The young and the old

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Like when you’re out and you get that sense that someone’s eyes are on you but when you turn around, there’s no one there? I do and it drives me crazy. I don’t like people staring at me; it makes me feel self-conscious and I can’t relax when I get that feeling.

Of course most of it’s in my head but I’ve caught people staring at me before, so it’s not always my imagination. Sometimes it’s girls (occasionally guys) and it’s funny seeing their heads jerk away when I look back, suddenly interested in a speck on the wall. 😉 I don’t mind that as much but what I really don’t like is when people just stare for no reason.

Yesterday I had an appointment and I had to wait a while before I was seen. So I did what I normally do; I took out a notepad and started working through some ideas. After about two minutes I got that feeling and sure enough, several people were just staring at me. Not people-watching like some do, just openly staring. In the end I ignored it but when I got back home it still bothered me. It felt like they were staring at me because I was somehow out of place, and it bothered me more later than at the time.

Most of the people were older than me and I think that was part of it. Usually I don’t feel like my age is an issue with people but every now and then it is. All through school I could talk to people without them knowing my age but when they found out, suddenly my opinions didn’t have the same weight. I’ve had people doubt my age in my writing (and this blog) because I don’t sound my age when I write. And previously I’ve been told that I think too much; I should just go out, have fun and be 23. Well, what’s to say I’m not? This is who I am and if I were any different, I wouldn’t be me.

I dislike ageism with a passion. What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that most definitions of ageism describe it as discriminating against the elderly. I don’t disagree with that but to me ageism can be against any age group and we often overlook the presumptions we make about youth as well. Yes, some young people can be disrespectful, but not all of us. We’re the iPod generation but most of us study and work just as hard as anyone else. Plus we have the added pressure of trying to find homes and jobs (often for the first time) in a global market which has changed so much since 9/11. Ageism can go both ways but not everyone remembers that.

A few years ago something happened to me which is just one example. I’d been shopping with my mother and we were waiting to get the bus back home when a man (about 70) came up from nowhere and shouted at me, struck me across the shoulder and head as he brushed past, and left muttering insults about youth under his breath. I’d done nothing and was well out of his way; he targeted me, but what I remember most is that only a few people noticed. If I’d done it I’d have been up on assault charges; he did it, and for some reason I must have had it coming. If that’s not ageism, I don’t know what is.

It’s strange the way we ignore young people. We look at youth as the future; we say we want to teach them and prepare them for life, but often it’s an excuse to shape them the way we want. We crush them of their individuality and make them conform, and soon see all young people the same way. But who’s to say we really know what’s best? There’s a case in Wyoming at the moment where three 13 year old girls threw french fries during their lunch at school. The police have subsequently charged them with “hurling missiles”, an adult charge. Hurling missiles… have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? They deserve disciplining but if you give kids a criminal record for a food fight, you’ll be doing it to every kid in school. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s based on the fact that people try to control children, not understand them.

My personal view is that age is irrelevant; I get on well with people of many ages and what’s important to me is mutual respect. If someone is interested in talking to me, sharing their thoughts, that’s all I’ve ever needed. It’s something people underestimate about children as well, that sometimes they just want to be engaged and have a say in things. I think Katherine Hepburn said it best: “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” Isn’t that so true? You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.

So maybe I should be flattered when someone stares at me. They obviously find me interesting in some way… even if it does feel like a scientist dissecting a rat! Maybe next time I’ll say something. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find someone to talk to, or at least will be able to write in peace… on the other hand, I’ll be 30 before I know it. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone and all I’ll have to worry about is baldness. 🙂

Some people shouldn't have children

Do you think we value children enough in our society? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’m not sure we do. Children should be our most precious resource, but a lot of the time we’re quick to criticise children and their shortcomings without recognising the role we play in their problems. As a society we seem to be fascinated by youth and beauty, but children are a burden, and one we still think should be seen and not heard.

I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t love their children, but I find it hard to believe that we’re doing all we can as a society to protect them. You only need to open a newspaper to see another story about child abuse and neglect. If there’s one thing I hate it’s seeing a child hurt, particularly a defenceless one, and the people who do speak for children’s rights seem to be silenced all too easily.

The story of Megan Meier’s death seems to have caught fire over the last few days, particularly among bloggers. If you haven’t heard the story, she committed suicide in October 2006 after receiving a flood of abuse from a 16 year old boy on MySpace. She was three weeks shy of her 14th birthday. What makes the story so despicable is that the boy never existed; instead “he” was a persona created by the parents of a girl who had been Megan’s best friend. Megan had received messages calling her “fat” and “a slut”, and the last, her father said, was this: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself shortly afterwards.

