The Impossible Challenges Of Modern Parenting

The tragic tale of the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell is one of those stories that demonstrates, yet again, that being a parent in the modern world poses challenges that our parents and grandparents would never have thought possible.

Nicole Lovell was a 13-year-old girl who lived in Virginia.  She had liver transplant surgery that left her scarred, and she took medication that made her gain weight — which in turn caused her to be the butt of ridicule by some of the mean kids at her school.  Like many kids do these days, she turned to social media as an outlet and apparently created alternative personas on-line, on a number of different sites.  Unbeknownst to her parents, for example, she had multiple profiles on Facebook.

nicole-lovellAuthorities believe that Nicole Lovell’s social media activities brought her into contact with an 18-year-old named David Eisenhauer — a student at Virginia Tech.  According to police, Eisenhauer and another Virginia Tech student, Natalie Keepers, plotted to kill Lovell and dispose of her body.  Lovell went missing from her bedroom after midnight on January 27; her body was found days later in a remote wooded area in North Carolina.  Eisenhauer is charged with Lovell’s abduction and murder, and Keepers is charged with being an accessory.

All parents know there are bad people out there.  That’s always been true.  The difference now is that social media makes it so much easier for the bad people to find your children, interact with them, and lure them into danger.  In more innocent days, parents could ensure their children’s safety by making sure they stayed in the neighborhood.  In the modern world of America, however, physical location is no longer an assurance of safety, because the computer in the family den can be the gateway for predators.

Nicole Lovell’s story involves a lot of common, nightmare scenarios for parents: unfair bullying at school, a child entering the teenage years who feels lonely and friendless at school while feeling liberated by the anonymity and possibilities for self-reinvention that social media and the internet offer, and, in all likelihood, that youthful confidence and certainty that nothing bad will happen to them — until it tragically does.

Modern parents know of these risks, but how do they keep them under control with so many social media options available in the modern world?  One of the social media options mentioned in the news stories linked above is called Kik, which is a messaging app that allows its users to remain anonymous and send photos that aren’t saved on the phone.  Have you even heard of Kik?  I hadn’t until I read the stories about Nicole Lovell — but I bet many young teenage kids have heard about it at school.  The kids are always way ahead of the adults on the social media/technology curve.

Our children survived the teenage years and made it out into adulthood.  I’m grateful for that, because I really don’t know how modern parents are supposed to thread the needle and allow their children enough freedom and self-sufficiency to develop as autonomous human beings while ensuring that they don’t fall prey to the evil people that we know are out there.  Sometimes, as the story of Nicole Lovell suggests, modern parenting just seems impossible.

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Death Drivers Of The Orient

It sounds like a bad urban legend, but apparently it isn’t:  in China, there are recorded instances of a driver striking a pedestrian, then backing up to run over the fallen victim again and again to make sure they are dead.  In two of the more appalling cases, drivers ran over a little girl, and a grandmother, multiple times.

Why?  Because the tort and criminal system in China provides a financial incentive to make sure that the victim of a hit-skip incident is dead.  The one-time compensation to be paid to the family of a deceased victim typically ranges between $30,000 and $50,000.  If the victim is seriously injured and requires ongoing care, however, the driver has to pay for the care for the rest of the victim’s lifetime — which obviously could run into considerably larger sums.

Hence, the death driver scenario.  In the split-second after an accident, Chinese drivers have to decide between their pocketbook and their humanity and decency — and for a number of drivers, the pocketbook wins out.

It’s discouraging to think that money could turn a distressingly large percentage of drivers into cold-blooded killers, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.  The historical record consistently demonstrates that people respond to economic incentives and disincentives — just ask anyone who lived in the old Soviet Union.  The Chinese death driver example simply shows how far economic incentives can go in influencing decision-making and behavior.  It isn’t a pretty picture.

Another Reason To Oppose The Death Penalty

In Colorado, James Holmes has been convicted of multiple counts of capital murder.  He’s the bug-eyed killer who burst into a crowded movie theater in 2012, threw tear gas, then started shooting, killing 12 people and wounding 70.  The carnage he caused has been recounted, with lasting horror, by some of the survivors at his trial.

But now we are hearing emotional testimony from James Holmes’ mother.  She says she thought she had a “good kid” who was self-sufficient and responsible, although she was saddened and guilty that he was “losing his joy” as he grew into adulthood.  She says she never knew that her son was so mentally ill that he was capable of random mass murder.  And other family members, teachers, and friends have testified about Holmes being a happy boy, a “Renaissance child,” and a nerdy teenager.

It’s all part of the “mitigation phase” of the trial, where the jury will decide whether Holmes should receive the death penalty for his appalling crimes.  His lawyers want the jury to feel sorry for him and his family and to conclude that the shootings didn’t occur because Holmes was intrinsically evil, but because he was mentally “sick.”  And so the jury has been listening to witness after witness testify about Holmes in a way designed to encourage jurors to show mercy — even though he didn’t show mercy to those innocents he gunned down.

I’m opposed to the death penalty on principle, so I don’t need to be convinced that Holmes should receive life in prison.  However, I think this phase of the Holmes trial aptly illustrates another reason why the death penalty should be abolished.  It is simply unfair to put the families of the victims through a process where they have to hear that the person who ruthlessly killed their loved ones was once an outgoing “Renaissance child” or an uncoordinated teenage nerd, and it is unseemly to call his Mom and Dad to the stand to shed a few tears to try to save their little boy’s skin.

A process that is designed to curry sympathy for the killer, by recalling his boyhood and moments where he laughed or cried or kicked a soccer ball, is senseless and offensive because whatever his meager childhood accomplishments may have been shrivel to nothingness against the magnitude of his adult crimes.  Don’t try to make me feel sorry for James Holmes.  I feel sorry for the victims and their families for the loss that Holmes inflicted.  Lock him away, and be done with it.

Casey Anthony And Anthony Sowell

I didn’t pay any attention to the Casey Anthony trial, although I was dimly aware that cable news shows were paying huge amounts of attention to the trial of a young woman accused of killing her two-year-old daughter.

In the wake of the jury verdict declaring Anthony not guilty of the crime, the media focus has become even more intense, and stories about the case seem to be unavoidable.  Jurors are talking about how they reached their verdict.  One of Anthony’s lawyers makes a vulgar gesture at members of the news media, whom Anthony’s counsel believe have engaged in character assassination.  Other observers criticize the jury for what they consider to be a bad decision.

Murder trials happen every day in this country.  Why do some trials — like the Casey Anthony trial, or the Menendez brothers trial, or any of the other criminal trials that people have obsessed about in this era of cable-TV sensationalism — command so much attention, whereas others don’t?

Right now, in Cleveland, a man accused in the deaths of 11 women is on trial.  How many people in America have even heard of Anthony Sowell, the accused killer, or the poor women he is alleged to have killed, many of whom apparently had substance abuse problems and vanished without much attention being paid to their disappearance?  Has Sowell’s trial received even a tiny fraction of the national attention that was paid to the Casey Anthony trial?

How can the death of one little girl, however tragic, command so much more attention than the horrific stories of the dead women that are being told at the Sowell trial?  Which of the two trials is likely to have more to teach us about our society?  And how much of the enormous disparity in attention paid to these two cases is due to race, class, and the perceived photogenic qualities of the victims and the defendants?