Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Role of Parenting in Modern Mass Shootings

Whenever I'm faced with a situation, I try to approach it analytically and with a critical eye. I take the available information that I have, stand it against any presumptions or assumptions I might make to the contrary, and do my best to find the solution or truth somewhere in the middle ground. I trust my gut instincts rather than my emotions--employ logic and reason wherever possible.

With regards to the latest school shootings and the consequent rash of reaction on social media, I feel compelled to take the same approach in examining the issue. Scientific inquiry oftentimes necessitates the use of both constants and variables to determine the underlying cause or nature of a situation. By employing that approach with the school shootings, we can reach the following conclusions:

Education and school buildings along with student bodies represent a constant; we have had them on our soil well before we even became a nation.

Firearms and firearm ownership are also constants; these too have been guaranteed in our Constitution and have been a part of the fabric of American culture since our country's inception.

The variable, then, as I see it, is society itself--the mores and purviews that inform us, collectively, and the parenting that informs our children, specifically.

My point is that, for the past 242 years, we have had guns, we have had kids in schools, and yet, historically, we have not had drastically high numbers of incidents bringing those two things together. If anything, the very notion didn't jump into the collective conscience until the Columbine shooting happened--an integral moment in our societal evolution as the rise of the Internet and eventually social media was beginning to build steam.

If schools and gun ownership have remained the same, then what has changed? To me, it's obvious: our society itself is what is leading to these horrific atrocities. And, really, should that come as a surprise to anyone with two brain cells to rub together?

Look at the way modern life occurs versus merely twenty years ago. Back then, you would get bullied IN school by the SCHOOL bully. You would come home and find refuge. You might even talk to your parents/siblings/friends about it but, largely, it remained a geographically bound issue: once you left the school grounds, you were free to recover from the mistreatment and figure out how to cope with it.

Now? The most insidious abuse occurs OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL ON TOP OF whatever bullying is going on within the school's walls. Modern children (CHILDREN, for Christ's sake!) spend a great deal of their time on social media--whether it's Snapchat or Instagram--Facebook or Twitter--they exist largely in a world that caters to the cowardly--people who are emboldened by anonymity or at the very least the physical distance that the Internet realm provides them. These modern children are ill-equipped to deal with the responsibility of inhabiting such a realm (and it IS a responsibility--too many parents fail to recognize that) and, as a result of their lack of coping skills, they find themselves filled with rage and sorrow and no constructive way to expel the emotions that haunt them everywhere they go.

But I don't blame the kids--not in the least; after all, they merely learn from us. Look around you the next time you go out to eat at a restaurant. Take note of how many families are at a table together and how many screens are lit up. Children--hell, toddlers and INFANTS--sit there with devices shoved in front of their faces. They are completely disengaged not just from the conversation but from reality around them.

And who's fault is that?

It's the same damn people who do the same damn thing! The reason so many parents think nothing of how much time their kids spend on devices that are turning their brains into pudding is because they, themselves, think nothing of spending their own time doing the same thing. There is NO reason that a child should be sitting at a dinner table with a fucking iPad or iPhone watching videos, playing games, or otherwise being detached from their lives.

The reason it happens is at once obvious and appalling: it's a cop out--the easy thing to do. Our collective attention spans are approaching zero as are our levels of patience and abilities to cope with negative situations. These parents don't want to be bothered with expending the additional energy required to corral their kids when they're out to eat or, worse, to find more constructive ways to get their kids to do what they want them to do at home (do you have any idea how many times I've heard, "Oh, I don't know how you do it! So and so just refuses to eat dinner without his/her iPad!"


Are you fucking kidding me?

You're a goddamn parent! It's your RESPONSIBILITY to parent your child, whether you like it or not and whether you want that responsibility or not. I cringe every time I hear someone say shit like that--things like, "I have no choice," "(s)he won't let me," "they just don't listen." Who the fuck is in charge here!? Is it the kids or is it the adults?

You know how often you'll see my kids playing on my phone at the supermarket? At a restaurant? In the car? Entertaining them with electronics--appeasing their appetites for virtual distractions?

Never (or as close to it as possible). I don't allow it. I won't allow it because, in my eyes, I can't allow it; the consequences of so seemingly simple and innocuous an action are so far reaching that most people can't even fathom the ripple effect.

And guess what: my kids survive just fine. No tantrums--no whining. Hell, they don't even ask! In fact, if they DO ask, I remind them of the importance of self-control, discipline, and entertaining themselves rather than allowing a device to do it for them.

