Saturday, May 21, 2005

Respect (3)

The new craze of 'Happy Slapping' involves attacking strangers in public places and video-ing the event on mobile phones. The footage can then be shared on the internet. Unfortunately, it often goes beyond slapping and some people have been seriously injured.
This craze has had a lot of publicity but that carries the risk of even more imitative crimes. The Tonight programme did a 'special' on the subject. It was broadcast at the later time of 10 pm, presumably because, as everyone knows, teenagers are asleep in bed by that time. Ha, ha.

Is it too glib and facile to suggest that kids raised on a diet of synthetic violence in movies, cartoons and computer games may not appreciate that even just an unexpected slap from a stranger can, in real life, be pretty traumatic for the victim?
Maybe. But we shouldn't dismiss it as a contributory factor.
Of undoubted relevance are the corporations, advertisers and television companies that I was criticising yesterday.

A few years ago there were some notorious television commercials for Tango which involved people being slapped around the head. They were eventually withdrawn but not before a number of children had been seriously injured. In view of the name 'Happy Slapping', I can't help wondering if their influence still persists.
There have also been a number of programmes aimed at the teenage market which feature dangerous stunts and pranks, sometimes dangerous only to the practitioners but sometimes involving tricks played on strangers. Of course they always carry the 'don't try this at home' warning but, not surprisingly, that hasn't stopped a lot of kids jumping out of first floor windows or setting fire to their own hair. Injured children.....devestated parents.....but what the hell, some people have made a lot of money from the television rights and DVD sales.

One youth interviewed on television conceded that it might be rather unpleasant for a person on a bus to be slapped or punched by a group of teenagers. But, he said, you have to admit it's very funny.
To understand the baffling workings of the teenage mind and the apparent absence of any trace of empathy we have to turn to neuroscience.
Recent findings show that emotional maturity - as opposed to rational maturity - is not reached until the very late teens or early twenties. A television science programme showed one of the most extraordinary experiments I have ever seen. Teenagers were shown a series of photos of different facial expressions with people registering joy, anger, fear, etc., and asked to identify these different emotions. There was nothing ambiguous about any of these photos yet the teenagers mostly got them completely wrong.
Ah, you might think, they were taking the piss and winding up the researchers. But at the time the teenagers were undergoing an MRI brain scan. When compared with adult subjects, the parts of the brain that recognise and interpret emotions were not lighting up in the teenagers when they were shown the photos.
The implications of this are hugely significant to our understanding of teenage behaviour and how we manage it. For those teenagers who scream "I hate you, you f***ing bitch" at their mothers it's probably no big deal and they are probably oblivious to the traumatic effect on the parent.

I believe that one of the challenges for those who work with children and teenagers who behave badly is finding ways of creating empathy and identification with their victims, given that these responses have not yet fully developed in their brains.
It also has implications for public policy.
It's time our society looked at the bigger picture: the influence of the media and a manufactured, profit-driven youth culture, the effects of a fragmented, age-divided society and crucially relevant knowledge from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
Mouthing platitudes about 'respect' is simply not enough.


At 1:44 PM, Anonymous asta said...

I also sense a lack of moral imagination and manners-- not the 'please and thank you' kind, although those could use a boost, but manners in the sense of moving through life with an awareness and accomodation of others.

I read about that 'happy slapping' incident and can't comprehend how even the teenage brain could see anything happy about temporary paralysis and coma.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

God, I hate kids.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Ooops. That came out a little impulsively.

I also wonder if I should apologize to my mother for all of the times I called her a bitch and told her I hated her as a teenager. She was almost a teenager herself when she had me, and hasn't progressed much in her way of thinking since then, at the same I need to be forgiven for being a kid?

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

asta, I think the danger in this debate is that we tend to generalise from the bad examples not the good ones. There are two teenagers who serve in my supermarket on Saturdays. They always greet me and ask how I am and even remember what cigarettes I smoke. The older staff who I see every day find it an effort to even say hello. My respect for those young people is huge.

pn, I'm deeply shocked you called your mother a bitch. You always seemed such a nice young woman. But I don't know what your mother said or did to provoke you. And yes, you were only a kid and not the intelligent, sensitive woman the Portuguese Man Married.


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