Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: media

Permission To Speak Freely

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on September 2, 2016. 

It never ceases to amaze me how cautiously positive and uplifting a bunch we have to become or strive to be. Staying away from discussing politics or appearing too negative in how we discuss life in both its mundane and extraordinary details, we have learned to keep our fears, worries, doubts and occasional depressive thoughts caused by life unfolding to ourselves. We do not want to be ‘that person’.

Truth is, ‘that person’ may be the one that sees things, wants them addressed and hopefully rectified while refusing to see the silver lining as more than what it is instead of a positively embellished version that others insist on.

There was never a time when seeing things in too rosy a light was a good thing. Keeping our eyes open to what our chosen leaders are doing is a necessary and responsible thing to do if one cares about the present and future. It’s not about being combative and offensive, but engaged, willing to know what it takes for a community to run on respect, honesty, ethics and by all means putting the rights of all combined before the benefit of a few.

On more than one occasion I had people smiling an awkward smile and saying ‘let’s not get into politics, it would not be good.’ In this day and age when the corporate ghosts inhabit many of the corners of our society and influence how things are run in various sectors, media included, getting into politics and pushing towards knowing the facts and engaging in debates if needed fulfills a civic duty.

Case in point: the new climate action plan put together by the provincial government.

With no carbon tax that would see the big polluters pay, the plan itself should have gone straight back to the drawing board given that it ultimately ignored the recommendations of the climate advisory team. The big LNG dreams that the current government still believes in and wants to make a reality despite many scholars and environmentalists opposing it for logical, survival-for-all reasons, might have us taxpayers fork over significant amounts of money in order to make it happen in a more ‘sustainable’ way. Correction: will have us taxpayers ‘help’ the industry giants have it smooth and not sustain financial losses. This should be all over the news and discussed by many. It is our future after all.

In other words, the environment gets kicked and bruised, communities altered and people’s lives severely affected while a corporation and its shareholders will make a killing albeit it could be a classic boom-and-bust (fracking is not without its own perils and limitations). The documentaries Fractured Land and To The Ends of The Earth offer good understanding of the matter.) And yet, there is but a voice of two calling it how it is. How many of us are paying attention?

By now we should all be talking about the indignity of such prospects, and media outlets throughout the province should have the big topics such as site C, fracking, climate change and the much needed transition to renewable energies as part of an ongoing dialogue with the public. Unadulterated information is key to democracy. And media people should be the guardians of that information and the purveyors of facts that may not be pleasant to talk about but should not to leave aside either.

Whether polite or not, discussing real life rather than sticking to positive only topics will have to become the norm. Our lives are as real as they come and so should be our approach to keeping informed about the decisions that can alter our lives or those of generations to come.

An interesting parallel comes to mind regarding parenting and life in general. When someone asked my sons what they like about homeschooling one of the answers was that we rely upon ‘real books’ and ‘real topics’. It’s true, we keep it real. As far as I am concerned learning is never about walking the line but thinking whether there should be one in the first place.

Being politically correct may keep our conversations sanitized and our social status positive and farthest from being ‘that person’ but it will never mend anything in our society or keep us safe from corporate wantonness which often puts people, the environment and the very fabric of a society at  risk.

Having more independent media might just be the catalyst that keeps the dialogue alive by providing us with nothing but reality and plenty of opportunities to discuss and learn about the ways our society functions, the rights and wrongs, ethics and all. If we insist in truth and honesty at a personal level (I am hoping most of us do) media should keep to the same values and principles. It would be a winning case for all.

The Case of Missing Innocence – A Sequel

Last night I attended Jesse Miller‘s talk about kids and social media: the good, the bad and the ugly. As expected, ugly can get uglier with a click and Miller explained how.

The topic is as heavy as it is complicated. The recurring refrain was the one that seems to be the only viable solution, yet somehow the hardest to apply: dialogue. Children love to talk and they have a hefty amount of common sense which gets diluted with time.

If there was ever a time when parents have to hold on to their kids for dear life, I’d say this is it. The ever expansive social experiment of already gargantuan dimensions keeps on growing and the risk of losing ourselves and our children in it grows with it.

Children are barely prepared for life when they make their debut on any social media, that is a fact. Miller emphasized that. Children have the means to understand tech, they have the firing synapses that allow them to understand how the internet works and, thanks to their parents and a killer set of nag-plea-implore-till-you-get strategies, they have access to the latest in smartphone innovation.

But, they miss life experience. And it shows, sooner than expected. That’s where the parents come in. Ideally, through open dialogue that happens regularly rather than when the unthinkable happens, which is why last night’s talk took place to begin with.