Do you know why it works? It's not magic, I assure you. It's the fact that I am unequivocally, unquestionably, in charge. It's undeniably still a democracy--they have voices and are encouraged to speak up, respectfully, when they have opinions on things--but, ultimately, I don't give them even the slightest opportunity to think that they run the show. I rule with an iron fist that can be as soft as velvet or as strong as steel but, above all things, one that is consistent.

That really is the key to all of it: consistency. My kids know what to expect from me every time we go out somewhere (or really in most situations in general). There's no wiggle room--no gray area. There's no "suddenly THIS time it's okay to play on daddy's phone but then the next time it's not okay." It might seem counterintuitive to folks who are afraid to step up and be hard on their kids (though, in truth, it's not being hard at all--it's doing what you're supposed to be doing) but children actually thrive when they have structure like that, even if it diminishes their perceived happiness.

I know this not just from parenting but from teaching too. I was lucky enough to teach in a school that had its student body representing the absolute worst, most dangerous areas of New York City. My classroom was filled with kids who were in gangs, who found themselves routinely suspended for fighting and otherwise engaging in violence. I treated every one of those kids the same way and, for the most part, they excelled. I had the toughest kids confide in me--ones who terrified their schoolmates simply by looking at them coming up and giving me pounds and high fives in the hallway.

How did I do this? By having high expectations for them, strict rules for them to follow, and the belief in them that they would be able to achieve the former AND honor and follow the latter. Did it work for every kid? Of course not--but the results that I did enjoy were remarkably encouraging.

With parenting, the percentage of success is even higher because, well, they're your kids! You spend far more time with them and both of you are far more invested in the circumstances and relationship because of your filial bond. The problem though is that you actually have to be hard on them AND consistent.

Nowadays, though, everyone takes the easy way out with things because damn near everything has lost its value. When I was in high school, very few people that I hung out with had beepers let alone cell phones. We would make plans at the beginning of the week for the weekend--arranging a meet up at the movies or the mall or even just at someone's house. Do you have any idea how low the rate of canceling was back then? It's so disconcerting to compare making plans back then with doing so today.

I love everyone that I have in my life and I truly enjoy spending time with them. With that said, the vast majority of people outside of my very, very small circle of closest friends are absolutely AWFUL with following through on plans. I'm not exaggerating when I say that out of the last FIFTY times I engaged in the process of making plans with people--meaning individual "let's meet up and do this at this place at this time" plans--I successfully met up with those people fewer than a dozen times. That means that fewer than one in every four conversations actually resulted in a get together.

Many times it's people bailing at the last minute but far too often it's a text/online conversation that goes almost exactly like this:

Me: "Hey! Good to see you!"
Them: "Hey, absolutely! How are you? We should totally get together sometime."
Me: "Definitely. When are you free?"
Them: ::gives availability::
Me: "Great--I'm free on all of those days. Just let me know which one works for you and I'll be there!"
Them: ::silence::

Maybe it's just me but I think that the higher likelihood lies with the way people interact with each other, especially online. Such little value is placed upon conversations and interactions because there are just simply so damn many of them. We say things we don't mean "Let's get together!" knowing that we can easily either forget about or actively dismiss them without much consequence, if only because, again, it happens so many times!

People's impulse control has diminished severely since the advent of social media; it's all about instant gratification with an emphasis upon whatever makes us happy, regardless of anyone else's feelings. People bail on plans with disheartening frequency, frankly, because they found something else that is more appealing to them. There's no honor anymore--no sticking with your word because, well, no one else does either. Plus, online interaction has become a surrogate for actual physical interaction (having a "conversation" on Facebook amounts to the same thing as spending time with someone in person).

Twenty years ago, AOL was still nascent and other online means of communicating weren't even available. If you wanted to interact with people, you really had two options: get together in person or speak on the phone. Some folks might equate the latter with social media due to the geographical separation but there is a glaring, undeniable difference between having an actual, physical conversation over the phone and even just texting: you have access to real-time emotional reactions. If you say something hurtful (or happifying--it doesn't have to be all gloom and doom), you're not only privy to the immediate impact of those words--you're responsible for the consequences at that exact moment!

These younger generations--the ones who are shooting up schools and crying out for help--are growing up in an environment that offers very little meaningful development. They're told or shown literally from their infancy to find meaning/entertainment/anything online rather than being encouraged to explore the actual world on their own. Kids in 2018 watch OTHER kids opening and playing with fucking toys as a form of entertainment.

