Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Nature verses nuture....who wins? You decide!

I don't normally use this Blog to discuss the news and instead use it as a medium for venting or for sharing my random thoughts but something that has made the headlines today demands, I feel, discussion just because by its very nature, it is such a serious topic. I am talking of course about the news that Jon Venables, one of the two boys responsible for killing toddler James Bulger, has been taken back into custody for breaking the terms of his parole. Venables was just 10 when he and Robert Thompson abducted and battered the two year old to death in a crime which shocked the world. The pair snatched James from a Liverpool shopping centre in February 1993 and took him to a freight railway line more than two miles away where they killed him. Some people reading this might be a little too young to fully remember the story but at the time, it was one of the most shocking and gruesome crimes ever witnessed by my generation.

Of course, Venables and Thompson have been guarded by a close blanket of security ever since they were released with new identities under the premise that they had been fully rehabilitated and so this is all the information that anyone is allowed to release right now; that Venables has quite simply violated the terms of his parole. This could mean he has committed a crime but it could also quite rightly mean that he has merely tried to return to Merseyside or that he has tried to get in contact with Thompson. The fact is all we can do right now is speculate and for James Bulger's parents, this must be a horrifying ordeal that forces them to re-live those first awful experiences all over again! But the point is...does this prove that they were released too early? Does this mean that rehabilitation hasn't worked? No one can answer that because we are not being given all the facts even though it has been suggested in the media that, in later weeks, more information might be forthcoming...

I understand the need for secrecy, if anyone discovered the pair's new identities or their new locations, their lives unquestionably would be in danger and whilst I believe that is all they deserve, to be hunted for the rest of their lives and to live in fear of being discovered, I do not believe vigilante justice would solve anything in the long term. But I do believe we have a right to know what Venables has done if only to stop speculation in its tracks! At the moment, all those who thought he should never have been released will be saying " You see, we told you this would happen; the kid is evil and always will be and by releasing him you have set him free to act again!" whilst others who supported his release will be saying "Look, the system works. He may have been released but as soon as he stepped out of line, he has been taken back into custody proving that he is constantly monitored and that he is never really going to be free ever again!"

The point is we don't know if what he has done has any relevance to those earlier events. But by speculating, we are bound to think the worst simply because we are not being told anything different.

I remember watching a drama called Child A on television a couple of years back. It was highly thought-provoking and took the premise of a young teenager who had killed when he was a young boy and had now been released back into society with a new identity. He was filled with remorse and just wanted to start his life anew with no connection to his past but people found out who he was and he soon became hounded by all those he had come to consider as colleagues and friends. It had chilling echoes of the news at the time that Venables and Thompson were going to be released and gave as much food for thought as the Gary Glitter drama equally did last year for different reasons!

Perhaps the biggest question the Bulger murder brought up, and which is still relevant today, was that of were Venables and Thompson inherently evil or were they a victim of the surroundings they were brought up in? In other words is it nature or nurture that leads someone to kill? Were the tweo friends born evil or were they created that way from their upbringing? Personally I do not think there is any clear-cut answer but I do think it is hard to think about anyone ever being born totally evil!! I am a strong believer in that what occurs around us as children is fundamental to the way we behave as adults and regardless of anything else, Venables and Thompson knew that they had done wrong. It is just that, as children, they were unable to sense the scope of that wrongness or to percieve the wider implications of what they had done. They just weren't hard-wired yet to think that way. Please note- I am not defending their actions IN ANY WAY but I am simply trying to look at the broader picture with an unjudgemental eye.

From my own experience as a dad, I look at Emilie and do not believe that it has already been pre-programmed how she will behave in the future. I believe I have a strong moral imperative to mentally guide her and teach her the differences between right and wrong. She is not perfect and sometimes mis-behaves now and then in small doses but when she does I ask myself what the reasons are for her mis-behaviour. Is she tired or hungry and thus getting irritable and more likely to play up? Or is she re-enacting behaviour she has seen me or her mum demonstrate? If she kicks out or goes to slap me, is it because she has seen me and Mrs.Sparky play-fighting and now thinks it acceptable? I know that when I have done something and gone " (sigh) Oh, for god's sake!" She has copied me and gone around going " (sigh) sake...sake!" If she can copy things she hears said, isn't it just as likely that she will copy behaviour patterns?

And this is the thing. As children we have a poor moral compass and a tendency to imitate. There was a lot of talk at the time of the Bulger murder about the two boys having been exposed to violent movies. This brought up a discussion about whether said movies should be banned. I have heard similar debates in recent years about violent computer games such as GTA. But people forget; these games and films are certificated 18 and this is done for a reason not just because the red certificate looks good on the cover. All kids watch 18 movies before they are supposed to, I did too- often without my parents knowledge, but the thing is they shouldn't! Some kids are more impressionable than others and these films and games are designed and sold with adults in mind and are hence certificated that way for a reason. I know someone who regulary allowed her child to play 18 games without any compunction. He turned out okay, fair enough, but when he sold me one of the games and I played it I was shocked that he had been allowed to own it as it was full of not just violence but also colourful and racist language! It was presenting a satirical look at people's attitudes towards people of mixed race but how is a kid to know that? When he hears terms like "spear-chuckers" and "fucking gollywogs" he is more likely to find it funny because it is forbidden and not what you are supposed to say and there is every chance he will begin then to start using such terms; now considering them acceptable because they were used on something he saw or a game he played! The point is, kids shouldn't be exposed to such racist terms or such colourful language until they can understand why these things are not acceptable. And sometimes, it is down to you to explain why that is so. In some cases, in fact in most cases then, I guess what I am saying is you have to blame the parents.

I should point out that not all of it however can be laid at the parents' doors! I have heard plenty of stories about kids from a good home who have gone wrong and this is as much about the influence of their friends and their peer group as it is about their upbringing. Sometrimes you cannot choose who your kid hangs out with when they leave your house and I DO appreciate that. But I also think that, as parents, you have a BIG responsibility for gently guiding your child down the right path.

This whole issue, this very debate is a moral minefield! And thats why it is important that it should constantly be discussed and not swept under the carpet or white-washed in some kind of witch-hunt against 18-certificated media.. In the meantime, my thoughts go out to the parents of the late James Bulger who, right now, must be distraught and worrried that history may have, not repeated itself exactly, but perhaps come close to doing so.....and I hope that it is not long before their and our minds are put to rest about what Venables might or might not have done; even if it is just a general suggestion rather than specifics.

Meanwhile, this is pensive Sparky tuning out for now......

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