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Parents should watch this case with interest because, while it is unusual to see allegations of this nature, being made against woman who is so young in Ireland, it is certainly not unique elsewhere. In fact, this type of offence being perpetrated by females, appears to becoming more and more common in other countries such as the UK and the US.
The very thought that a young woman could commit a sexual offence on a child, is an uncomfortable one. However, female sex offenders do exist. This is not something new. It is important to ask whether, are we are now only just becoming more aware this occurs, or is it now on the rise. Certainly the number of females who have committed similar offences reported in news media outlets, appear to be increasing. In the UK and the US, we have seen over 20 female teachers in the last two years charged, or convicted with a sexual offence involving a minor in the school where they taught.
While no one can definitively state a reason female teachers would engage in this behaviour, we do have a concern about an influence the online world may play. There has been an enormous increase in the accessibility of pornography. The over use and consumption of pornography, has well established links with sexual deviancy. We are also seeing boundaries breaking down. Figures of authority, such as young teachers, have a very prominent online presence on social media. Most young people do. Very often their profiles are fully accessible, which allows students not only to connect with their teachers, but also communicate with them in a way never before possible.
In an online world, relationships develop quickly, far faster than they would in the real world. This is mainly due to our need to fill in the blanks, when we are engaging with someone online. Unlike the real world where we have the use of all of our senses, sight, sound, touch taste and smell, the online world can leave us with minimal information such as text. In a real world environment we have the ability to read other signs such as the body language. When deprived of this, our brain will attempt to fill in the blanks for us, as we are missing out on information we require. Our perception of a person we are communicating with in an online environment, may be completely different, were we to have the same conversation a person in the real world.
Often people are far more open online, and share information about themselves they never would to a person, they just met in person. When we share information which is personal, this encourages the other person to do the same with us. Most of you will have had the experience of a friend entrusting something personal to you, once you receive this information, sometimes we then feel the need to entrust them, with something we consider personal to us. Relationships and trust, can develop very quickly from this type of open exchanges.
In an online world, we are also fully in control of what information we choose to share. Therefore, our perception of a person is limited. Based only on what we can gather from the selective information, which has been shared with us. How we conceptualize this information will influence your decision making process, when deciding on how you should interact with them. The ability to control what information you share, literally allows you to be anyone you want to be online. The persona created may be anything but, who the person is in real life. our perception of the individual we create can be the total opposite of who the person actually is in real life.
In 2017, a University of Swansea Study found that it took less than 20 minutes to groom a child online. Adults are as susceptible to grooming as children. Once an online connection is made, relationships can progress very quickly. Sexting among young people has reached a point of almost no return some time ago. This has become an acceptable part of the relationship building phase. We have been surprised by the number of both male and female students claiming, the other sex are worse for sharing unsolicited images to each other. As this behaviour becomes more of a social norm, where does it leave the real world introduction of relationships? What risks are there for those who see this as a normal behaviour?
Boundaries are being excessively crossed. It is a harsh reality, adults are exchanging explicit images with adults, children are exchanging explicit images with other children, and some adults and children will end up sharing explicit images with each other. The sending of unsolicited explicit sexual imagery is more common than most parents know. In fact parents would be astonished how normalised this has become. Many children are just casually deleting images without even a thought, or letting parents know they are receiving these images. Teachers receiving an unsolicited image like this from a student, may also delete the image rather than report it, for fear a claim might be made they had sought the unsolicited image.
We now are, where we are. Our opportunity, to right this ship before heading in to these seas, have passed. Instead, we must now prepare for what lies ahead. The matter brought before the court this week, was shocking. Unfortunately, it will be the first of many to come, of that you should have no doubt. These cases are becoming increasingly common in other jurisdictions. The common denominator in all of them, is the online contact between student and teacher. The influence of pornography and the exchange of sexualized imagery.
