A Parent’s Perspective
I have a daughter who is 13 years old, a year younger than Ana Kriegel was when she was cruelly murdered.
The early teenage years should be lovely, carefree happy years, those precious years between childhood and adulthood. My mother used to love an old Val Doonican song titled ‘The Special Years’ which focused on those magical years where young women go “from pigtails to wedding veils, from pinafores to lace”. The singer’s warm, soothing words encourages girls to “slow up, don’t rush to grow”.
Sadly, poor Ana will never have that chance to grow up or to experience the “sweet promises and pain” of that transition to womanhood. The pain she experienced in her final moments was not the pain of young love or a first broken heart but was a pain beyond anything that her loving parents, or any parent, would want to imagine for their lovely daughter.
The world doesn’t seem like a safe place anymore when it hits us that this happened in what Ana’s parents described as “a leafy suburb, where the only sounds in the morning are the doves cooing”.
Ana, not unlike my own daughter, loved all the fun, girly things that you’d associate with that age, loving to sing and dance and experiment with make-up and nails. She wanted to go to college in Paris and to get a dog and to build a hotel called ‘The AnaLove Hotel’, where her parents would have a special cottage to stay in when they visited her. All such innocent, guileless dreams, dreams that will never come to fruition.
In the aftermath of the sentencing of the two boys found guilty of Ana’s murder, there’s been a rush to find answers, to try to find reasons and explanations. Article after article and programme after programme have discussed everything from bullying to mobile phone usage to the need for better education programmes in schools.
I’ve listened to panellists on numerous television and radio shows searching for solutions and asking how this unbelievably violent murder could have happened. Journalist, Conor Gallagher, examined various factors in an article in the Irish Times on November 5. He looked into the possibility of psychopathy; dominance in the relationship between Boy A and Boy B, violent media and pornography.
It’s the topic of pornography, in particular, that has dominated so many recent debates and that has left many parents worried and agitated. As I listened to the various experts offering their opinions on the national airwaves, there seemed to be an acknowledgement that unfettered access to the internet is a growing danger to our children. What experts disagreed on was how best to approach this threat. There didn’t seem to be too many who believed that the damage and extreme negative effects were enough to warrant the limiting of the use of smart phones. One commentator almost seemed to view it as some sort of social death, as if it would be an extreme blow to a young teenager’s social interaction to be left outside the smart phone usage loop.
However, once mobile phone usage is curtailed it just becomes the status quo, as in France where, in September 2018, the government banned the use of mobile phones in schools.
Kate Dawson, a researcher in the School of Psychology in NUI in Galway has been conducting research on the use of pornography among students, publishing her Porn Report in 2018. She believes in teaching teenagers “porn literacy” which focuses on critical awareness of pornography. A lot of this focuses on topics like how pornography isn’t reality or that it sets unrealistic expectations for young people. Like a lot of secular contributors to this subject, the focus is very much on discussion of what children may have viewed online with issues like consent being to the forefront.
Very little of the discourse has any element of what Catholic parents would want their children to learn about relationships and sexuality or the damaging effects of pornography. Instead of teaching young people about the unique value and dignity of every human being, how each person should love and be loved, the distorted message they get is that people are objects to be used, not people to be loved and cherished. In a general audience in November 1982, Pope John Paul ll said that “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman”.
In his Theology of the Body, he shows us the true vision of the human person which emphasises love as a gift of self, counteracting the societal trends which views the body merely as an object of pleasure or some sort of machine to be manipulated.
While our children are being taught that sex is fun and that consent is vital, where is the rich Christian invitation to treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves? Where is the message of love and caring and the value of forming good friendships, based on mutual interests, not sexual thrills? Have we sold our children short in being convinced that they’re not able for the challenge and, in doing so, we’ve handed over the reins to others who have no concept of Pope John Paul II’s portrayal of the reverence for the great gift of our sexuality? Let’s fight for a world where every child has the opportunity to fulfil the meaning of their being and existence and not have this right denied to them.