"You know, if we’d only spent a billion more on security, we might have been able to save those three police cars."
Myles Murchison, White Rock, B.C. (Letter to the editor, Globe and Mail, June 29)
The G20 security fence is finally coming down. The chaos, anxiety and disruptions have come to an end and, like most Torontonians, I am relieved that it is over, irritated that it was here at all, and unimpressed with its so-called accomplishments. In the media, what really stole the attention was the so-called Black Bloc protesters, which politicians and officials of various stripes deemed "violent criminals," "anarchist thugs," and even "terrorists." Hyperbole? Perhaps. But what interests me is the way my children were influenced by the prevailing discourse about the protests.
I should preface this by saying that my kids watch very little TV, and they never watch the news. But they do check (local news station) CP24 for the weather daily. So when they turned it on during the Saturday of the summit, they saw images of protesters throwing rocks at store windows and setting police cars on fire. They heard pundits condemning the violence and thuggery, and their curiosity was piqued. They were very interested, and I decided that since they are almost 11 years old, they should be able to watch parts of this particular current event unfolding live on TV.
First they asked me why people were doing this. I told them most people were protesting peacefully, but that some felt the need to protest in a more violent manner, possibly to draw media attention to their extreme opposition to the summit and what it represents. This segued into a long discussion about the G20 and people's possible objections to it. But what stuck with my kids were the images of broken store widows and burning police cars. They began to parrot the politicians' and TV pundits' harsh condemnations of the perpetrators, with one of my daughters being slightly more nuanced in her view of what should happen to these people than the other. They both agreed that the Black Bloc rock-throwers and fire-setters needed to be apprehended and punished, though one thought several years in prison would be appropriate punishment, while the other thought a few months in jail, or possibly a stern talking-to might do the trick.
I then threw them for a loop by pointing out that the non-peaceful protesters were targeting things, not people, and the things they were targeting were—to them, anyway—symbols of larger things that they were opposed to. "They didn't actually hurt any people," I said. "Does that make a difference in how they should be treated?" My one daughter was shocked that I would even ask such a question. She'd just finished hearing commentator after commentator condemning the "violence," without making any distinction between violence against people and violence against things. I reassured my daughters that I was not condoning the tactics of these protesters, and that I do believe destruction of property is wrong. But I told them that to me, it does make a difference that the violence was directed against things, not people. One daughter saw my point of view right away, and tended to agree (which just goes to show how easily influenced some children are!). The other stuck to her guns, and tried to argue in her confused 10-year-old way, that violence is a continuum, and the Black Bloc protesters were of the same kind as those who do violence against people. Basically bad people, though not as bad as murderers, she conceded.
What to make of this? I really don't know. I have learned that it is difficult to talk to children about political issues without being heavy-handed, without trying to shove your own views down their throats. But as parents, I think we need to try to shut up a little, ask questions rather than supply answers, and allow our kids to think, even if what they end up thinking doesn't always dovetail with our own values. After all, kids will change their thinking on issues many times during their childhood and adolescence. They need to be able to grope their way through various provisional positions on current affairs, en route to some sort of—possibly always provisional—adult position. So for now I have one "law-and-order" child and one incipient civil libertarian. I can live with that.