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Friday April 12, 2013
Stop turning a blind eye to what your kid is capable of

Another young girl, full of potential, hope, and longing for a future that never came, is dead. It’s a shocking story to hear – a young woman is raped, humiliated, shamed and the boys, who were all known, escape any sort of punishment.

The story has captured global attention – Rehtaeh Parsons was raped by four boys who then posted and sent the picture of her assault around to her peers. This was a form of “sexting” – sending explicit photos and videos to others via social media, email and mobile phones.

Rehtaeh’s story still shocks us – and in an attempt to make sure we can feel that this would never happen to us we immediately begin to wonder about the parents. “Where were the parents in all this!?” is the most commonly asked question in the comments left in the many forums discussing the tragedy. As parents we think – our children would never be involved in that. I know what my kids are doing. And they are good kids. Yet, precisely because we want to be good parents raising good kids, we have to get better at asking the right questions about how our kids see the world and the people in it.

The children of the 21st century are coming of age in a time where the concept of how we communicate is radically different from even 20 years prior. Your most technologically savvy 30 year old will not have the same intuitive grasp of technology as a 10 year old currently has.  So we need to work with youth in the context of the environment that they have been raised in – one of rapid fire communications, an ability to manipulate multiple forms of technology simultaneously, a complete oblivion to the concept or need for privacy, a sense of collective sharing of information, and a feeling that disclosure is in and of itself valuable – regardless of the content.

Parents need to know that their kids are going to be much better at hiding stuff from them than parents are at finding it. So what we need to be doing – all of us, including parents, siblings educators, youth workers, counselors and peers – is having much more explicit and sophisticated conversations with our kids. We are no longer living in times of “what did you do in school today?” We need to be asking about our kid’s technology habits (what apps do you have on your phone? How many facebook accounts do you have? When you take pics with your phone where do you post them?), their friends (who do you hang out with at lunch time? When you have to pick a partner for a project, how do you pick?), their out-of-school habits (when you go to parties is there weed and alcohol? Is there a boy/girl that you like that doesn’t like you back?). These questions shouldn’t feel tough – they need to be part of the everyday conversations you are having with the kids in your life.

We live in an age of over-sharing. As a youth worker for over a decade I learned the most about my charges by just asking them. When working with their parents who would express dismay to me about how little they knew about their children’s lives, I was often just as dismayed at how infrequently they actually asked their children about their lives.

This is a much longer discussion. We need to be talking about empathy, about sexual behaviour, and about the use of technology in much more frank ways than we are currently doing. And as parents, we need to believe that our children are just as capable as being the perpetrator as they are the victim if we are going to get serious about doing something about bullying.

 Michelle Dagnino works for and with young people in all the different spaces they occupy – school, work and home. As a former youth worker, Michelle spent years getting to understand how youth click, and how to talk to them so that they listen. She is a (young!) mom of 2, senior engagement consultant with Lura Consulting and Executive Director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre.


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Are you interested in engaging youth? Visit my website: www.michelledagnino.com for resources and seminar information on how to connect with youth.

As a social entrepreneur, author, speaker and consultant, Michelle works with individuals and organizations across the country and internationally to educate, inspire change and create educational and outreach programs that support the community.

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