This has now landed firmly on our doorstep. As a society, we very quickly need to ask ourselves, what if anything we can to do address such a serious matter. Do we march rapidly in the footsteps of the UK, Canada and the US? These are but a few of the countries, who have been attempting to address this issue for many years and are losing their battle. In Ireland, many have chosen to take the Islander approach of, “it’ll never happen here”. Well it has, and it is.
It’s time to tell those, who’s responsibility it is to protect our children, to get off your asses and begin to address this. It is beyond belief we live in a society, where we are still wondering how to address Cyberbullying, while the very moral fibre of an entire country is being cast aside. The answer will not be to throw the baby out with the bath water, rather to discover what caused these events to happen, learn from it and then try as best we can to prevent it from happening again.
This is a message which parents should heed. When the people who make these devices are so upfront about, their efforts to protect their own children from device addiction and harmful content, from a consumer point of view the manufacturer is telling us, these devices are bad for your children. For a long time, we have watched the endless parade of people spouting the familiar tale of the educational benefits of the devices. Any rationally minded person looking at children using devices, will quickly notice the content being absorbed everything but educational.
Devices are designed to be addictive. Unlike a book, once you come to the end of a page you have to you cannot proceed any further unless turn the page. This is called a Stopping Cue. Reading a Newspaper, once you reach the back page, it’s finished. However on digital devices, the eternal scroll down feature used by countless platforms, has removed Stopping Cues. This impacts a person’s ability to regulate their own self-control. How do you stop, when there is always new content, only one swipe away?
We are also impacted by the type of content. Upon seeing content you like on the device, Dopamine a hormone associated with pleasure, is released. When children are separated from their devices you sometimes see a sudden burst of rage or upset, this is being acknowledged as a form of withdrawal. The child now becomes preoccupied, about when the device will be returned to them, and will experience a feeling of anticipation. The feeling anticipation then turns to excitement, once the device is returned. Anticipation combined with the reward of Dopamine released in the body, can eventually lead in to, what is called a reward seeking behaviour, or an addiction cycle.
If the content activates an emotion like anger, sadness, displeasure or the feeling of absence from the device, hormones associated with Stress, Cortisol and Adrenaline are released in the body. It is incredibly important to understand these hormones can cause a person to feel anxious, over time this can lead to Mental Illness. We are now seeing children presenting with Anxiety Disorders in Ireland. The constant release of Cortisol and Adrenaline, which are associated with the fight or flight response, can cause physical damage to the organs of the body over time.
Chris Anderson, is the former editor of Wired. He is now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of GeekDad.com. “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centres of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
There are now a whole generation of children, who by the time they hit their twenties, will possibly have accumulated damage to their organs from the over release of Stress hormones, which has the potential to shorten their lifespan. The Addiction cycle experienced by children on their devices, works on the exact same principle as a form of drug or alcohol addiction. If children are losing their ability for self-control at a very young age, how will this impact them in later years when they are exposed to addictive substances?
The overall consensus with many Silicone Valley Tech executives, is the impact technology is having on children is overwhelmingly, a negative one. These devices were not originally designed to be child only devices. They were devices designed for adults, to be used by adults, who were targeted with programs developed to keep the adult user active on the device and the platform. The mistake we made, was we permitted children to access an adult device.
“I didn’t know what we were doing to their brains until I started to observe the symptoms and the consequences,” Mr. Anderson said. “This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids,” Mr. Anderson said. “We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about.”
John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla has an approach with his nephew that we have been using when we present to children in schools all over Ireland, “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. However Mr Lilly still faced the opposition from his own nephew we also frequently see in children, “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.’”
Knowing this it is easy to understand why “Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.” More than a few parents will have experiences the trials and tribulations of attempting to tear a child away from a device. We are not advising any parent to take an abolishment approach. However we are strongly advising the screen time is limited monitored and the content always restricted to age appropriate.