Please--let that sink in for a minute.

How utterly, abjectly pathetic is that? I'll bet you many people don't see anything wrong with it though! Never even gave it a second thought!

"What's the harm?" they'll ask.


The harm is that these kids are being taught to value things of absolutely no importance whatsoever--to prioritize these little bite-sized morsels of fast food existence that will sate them just long enough to pursue the next one. They're not being encouraged to use their OWN imaginations--to ask questions about the world and to seek their answers. They're not being told, tacitly or otherwise, that their parents or society as a whole believes that they can do things for themselves but rather that they should be watching others do those things...and somehow they're supposed to be fulfilled by this?

Give me a break.

People are so out of touch with themselves let alone their kids or other people in general that it feels like life has become a lost, meaningless cause. They are unwilling to expend the effort--to take the difficult road not even purely for the sake of the experience it will be provide but the very tangible, tactile results and rewards that such a course provides. They are failing their own children and failing themselves in equal measures by not stepping up to the plate and actually parenting them--engaging with them in real time, in actual space.

Encourage your kids to spend quality time with people in person and to stop wasting their lives on Snapchat, Instagram, and whatever other dozen social media outlets they're spreading themselves across. Stop acting like your hands are tied--like controlling your children (whether they're toddlers, teenagers, or anything in between) is an impossibility or, worse, is someone else's job. Stop seeking sympathy because your kids don't listen to you when your absentee parenting don't merit their damn respect in the first place!

You want these kids to stop picking up guns? Have them put their fucking devices down first and stop spending so much time online. Then, give them the structure and the support that they'll need to navigate this crazy cesspool mindfuck of a society that we have created for themselves. Don't worry about fucking your kids up--about them not liking you or about you being their friend. Be their parent first. Show them what leadership looks like--give them something to aspire to. Embody the change that you want to see in them--in society at large.

There is absolutely no reason that an elementary school or even junior high school child should have unfettered, unsupervised access not just to a device like a smartphone or tablet but specifically to apps that encourage negative communication and emboldens keyboard cowards. These kids do not have the mental faculties and emotional maturity to navigate the turbid waters that social media presences represent. There is something about things like Facebook and the like that excites the darkest, most primal, primeval aspects of ourselves. We've proven in the past two years that most ADULTS don't even have the self-control to use these things properly and we're somehow expecting that children--particularly hormone-riddled adolescents--are supposed to figure it out for themselves?

Bullshit! If more parents demonstrated not just an interest but an actual presence in their kids' lives--in ALL aspects, particularly online--then so many more of the warnings signs that are out there would be picked up upon! You're not being intrusive by demanding to look at what your kid is doing online--to see how they're interacting with others through social media nor are you being cruel or antediluvian by outright denying them access to those things. What you're being is a good goddamn parent--one who not only cares about YOUR child but all those with whom they interact, by association.

How else can you explain things like the following:

"An American Airlines employee saved two young girls from getting on a plane to meet someone who authorities suspect is an online predator. The girls, 15 and 17, hoped to travel from Sacramento to New York to go spend time with a man named “Drey” they met on Instagram, KOVR-TV reported."

Social media isn't inherently evil nor are the devices that we access them from. The problem of course is the way in which we use these things and the lack of importance that we place upon regulating them within our own households. Too many people are allowing their children to use these things in a decidedly adult manner, oblivious to the responsibilities that are inherent in maintaining an online existence. There's no oversight--no authority other than that which is formed within those virtual communities and conversations.

It's like a modern, digital version of Lord of the Flies. No matter how mature our kids might seem to us, they're still children and as such they need not only our love and support but our guidance and structure too. They need to learn from us what matters, truly, in life and what should be relegated to leisure time and entertainment. We have to hold not only our kids accountable (that's a separate issue entirely--this pandemic of "not my kid" mentalities that shirk responsibility and onus ownership) but ourselves for the consequences of our inactions.

If we all made ourselves aware of what was going on in our kids' lives beyond what we can see--whether that means peering into their virtual realms or simply encouraging them to discuss the aspects of our lives that we are not readily privy to--then maybe we could solve many of the issues that could potentially lead to tragedies like the ones we've seen. You're never too busy to take an active interest in your child's life no matter what you do. Turning a blind eye or failing to expend the effort to know--REALLY know--what is going on inside of their hearts and minds (let alone their phones)--is an active choice.

We need to start making better ones if we expect to see any real change in these horrible events.