Interestingly enough though, many parents commit their children to the unforgiving forces of social media very early on. The perspective offered by Miller was an eye-opener for many I hope. Parents dump folder after folder of family photos on Facebook and Instagram; instances of their children’s life milestones, from the trenches of potty training to the glamour of graduation, and everything in between.

Many children who are now tweens and teens – the high risk category for offending, are becoming offenders or victims – have had a camera pointed at them since they can remember. Miller aptly points to the obvious: What are they going to do when they are given their own device? That’s right: Click and post.

The question that is always left unanswered in my opinion is this: Why do we feel the need to share so much detail with strangers? I am challenged by the notion of friendship of Facebook, I said it before. How did we become comfortable with the idea of sharing life bits? Why do we allow hundreds of people, Facebook friends, Instagram or Twitter followers, peek at our life events while still insisting on pulling the curtains at night?

There were a handful of take home messages last night, such as:

  • Establish some good boundaries that will allow you to set a good example (no touching the phone while driving for example, no phone at the dinner table, and disconnect during family time)
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of sharing personal details with hordes of strangers (a couple of high school kids in the audience confirmed that many of their peers take photos of their driver’s license and post it online)
  • Everything (or almost everything) that one posts online stays somewhere online. Scary to think about now that so much of your life is out there? That’s the point. Privacy is no longer to be expected.

There wasn’t a lot of talking about the sensible topic of inappropriate ‘selfies’ (the word of the year in 2013, and yes feel free to cringe) which caused an uproar at the South Kamloops Secondary School, but these share the same fate with the rest of things shared: They’ll be somewhere out there long after one wishes they’ll be gone. what’s worse, they become grounds for cyber bullying, shaming and, as seen over the last few years, they can push young people to commit suicide.

A chilling fact shared by Miller last night was the high number of views Amanda Todd’s You Tube video got after she died. In the millions that is. Sadly ironic, she was trying to attract attention to her case so that bullying would stop. It didn’t, until she took her own life.

‘Trending’, another strong social media term, makes no distinction between good and bad. if it gains audience it trends. Children should not be expected to make fair judgment calls about the content they see. Social media where information, questionable or not, piles up like a hundred avalanches a day, will keep being what it is: A repository that may or may not contain your child’s life bits, photos and opinions about life.

That’s why parents need to step in and provide guidance. it’s a learning experience for parents and children, but clumsiness makes both parties endearing to each other rather than resentful, so indulge. let loose, show that you’ve never done the social media thing before but maintain the one thing every parent should: That you know more about life and that puts you not in the friend seat but the parent seat. it’s a privilege and a challenge, and believe it or not, children know it and expect it.

For now, it comes down to this: boundaries and common sense have to be there. They have no expiration date because no matter where you are in life, if you make them your allies, you’ll be on solid ground.

I left the room last night with a lot of questions, and with an enhanced perspective over an issue that has been with me for a long time now.

in 2012, following Amanda Todd’s death, I left Facebook. I did not want to be a bystander. I knew, just like I know today, that children younger then 14 are allowed on Facebook when they should not be and that is akin to allowing them to drive long before they have the skills or maturity to do so. I knew, just like I know today, that in some parts of that virtual space someone is being bullied and someone might just decide to end their life to stop their suffering and the public shaming.

More than a year after that, I made my appearance on Facebook again, with the sole intention of sharing my writing, which, I was told, might just be a shame to miss if the issue is worth sharing.

My personal page though, which I need to have in order to have an author page, has been stripped to almost nothing. I took down the few photos I shared back when I thought Facebook to be a connection tool with faraway family and friends because I find no reason to share life bits like that. Sure it takes effort and time to maintain correspondence with those who matter, but then again, such efforts are nothing but an illustration of our caring for them, and the other way around.

I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs, and I also fear that pending lack of engagement on the said platform over issues that I write about and I consider important, I might opt out again.

The thing is, there is a lack of strict boundaries that troubles me. One could argue that the plethora of social media platforms makes the denial of one almost insignificant. True. But I would like to take one of the messages from last night’s talk and solidify it: Do as you expect your children to do.

I have an open dialogue with my sons. To a fault, one could say. Yes, that close, and I am nothing but grateful for it. There is nothing we shy away from when it comes to talking and debating. To listening. I want to keep that alive: the openness, and the gratefulness attached to it.

But I also want to set boundaries that I hope will inspire my sons to think that in all the craziness of hurried, privacy-robbed times, our living space maintained enough common sense to spill into their decisions as they grow up.

