Planet Earth vs. Cyperspace
How could the parents of the two young men who killed so many of their classmates and one of their teachers at Columbine High School have been so ignorant of what their children were thinking and doing? To this observer, anyway, the answer is pretty simple: the parents were living on Planet Earth and those two boys were living in unmonitored Cyberspace.
The mention of Cyberspace might suggest that this breakdown in parent-child communications is a new-age problem. Actually, it began with Cain and Abel. But closer to home is an example stemming from the great wave of European immigrants who came to the United States in the latter half of the 19th Century.
Back then, whatever Papa and Mama said was law. Actually, Papa was just the enforcer of the mores, ethics and standards as prescribed by Mama who, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic or Jew, had a firm fix on the difference between right and wrong. Many of the immigrant families saw America as that “city upon a hill” and they intended to make a better life for themselves and their children – a better life befitting that shining city.
While most parents and all the children set themselves to the task of learning English, for the older immigrants learning a new language was very difficult. For their children, learning English was, well, child’s play. While the children’s quick grasp of English made them of great value to their parents, that greater value also empowered the children in ways that had both positive and negative consequences.
On the positive side, the English-speaking children became able interpreter-translators for their parents. But knowledge is power and having the power to interpret their new surroundings to their parents made the non English-speaking parents seem less omnipotent.
Moreover, as the children were exposed to the more liberal and permissive mores and standards of American Culture, the children began to question the mores and standards of their “Old World” parents. Thus began the gradual breakdown of the traditional family leading us to where we are today with far too many children being born out of wedlock, being aborted, abandoned, hooked on drugs or alcohol and living wasted lives.
At the end of the 20th Century, the need for effective communications between parent and child is a critical as ever. But parents need to be aware of a new menace to parent-child communications. It’s called the Internet. Today’s parents who don’t understand computers and the Internet stand in the same place as the immigrant parents who wouldn’t or couldn’t learn English.
While the Internet can be a wonderful instrument for good, it is also infested with some of the sickest minds and thinking the world has ever known. Without parental knowledge, a child’s innocence can be shattered because children can see photos and text detailing savage violence and sexual practices beyond imagination with just the click of a mouse. What good are motion-picture rating systems or parental rules on TV viewing when a mouse click can outflank a world of parental good intentions?
Today’s wise parents need to be computer literate or at least have enough understanding of the dangers of the Internet to make sure their children are protected from these purveyors of filth, evil and discord.
Fortunately, there is help. Parents can install Internet service providers such as Mayberry, USA or Squeaky-Clean or Clean-Up on the home computer. These services attempt to screen out the bad, the vile and the ugly while permitting Internet access to the good, the decent and the informative. Check out www.mbusa.net or www.squeaky-clean.net or www.clean-up.net.
When parent and child do not share the same language, be it English or Computer, and unfiltered Internet evil is allowed to penetrate the home, the seeds of parent-child separation and alienation are sown. School violence is just one of the crops.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a former professor of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.