The suicide a few days ago of 12-year-old Carson Cleland in British Columbia due to sexploitation, brings up the memory of Amanda Todd, 15, who committed suicide in a similar tragedy in 2012. The two cases highlight the dangers for some young people in this internet age.
Police say sextortion is a type of extortion usually targeting teenagers. Typically, the perpetrator befriends youths online and eventually persuades them to send a revealing photo or video. The perpetrator later threatens to distribute the image or video if the youth does not pay money or provide sexual favours. The relationship puts a frightening hold on the life of the young person.
Canada’s Solicitor General, Dominque LeBlanc, says the federal government is giving strong consideration to bringing in legislation to combat what is sometimes called cyberbullying. For their part, parents of victims often urge greater involvement of other parents in the online life of their kids. Both these approaches would no doubt be helpful.
But formal education is also a vital tool. Take heed, New Brunswick Education Minister Bill Hogan, who says the N.B. provincial government intends to allow parents to opt out of sex education for their kids.
The world is much changed today from just a few short years ago. Like it or not, sex has always been an awkward topic for parents and their kids. It’s funny to look back on it now, but when my father decided to tell me as a youngster about the Birds and the Bees, here is what he said: “The father and the mother just lie beside each other and make a baby.” That was the detail of the parent-youngster education lesson.
When I learned just a little more about sex from informal channels (behind the barn) I remember being horrified about the sex act. How, I said to myself, could the most established couple in town do that?
Of course, that was before my wife and I had three kids, and before the internet. But misinformation about sex is likely still common today and for quite different reasons. It does not just stem from the embarrassment of parents about explaining the actual truth about “where babies come from” and the shyness of young people to ask the real questions on their mind. Influences on the internet today can be very much more complex and sometimes downright dangerous.
Michele Dean writing in the prestigious magazine, The New Yorker commented in 2012 after Amanda Todd’s suicide: “Anyone who has ever been to high school knows what they (online perpetrators) are provoking by distributing photographs like that.”
It takes a very sophisticated form of sex education in the schools. One medical professional suggested recently that school nurses might be the best persons to assume this role. Obviously, many schools do not have school nurses. With in-service training more classroom teachers could well be more comfortable in covering the topic in a non-threatening but informative way. The “behind the barn” route or the “school yard” lesson will no doubt continue to be the source of both information and misinformation.
The government of Premier Blane Higgs tends to frame issues such as Policy 713 on gender matters or sex education in terms only of parental rights as opposed to the rights of children and parents.
It is time for Minister Hogan and the Higgs government to wake up to the fact that guarding against some unhealthy aspects of the cyber world needs to be part of our formal education system, the system we turn to every weekday as essential for our kids. That system is precious and every time we chip away at it, we eventually pay the price.