One could hope.

 

 

The Case Of Missing Innocence

It happened again. The ill combination of tech devices, hormones and bad judgment, plus a lack of boundaries has a handful of students from South Kamloops Secondary School (SKSS) in Kamloops in a painful knot.

Will there be charges of child pornography laid in the latest case of inappropriate content swapping among high school students? After all, an incident in Victoria ended up with a girl being charged.

wrote before about children nowadays having unrestricted access to online pornography. And how perhaps we should heed the British PM’s proposition that internet providers install filters to prevent access. I also said that my sons are still so young that I should not be personally concerned just yet, but when the time comes I will not shy from having ‘the talk.’

The reactions then and since went from ‘It’s OK to lighten up about the issue, it is the 21st century after all…’ to ‘Yes, this is a scary reality.’ Parents of children my oldest son’s age tell me their children are far from even knowing about online pornography let alone searching for it, yet my son hints to an alternate truth. He knows because he’s in the middle of it.

Children nowadays know more than we think they do, and they are, like all children, curious. Teens and preteens get to play grown-ups too soon and too aggressively; they act like adults and make many adults cringe. Then again, truth be told, many people who have subscribed to the new best-seller Fifty Shades of Gray  believe that being liberated is a desirable attitude in today’s world. Note: I will discuss the questionable nature of such claims spurred by the book in a later post.

Tempted to ask why children hurry and open the ill Pandora’s box all too soon? Because it’s there and it’s tempting and because even if you know you’re not supposed to, peer pressure is a huge factor in tweaking will power to the dark side…

In other words, you don’t want to be the one that is not up to speed when someone asks the question… So you go and look. And learn, wrong things included, and thus the dark secrets steal innocence and widen the gap between children and adults.

So they know porn is there, they know how to access it and they are also told through sexual education sessions that sexual explorations are OK as long as precautions are taken. And explore they do, with disastrous consequences.

From accessing online pornography which paints a skewed image of real sex, to snapping and exchanging indecent photos and thus hurting fellow classmates and friends, breeding a new form of bullying and pushing some towards terrible definitive decisions, to playing ‘relationship’ before they know what a relationship entails, children are hit by the sexual liberation tsunami harder than we can imagine and the consequences are worse that we might ever hope to find solutions to.

So we know all of that. We know what they can do and we’re getting to know what’s out there in cyber space. Lots of unfiltered information that can hurt.

Though sad, stunning stories of teenage suicide caused by sexual harassment and cyber bullying, as well as of stories of indecent photo swapping are darkening the horizon, I believe there is still time to act. Not by leaving it to others to address it as they see fit, but by finding the courage to look our children in the eye and call it as it is.

Knowing the truth provides solid ground to stand on and look for solutions. Or to start brainstorming at least.

***

Fact: Children have tech devices that allows them to access a flurry of information online, pornography included.

Possible solution: If needed for communication purposes (as if) perhaps opting for the basic tech device rather than the latest model. With explanations as to why that is. Though they may pout, all children appreciate being taken care of and feel safe when they know boundaries are in place.

Fact: The said tech devices nowadays have cameras. Taking inappropriate photos just for fun is a mistake but it is not a deadly mistake. Or is it?

Solution: The explanation that any kind of indecent photo of anyone under the age of 16 that is sent, received or traded means possession and/or trafficking of child pornography and any association with such photos could lead to criminal charges. Which makes possession or swapping of inappropriate photos a deadly mistake.

***

A certain expected disconnect between parents and their growing children has always been there, but we’re witnessing an all-new, all-engulfing generational gap nowadays. It’s a social experiment with no precedent and while we often hear of parents and children bonding over electronic games played on the family console, many of those kids will be sucked into the dark reality of playing naughty.

To that, no amount of talks at school or media awareness campaigns will help if the parents do not step up to the new, granted, overfull plate and have ‘the talk(s).’

Innocence lost is a crushingly sad reality. It is what my son wonders about. If we adults let our children be robbed of it so easily, how can they be expected to hold onto it? Most children are too young to even know that such things exist, let alone understand the wrongness of the crime once they are exposed to it.

Not taking the proverbial bull by the horns in this situation is akin to leaving our children in harm’s way hoping they will not be harmed simply because we’ve been imbued with too many happy ending scenarios along the way.

Life is real and we cannot eschew ourselves from any reality that comes our way. ‘Head in the sand’ leaves the rest exposed, and that includes the children we cradle so dearly to our hearts. No ‘I’m sorry’ can ever make up for it. Because there is no going back.

Which is why the time to act is now and not a second later.

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