The concept of beauty is a very transient perception. One which is highly open to influence and manipulation, through mediums of TV, Movies and Magazines. The shoulder pads of the 80’s and big hairstyles did not survive the 90’s, as trends frequently come and go. Image manipulation has been around for a long time. Many top fashion magazines have been caught over the years, having featured airbrushed celebrities on their covers, to make them look thinner. The difference now however, is that the perception of what we consider as beautiful, is no longer naturally realistic or achievable. How can anyone possibly measure up against celebrities, who are not only altering their physical appearance through surgery, but also using very accessible technology to then alter their image even further in the persuit of perfection?
There has been a lot of criticism lately of the Apple’s iPhone XS, for over smoothing selfie photos. Some users complained the images were being over manipulated, producing an airbrushed version of the picture. These type of App are generally referred to as a ‘Beautification Apps’. There are countless Apps available, which are designed specifically to alter an image, by removing any unwanted features such as skin blemishes, or acne. One filter App promoted by Kyle Jenner enables users add ‘Beauty Filters’ to their Instagram images. It widens the user’s eyes, softens the skin, and creates plump fuller lips. If you wish you can even add length to eyelashes. It essentially enables the user, to look just like someone who has had surgery so extensive, she no longer even looks like herself.
We often ask children, are they the creator of their own destiny, when they create their online persona? Inevitably, almost all say yes. We try to educate both teens and parents about the how Apps work and their use of Gamification. Describing the process which is actually controlling and directing the user on popular Apps like Snapchat can leave audiences stunned. Gamification is used on many popular Apps that are used by children. It is designed to encourage user interaction by turning the App in to a game, often without the user even realising.
The Apps encourage frequent use through notifications and streaks, a little competition among Friends or Followers. The Apps use rewards like Emoji Trophies for completing certain tasks, such as take 1000 snaps using your front facing camera. As an adult reading this, if we were to offer you an Emoji and ask you to go and take a thousand pictures of yourself, undoubtedly you would say “ Are you ****ing kidding me or what?”. Yet our kids are happily doing this, all the while oblivious to the level of manipulation actually taking place.
If a child has taken one thousand pictures of themselves and over time been introduced to adding a variety of filters to alter their image in order to improve it, will the child still be satisfied with themselves when looking at an unfiltered normal regular photo. over time will the App influence their perception to the extent of now needing to add a Beauty Filter to their image, perhaps as a result of a preference now for wider eyes, smoother skin or fuller lips? Even the suggestion that a child or teen needs to make use a Beauty Filter, immediately gives the suggestion that there is something wrong with their image.
Adults have not grown up with this technology, we can’t even imagine what it is like to live in a world, where you are consistantly encouraged to alter your own image in order to make it conform to the current perception of beauty. What gives us further cause for concern, is the way Apps then encourage users to share their altered image of themselves with others. Now the user is seeking validation and feedback of an online world, where the harsh and frequent horrific judgement and comments can cause devastation to an individual’s self-esteem and concept of self-worth.
The number of young girls and boys reporting dissatisfaction with their very perception of themselves continues to increase, along with the numbers suffering from self-esteem issues, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-harm and eating disorders. The figures being reported are higher than they have ever been before. Beauty Apps, and Apps which are using psychology and gamification to condition a user to habitually alter and share their own image, will eventually create an altered idea of what the perception of beauty is.
Incredibly, when you listen to those who make millions and profit from selling their image as the one to aspire to, the Jenner/Kardashian media monster machine, even these people, who at this point must be made of more plastic than Joan Rivers, say they are not happy with their image. They are still complain constantly about what they are not happy with about themselves to a very vulnerable audience. Children are learning the negative lesson of the importance of astetics rather than ability, tallent or skill.
No child, male or female, can ever aspire to the perception of beauty held by people who no longer even look like themselves, or images which have been altered to unrealistic proportions. Children are unique, that is where their beauty lies, in their uniqueness. Who wants to live in a world with 3.2 billion internet users, who all look like Kardashian or Jenner replicates. For parents it is really important to pay attention to the image your child creates of themselves online. Be mindful of the harm caused to a child, who becomes unhappy with their own perception of their identity. All the filters and AI in the world will never improve who a person is on the inside, however it does have very powerful ability to destroy them.