With television shows like "To Catch A Predator" the media has turned the sexual solicitation of children into entertainment, but it has also highlighted a new hic-cough in sociological change: The ease with which predators now reach their victims and distribute both pornography and information to others fixated on sex with children. The instant gratification aspect of the Internet has bled into the lives of the children to whom a Web presence is as normal as climbing into their own beds at night.
Stacy Dittrich, a former officer (Richland County Sheriff's Dept., Mansfield, Ohio) and noted author often featured on national news shows, believes the "anything goes" aspect of media has not only led to increased victimization of kids, but also to a dearth of sensitivity in general among youth.
"There is a lack of morals as well as no fear of mortality anymore. It's the 'I'll never die syndrome.' These kids have no sense of death — they're invincible," Dittrich says.
There is little doubt of the influence of the electronic media. Back in the sixties, when the NBC peacock first displayed its Technicolor tail feathers, television news blazed an ignominious path to making violence part and parcel of everyday life with its groundbreaking coverage of the Vietnam War. Instead of watching highly-sanitized, undeniably patriotic news from the front, for the first time the world saw war as it really is: up close and bloody.
Flash forward a few decades and ultra-violent video games, movies and television began to trivialize death and make what would have been shocking to most ordinary individuals — autopsies, gruesome crime scenes, etc. — ordinary and commonplace. Today, their shock value to a violence-numbed audience is minimal and the threshold continuously expands to take the experience one step further.
Thanks in part to a cultural and educational revolution that pushes early technological savvy, children today flock to the Internet in greater numbers. And, even though some parents have put limits and controls on their kids' computer usage, countless others do not believe it's necessary. Dittrich, like many law enforcement experts, thinks that's a mistake.
"If a 13-year-old has a MySpace page, you have to ask yourself, 'Why?'" she says.
And, an even bigger question — can this exposure have unanticipated consequences? The answer is obvious to law enforcement veterans — of course it can, and does. We're facing a growing pool of children who have lost their way as it applies to morals and consequences.
Dittrich's "I'll never die syndrome" has led to a generation of kids who are emotionally removed from the reality of violence. "With crime shows and in the movies (a character) is shot in the head and he gets up and walks away," she says. Games like the loathsome Grand Theft Auto, which glamorizes the killing of cops and prostitution, give impressionable young people the chance to invest in a life of virtual crime. (Now that's a skill you want your children to pack as they leave home.)
Dittrich echoes my sentiments exactly when she says you can't really fault the kids for making poor choices when it comes to entertainment. If the opportunities to play these games, watch these shows, build those social networking pages are available, then the kids are going to jump in.
"As a parent, if you let your kid watch them, then it's your fault," says Dittrich in reference to the violent shows.
She's right. It's time for adults to be the adults. Cops know that there is no substitute for a good anchor at home. How society can once again encourage common sense is a puzzle, but one thing's for sure: Today's children must stop looking at human life as merely a flickering image on a screen or we're all in trouble.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.