like to mess with them and take a picture," and "9 times out of 10, they duck out of the way." He says the students "use it like it's a mirror" and he watches. He says 6th and 7th graders have their cameras activated.

Now obviously this program seemed to be more about keeping students on task while inside of school--which I don't see much a problem with. While inside of school, using a school-issued laptop, the school has every right to monitor whether the kids are using them appropriately. What's disturbing here is that any mention of the students' privacy concerns are completely absent from the documentary. What happens when they take their laptops home? I am not the only one creeped out at the thought of some guy, a school administrator no less, leering at 6th graders over a laptop webcam mount. Once again, Cory over at Boing Boing gives a final, chilling word on the obvious double-standard at play here:

What kind of educator thinks that this is a good practice? Certainly no teacher's union I know would put up with principals and administrators putting this kind of surveillance into their lives.

I don't know for sure, but I have a suspicion that being a kid today would absolutely suck.

Remotely tapping into a computer to use its hardware to take videos, pictures or record audio is in fact wiretapping -- even if the computer is government owned. I am sure that many parents would not consent to the use of such laptops at home if they were made aware of the ability to carry out such monitoring. I certainly would not consent to usage of a laptop by my own child in my own home under those conditions if I had a kid--which is unfortunate, because a laptop can be a vital resource for many students.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lego Guns are Lethal

Although this article doesn't give the school's rationale for nearly suspending a boy for bringing in Lego gun, on the surface it sounds like the perfect argument against Zero Tolerance. It's a non-issue, because the kid didn't actually end up facing any disciplinary actions (as far as we know), but in this day in age, that's more like saying the kid got lucky.

It takes a leap of faith to believe anyone would lack so much common sense as to go as far as suspending the kid over simply bringing the two-inch toy in... now if he was going around pointing it at other students and saying "bang you're dead" or something, then we'd have some reason to go on, but this article seems to go out of its way to present him as a typical kid who became a victim of circumstances, and I have no doubts that he's anything but.

In any likelihood, the parents are probably even more to blame for bringing this to the attention of the press over this momentary lack of common sense on the school's part. It seems to have been quickly corrected. Who's really making this an issue here? And if you still believe sanity exists in this world, you could argue that maybe he was causing such a disturbance that such a move was necessary for another reason entirely, but that would take some faith in the sanity of Zero Tolerance.

All I can say is, suspending and expelling all the little Lego gun carriers in the country isn't going to stop school shooters.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ban Dictionaries Over Sex Term?

So perhaps my last post on the difference between delusional threats and actual threats to kids was a bit vague. One only has to look around to find concrete examples of delusional threats that have even whole school systems up in arms.

Take for example this chestnut. A school system has decided to ban the Meriam-Wesbster's Collegiate Dictionary 10th Ed. from all of it's schools based on the complaint of one parent whose child came across the word "oral sex." Rather than teach the child what it is and let that be that, all the books have to be carried away to protect the kids from the unquestionable harm that can only result when a pair of eighth-grade eyes stumble onto words adults haven't deemed suitable for them to be gazing upon.

The cold, clinical--totally non-provocative definition went a little something like this: "oral stimulation of the genital." And that's not all, apparently, Assistant Superintendent Karen Valdes found a number of other words in the dictionary that are not "age appropriate." It seems, so-called "age appropriateness" has become a new reason to censor information.

Isn't it funny that the very same dictionary that houses such words as "rape" and "murder" is being banned because of a word like "oral sex?" Seriously, what does "age appropriate words" even mean? If you're going on sheer grotesqueness as the reason for the ban, you could probably come up with worse than "oral sex." But that's the fickle adult mind for you.

Update: common sense reigned in and the ban has been lifted.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping Kids Safe

We tell children not to fear the dark because the world is really no different in the dark than it is in the light, and that the difference is only in their head. Whether or not this keeps kids from seeing predators in the dark where they aren’t, it helps them set aside the illusions from reality and deal with each as it is necessary.

Yet how often have you heard how we have to do "anything to keep our children safe" and been hung up on that word "anything?" Is anything justifiable so long as it promotes the cause of keeping children safe? Are children always left unharmed by anything that justifies itself on the pretense that it keeps them safe? Does harm itself become a part of that anything, or is the cause of keeping children safe more important than actually keeping individual children safe?

