Are life experiences shaping our kids’ development?

As a parent, I know that a child’s development is shaped by what they see, hear, by how they’re raised, by their childhood experiences, and by the very environment in which those experiences take place.   With that in mind, (and I know there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ parent or ‘perfect’ family), when we welcome a child into this world, it’s up to us, their parents, to do all in our power to raise them to become humane, compassionate, honourable, right-thinking members of society. That’s just my belief.

It’s for this reason I have to ask what’s happening in the world that a 13-year-old boy, who, according to media reports, ‘has never been in trouble before’, finds himself being remanded for sentence after a jury found him ‘guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman’?

This child (now 15, but at 13 years old, he was, in essence, a child), pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last week to ‘assault causing harm’ leaving his victim with injuries so horrific, the facial recognition on her phone failed to recognise her when she tried to call for help. I must state that this juvenile (for the sake of decency I’ll abstain from using stronger language to describe him), has denied ‘sexually assaulting’ this poor woman; however a jury took just two hours to find him guilty of this heinous crime which occurred in Cork City over a year ago.

I do know that growing up and reaching puberty can be both difficult and emotional for any child; I also know that, due to the physical and psychological changes which occur during those years, teenagers can sometimes develop sexual habits and behaviours that may be inappropriate. However, from reading the deeply disturbing factors reported around this particular incident, it’s my concern that, (even though the source of many behavioural traits derive from that timeless debate regarding ‘nature versus nurture’) such violent crimes may derive from the ‘nurture’ part – as in, life experiences are shaping our kids’ development.

When I say ‘life experiences’ I am not, for a moment, judging any parent or caregiver, nor am I judging the parents/caregivers of this particular teen, because our life experiences stem from society, social media and from our peers – as in, not just from our parental/home environment. However, I will say that, as a mother myself, my greatest fear when my girls were young was that I’d fail them. I was terrified I’d do something so wrong it’d force them to go through an experience so negative, it’d harm them or someone else, for the rest of their lives.

I felt the weight of that responsibility from the very moment I became pregnant as a 17-year-old teenager, and today, even though my girls are adults, that duty still bears heavily upon me. But hey, that’s just me! I’m the family member who takes on the mammoth responsibility of panicking.

At this stage of my life you could say when it comes to worrying, I’m a seasoned veteran who has perfected the intricacies of this art to such an extent, I now worry ahead, and not just for me, but for everyone. You could say I’m constantly living my life by the ‘OMG what if’ rule, something which leaves everyone else, (mainly hubby) to shoulder-shrug, head-shake and free himself from assuming what he calls a ‘useless task’. Well folks, ‘useless’ as worrying may seem, I have to comment that if perhaps some parents/guardians/caregivers worried and ‘fretted’ about the environment in which they raised their kids, and were more fearful of how they’d turn out, maybe there’d be less chance of some individuals failing to see others as human beings.

Parents, grandparents and the environment in which a child is raised holds tremendous sway over the way they’re moulded into adulthood; therefore, perhaps if the emphasis was placed more on building social skills, empathy, compassion, morality and self-control, etc., violent attacks like the one in Cork City wouldn’t happen so often.

Again readers, I’m no expert, I’m just putting the question out there; and I’m definitely not a perfect parent or a perfect human being, and I’m not judging anyone. In addition, I do know that there are perfectly horrible people in this world who’ve had a wonderful, happy upbringing, etc. However, when a child/teen gets so worked up and angry about something, believing the only way to deal with their feelings and frustration is to cause horrific harm to their fellow humans, I confess my ‘worry gene’ goes into overdrive and I start to fear for society.

Why are we preoccupied with our physical flaws?

Earlier this week, I saw an article highlighting the fact that some surgeons are ‘touring Ireland’ doing roadshows, if you like, ‘encouraging’ people to avail of ‘cheap cosmetic, dental and weight-loss procedures’ abroad. On the same day, I also read another story about a lady from County Kilkenny whose Turkish  ‘mummy-tuck’ package went so disastrously wrong, upon her return home she ended up being hospitalised for two weeks due to what she describes as ‘a severe infection’. The unfortunate woman says she’s now left ‘feeling depressed’ adding, ‘some days I don’t want to get out of bed’. She reports being terrified to ‘cough or sneeze in case I do damage’, adding that she’s afraid of the wound opening up again.

I don’t wish to be mean-spirited, but it beggars belief that anyone with a smidgen of cop on would place their lives in the hands of a ‘medical professional’ who plies their trade via a ‘Facebook advert’ and a ‘hospital’ which deals with vulnerable and prospective patients through WhatsApp. But, according to the article in the Irish Independent, place it she did, and she’s not alone.  Countless numbers of Irish people are, despite hearing horror stories, shelling out their life savings and travelling abroad for risky surgeries in the hope of achieving their desired look and shape.

This particular lady’s botch-job, sorry ‘package’, included a tummy-tuck, liposuction, a breast procedure, two nights in the hospital, five nights in a hotel, prescribed meds and flights – a snip (pardon the pun) at €4,950. However, as far as the psychological impact goes, I’d say she’ll be paying the cost for many more years to come. My heart goes out to her.

On a personal level, my own body image hate is my teeth – or rather the dental bridge I was forced to have put in place following a brutal sexual assault I suffered twenty years ago.

However, despite the fact I’m desperate to have this dental bridge replaced, and desperate to one day look in the mirror and not see a constant reminder of what a sick, perverted creep did to me, I’ve got enough cop on to listen to the advice of a dental professional. I’m told my bridge, due to being fitted twenty years ago is ‘now old’, but that a more modern version is unlikely to look any better. The dental professional has also tried to reassure me that what I perceive to be glaringly obvious is ‘not even noticeable’.

That said, as the lady from Kilkenny and every other person who’s travelled abroad for cosmetic surgery or who’s undergone it in Ireland may tell you – if our insecurities are fuelled by any aspect of our own personal perceptions regarding our poor body/self-image, nothing and nobody can ever change our minds. Yes readers, twenty years post-assault, I’m still yearning for my once perfectly tailored teeth.

Our Gardaí need more than a set of handcuffs and a baton for protection

According to the Garda Representative Association President Brendan O’Connor, assaults on Gardaí have continued to rise – therefore a call for Tasers to be issued to protect members, is, in my humble opinion, totally understandable.

Not only that, I believe all Gardaí should be issued with body cams for the simple reason they can prove key during the evidence-gathering process. (I could be wrong, but I believe body cams will be issued to all members of the force by the end of this year…and not before time).

Becoming a member of An Garda Síochána is a wonderful, worthwhile career move. Had I been taller than five feet, I’d have loved to have applied when I was younger (by the way, there is no longer a height precondition).

In any event, given the startling statistics released at the end of 2022 which show a shocking 2,411 officers had suffered an assault over the past ten years, (an average of 240 per year), I believe we should be arming these brave individuals with a bit more than a set of handcuffs and a baton.