On Wednesday night’s Nancy Grace my friend and guest host Diane Dimond presided over a discussion…not about C.A. That’s right, instead of following up on C.A., we did what I think we do best — we drew attention to a new case involving a missing girl in which there’s still hope for a good outcome, and if not that, then at least justice. The missing New Hampshire girl’s family and police have been a little cagey about just how they think the 11-year-old originally left her family’s home, but it looks like she may initially have left voluntarily to see someone she met online, which set the stage for an abduction. Now why might a victim’s family (assuming no one in the family had anything to do with the crime) and cops perhaps be reluctant to admit that something started out as a runaway situation? Remember my 2009 piece about why some stories capture and hold the public’s attention while others don’t? Seven factors: youth, beauty, sex, celebrity, mystery, fear, and victim innocence. More factors = more public interest = more coverage. That last factor is important. Like it or not, when the public perceives that a victim had something to do with bringing harm upon him/herself, a certain percentage will have less sympathy for that victim. I think that’s more true with adult victims than child victims, but still, if this New Hampshire case is perceived to be a runaway situation rather than an abduction, a certain percentage of the public may be less inclined to pay attention or try to help out.
The case that we covered on Wednesday night’s show provides a good context for me to remind all parents of minor children about the danger that comes with “wiring” your kids. The upside of growing up “wired,” is that in the course of their lifetimes, your kids will be able to communicate with more people in more places than any previous generation of human beings (e.g. to get information when they need it, to get help when they need it, to make friends literally all over the world if they want to, etc.). A major downside, though, is that the same technology can bring them into contact with a lot of bad people and bad influences. That’s why you must monitor very carefully what your children are doing once they’re “wired.” Social networks are here to stay; your kids are going to want to participate in them; and you really don’t want your kids to learn about dangers for the first time when they leave for college at age 18. So, parents want to know when it’s appropriate to start letting kids do some of that (social networking). I don’t think every kid matures at the same pace, so rather than recommend a specific age, I’ll give these general principles: When you’re convinced that your individual kids are mature enough to do anything “wired” (e.g. use the Internet, have a social network account, have a cell phone, etc.), you need to keep an eye on that activity virtually 100% of the time at the beginning. Restrict their access (and others’ access to them, e.g. the privacy settings on any social network accounts that they have), monitor their contacts/calls, restrict and monitor their content, and explain to them why you’re doing those things (because it’s the number-one responsibility of your life to get those kids to age 18 as healthy, educated, and well-socialized as possible — in short, to be as equipped as possible to be functional, independent, thriving adults). Put computers in high-traffic areas, where adults will be passing by frequently when they’re in use (i.e. not off in kids’ rooms), and don’t be shy about making sure you have full access to any and all wired devices/services used by your kids (i.e. your kids’ safety trumps their privacy, especially when you’re footing the bill for the devices/services). Gradually, over time, as your kids establish solid track records of responsible behavior with your guidance and supervision, you can then, very cautiously, pull back some and, as President Ronald Reagan once said, “trust but verify,” so that hopefully, by the time they leave home at age 18, they’re ready to assume full responsibility for their own online safety. Until, however, you have absolutely no reason to doubt that your kids are there (and if they’re nowhere close to adulthood yet, then I’d say you have reason to doubt), I recommend that you err on the side of safety (i.e. ask more questions, pay more attention, learn more, monitor more, and restrict more than you hope you need to) because you almost cannot overestimate the depravity that’s out there in cyberspace and the danger that it poses to your kids.
And while I’m on the subject of your kids, I just read a piece from the Sunday New York Times opinion section online in which a sociology professor actually opines that American parents of teenagers should consider being more supportive of their minor teens’ sexual relationships — so supportive as to actually condone if not encourage their minor teenagers having conjugal “sleepovers.” I’m not sure where this sociologist gets off (pardon that) giving the country parenting advice, but hers is some of the most incredibly stupid parenting advice I’ve ever heard. Nobody has any business having sex until he/she is fully prepared and equipped — morally, intellectually, physically, emotionally, and financially — to deal with all of the potential consequences of that behavior, including parenthood. Sure, some significant percentage of teens will still do it before they’re ready, but it’s a parent’s job to articulate and enforce (to the extent reasonably possible) what’s best. Teens may never admit it, but even when they say you don’t know anything, they do think about what you say. If you say the right thing, at least you have a chance of affecting their behavior in a positive way when they’re at key decision points and you’re not physically there. If you say the wrong thing or nothing, though, you’ve resigned yourself, and maybe them, to a sub-optimal outcome, and I think that’s the antithesis of what a parent’s supposed to do (see again the number-one responsibility of a parent, stated in the paragraph above).
Speaking of parental responsibilities, back during the C.A. case, some opined that mere inconvenience wouldn’t be enough to motivate a mother to murder her child. Well, a New York “mother” (I use that term in the biological sense only) is in custody after apparently murdering her eight-year-old daughter who suffered from cerebral palsy (and therefore required as much or more parental care and attention as a much-younger child like C.A.’s daughter). Unlike C.A., however, this woman apparently attempted suicide before being taken into custody. Who knows, maybe she killed the daughter in a fit of frustration, or maybe she wanted the two of them to go off to some “better place” where life would be easier for both. Since she’s still alive, we should eventually find out, but in the meantime, it looks like it may well be a case in which a woman overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting resorted to murder. Sadly, it is possible.
The New York hotel maid who claims that she was sexually assaulted by former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) is talking to the media. I read a lengthy account of an interview that she gave, and frankly, I see why prosecutors reportedly have doubts about the woman’s credibility (and consequently, about their case). I could be wrong; she could be a crime victim, and if she is, that crime, whatever it may be, should be prosecuted. But to me, her statements look less like the statements of a crime victim and more like the statements of a civil-lawsuit plaintiff. DSK sounds like he’s probably at least a jerk if not a criminal, but at this point, the picture’s looking like it might have shades of “Duke Lacrosse” in it (the 2006 case in which several members of the Duke University Lacrosse team were falsely accused of rape). Stay tuned.
And finally, a new study of depression suggests that, on average, the populations of wealthy nations with high standards of living are not significantly happier than the populations of less-affluent nations. In fact, significantly higher percentages of the wealthier populations were found to have been diagnosed with depression. Now part of that finding is probably explained by better access to mental-health clinicians and care in the wealthier nations, but I don’t think that explains all of it. I think it’s a “macrocosm” of what we sometimes see with wealthy individuals who become apathetic about life (e.g. certain entertainers who seem to have it all yet attempt/commit suicide) as also with retired people who have even more physical complaints (vague aches and pains) than can be explained by anything physically wrong with them. I think that many people who are busy trying to earn their livings much of the time and trying to live their lives (and get some sleep) in their off hours literally don’t have time to ruminate about how much better things could be, nor do they have time to hyper-vigilantly scan their bodies for the slightest signs of discomfort or to run to shrinks or physicians when there really aren’t any acute or debilitating symptoms present. I think that as wealth increases, idle time increases, and that idle time can be spent focusing inwardly and negatively in ways that can result in mental and physical diagnoses. To the extent that the idle-time factor is in play, then, I think that the variance in depression rates between individuals and nations based on affluence may just illustrate the old adage, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”