This is something I've given a lot of thought over the years, and I've come to a rather radical solution for how to keep both kids safe and our collective sanity:

If a threat to children is imaginary, deal with it as an imaginary threat, and if it is an actual concern, deal with it as an actual concern. It sounds reasonable doesn't it? Yet how often have we heard about everything from yo-yo's to play gyms getting put up on the same level as child rapists and kidnappers in some kind of flavor-of-the-month variety (along with whatever is popular among the youth, regardless of what it is)? Sometimes it's as if we're totally unsure what really is a threat to kids and what "can be." In reality, anything can be a threat, especially what we wouldn't expect, but is that any reason to loose good sense and deprive the kids whatever dignity they have left as a means to protect them from yet another one of our delusions? The world is not made of light and shadow, so it often is difficult to tell where realities end and illusions begin.

The question starts at the border between what is real and what is an illusion. An adult can expend great deal of time building an artificial fence and come away thinking that by doing so they are personally involved in looking out for the child’s best interests, regardless of how much of their personal responsibility is being divested to a device. Likewise, an adult can stand there administering a child’s behavioral medications thinking that by doing so they are taking an active role in educating that child about how to control their impulses; hold the leash and think they are instructing the child to not wander; program the television’s parental settings and think they are educating their children about the nature of the so-called objectionable content; serve food products with health labels plastered all over them and nothing organic in them and think they are fostering their children’s health; tag their children with GPS technology like cattle and think they are keeping their children out of harm’s way; block websites and limit their children's online usage and think they're teaching their kids how to use it responsibly;

Indeed, adults can actively do many things, purchase many goods and services, divest responsibility, all under the illusion that in doing so they are being good parents, but in reality only end up buying peace of mind for themselves and subjugation for the children. That is line between illusion and reality, it costs only the money the parent can afford to spend but its effects include a fearful society and sure financial gain for those who can manipulate the world inside the fence.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Risk Taking Matures Teen Brains

New research into how teen brains mature is blowing the lid off the age old myth that the teen brain is naturally immature and susceptible to turmoil. In fact, what we know as that so-called inevitable period of storm and stress is virtually unknown outside of the west and modernized world. According to a Scientific American article, over 100 cultures around the world exist devoid of the angst, depression, and so-called "moodiness" that forms our stereotypes about adolescence here.

Now a study by neuroscientist Gregory S. Berns and his colleagues at Emory University adds a new wrinkle to the gray matter findings, reporting that teens who are risk takers and drug users actually appear to have a more developed brain than their conservative peers.

This should only be a shock to those who believe teens should be locked into the cage of childhood until they attain majority status. It's really no surprise that if teens are actually put into situations where they have to use their brains as adults, that those brains are going to show more maturity than the supposedly "hard-wired" immature brains of the kids under city lock down.

Other researchers have found a connection between increased white matter and reduced impulsivity, Steinberg explains, which could mean a reduced likelihood of risk taking—the opposite of the Berns finding.

For those who don't know, white matter is the areas on the inside composed mainly of neuron connections and is useful for sending messages back and forth between areas of gray matter, which are typically on the surfaces of the brain where the major activity generates. The idea is that as individuals develop and form new experiences, they form connections in their brains that progress their overall intellect.

Nurture influences nature in this instance. Increased white matter would be a result of teens being exposed to more experiences, and it's then not a major stretch to conclude that having experienced more mature situations would decrease impulsivity as well. It's also no surprise that teens who can't do anything but sit around are going to be less mature, more risk-taking, and ultimately less satisfied with their lives (leading to angst, depression...etc.).

In less modernized countries, young people are heavily relied upon, here they are mostly infantilized. They don't need to be taking drugs to mature their brains, they just need a less paranoid society that's willing to grant them more adult rights and responsibilities.

A lot of our conceptions of childhood originated out of philosophical treatises on the subject that have little basis in modern developmental science. It was just assumed that young people are incapable of various adult things because the world was and still is very adult-centric. Back then they didn't understand that it's not that youth are incapable of adult things, it's that they are capable of doing developmentally appropriate things.

With recent developments like this, it may one day begin to change.