The St. Charles Journal brought attention to the story earlier this month and I’ve been following it since then. It’s one of those stories that you can’t quite believe because it’s so horrible; we all recognise the cyber-bullying tropes in the story, but that adults would be responsible is stunning. I can’t even begin to imagine why they would do it… it’s incomprehensible.

But there’s something else about the story that’s been troubling me, the emotions surrounding it. The news article refused to name the family, which I agree with – but bloggers have. Dozens of blogs have not just named the family, but also their address. One comment was even inciting people to pursue the parents “over and over, until they too take their lives”. The outrage is fast becoming a public lynching.

I’m disgusted and outraged by what happened, but this anger is not helping; it’ll only make things worse. People taking the law into their own hands solves nothing and does not bring justice. What Megan’s death shows more is that there’s a hole in the law that needs to be filled. The parents didn’t tie the noose around Megan’s neck but surely they played a role in her death; there should be criminal consequences for that, consequences which do not exist under the current system.

A change to the law is what Ron and Tina Meier want, but once again it comes too late. That’s what really annoys me: the laws worldwide just don’t seem capable of keeping up with the new advances in technology, of protecting children in our world. It shouldn’t be acceptable that it takes a tragedy to bring about change… but of course, it’s the only thing that does.

It’s a sad fact of life that you need a licence to buy a car or a gun, but anyone can have a child. Perhaps that’s the real problem here. Just because you can have a child doesn’t make you a good parent. To me it isn’t creating a life that makes you a mother or a father, it’s that you care for and love your child, that you provide for them and would do anything to keep them safe. I would hope that’s what it means to most people.

That parents could do this to someone else’s child stuns me. You just have to think that some people shouldn’t have children, and they would be at the top of my list. I hope they come to realise what they’ve done, but more than anything I hope Megan’s family can find some closure, and that Megan can rest in peace.

Some people shouldn’t have children

Do you think we value children enough in our society? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’m not sure we do. Children should be our most precious resource, but a lot of the time we’re quick to criticise children and their shortcomings without recognising the role we play in their problems. As a society we seem to be fascinated by youth and beauty, but children are a burden, and one we still think should be seen and not heard.

I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t love their children, but I find it hard to believe that we’re doing all we can as a society to protect them. You only need to open a newspaper to see another story about child abuse and neglect. If there’s one thing I hate it’s seeing a child hurt, particularly a defenceless one, and the people who do speak for children’s rights seem to be silenced all too easily.

The story of Megan Meier’s death seems to have caught fire over the last few days, particularly among bloggers. If you haven’t heard the story, she committed suicide in October 2006 after receiving a flood of abuse from a 16 year old boy on MySpace. She was three weeks shy of her 14th birthday. What makes the story so despicable is that the boy never existed; instead “he” was a persona created by the parents of a girl who had been Megan’s best friend. Megan had received messages calling her “fat” and “a slut”, and the last, her father said, was this: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself shortly afterwards.

The St. Charles Journal brought attention to the story earlier this month and I’ve been following it since then. It’s one of those stories that you can’t quite believe because it’s so horrible; we all recognise the cyber-bullying tropes in the story, but that adults would be responsible is stunning. I can’t even begin to imagine why they would do it… it’s incomprehensible.

But there’s something else about the story that’s been troubling me, the emotions surrounding it. The news article refused to name the family, which I agree with – but bloggers have. Dozens of blogs have not just named the family, but also their address. One comment was even inciting people to pursue the parents “over and over, until they too take their lives”. The outrage is fast becoming a public lynching.

I’m disgusted and outraged by what happened, but this anger is not helping; it’ll only make things worse. People taking the law into their own hands solves nothing and does not bring justice. What Megan’s death shows more is that there’s a hole in the law that needs to be filled. The parents didn’t tie the noose around Megan’s neck but surely they played a role in her death; there should be criminal consequences for that, consequences which do not exist under the current system.

A change to the law is what Ron and Tina Meier want, but once again it comes too late. That’s what really annoys me: the laws worldwide just don’t seem capable of keeping up with the new advances in technology, of protecting children in our world. It shouldn’t be acceptable that it takes a tragedy to bring about change… but of course, it’s the only thing that does.

It’s a sad fact of life that you need a licence to buy a car or a gun, but anyone can have a child. Perhaps that’s the real problem here. Just because you can have a child doesn’t make you a good parent. To me it isn’t creating a life that makes you a mother or a father, it’s that you care for and love your child, that you provide for them and would do anything to keep them safe. I would hope that’s what it means to most people.

That parents could do this to someone else’s child stuns me. You just have to think that some people shouldn’t have children, and they would be at the top of my list. I hope they come to realise what they’ve done, but more than anything I hope Megan’s family can find some closure, and that Megan can rest in peace.