Last week there were two major parenting stories to hit the news:
- Cincinnati, USA
A 4 year old child fell into a zoo’s gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati. A 450lb male gorilla called Harambe dragged the child through water and displayed some aggressive behaviour. The zoo’s bosses made the decision to shoot dead the gorilla in order to save the child.
A 7 year old boy was ordered out of his parent’s car on a mountain road after he had been caught throwing stones at cars and people. He was left by a forest infested with bears as punishment. His parents drove off to teach him a lesson and when they went back to get him he had gone, disappearing for 7 days. Yamato Tanooka trekked through the forest for miles and survived after finding a disused military base shelter.
Both stories are horrific. I saw the video online of the first incident at the zoo and felt sick seeing that little boy being dragged through the water. And I remember listening to the updates on the radio about the young boy lost in a forest in Japan, thinking I don’t know how that child will ever be found alive.
Judgment by Social Media
What is perhaps more sickening, even more than the incidents themselves, is the callous, vindictive and abusive behaviour on social media of these parents.
Within hours of the video footage at the zoo going live, there were petitions and pages being set up to obtain justice for the gorilla. There was utter condemnation of the mother and messages urging her children be taken into care. Others went further demanding that the parents be shot. The abuse was so frantic and awful that the child’s mother had to delete her Twitter and Facebook account and go into hiding.
Yes it’s awful that a rare silverback gorilla had to be shot. But can you imagine the alternative if that little boy had been killed? The zoo employees would not have taken that decision lightly. Can any of us honestly say we would have behaved any differently if it was our child being dragged through the water? Would we not have screamed for something to be done?
This week it was announced that the parents would not be charged with neglect and I absolutely agree. Children can be curious, determined and lightening quick. They can get up to all sorts in the blink of an eye. Who hasn’t experienced that heart-pounding moment when you’ve turned around only to find them gone? Even if it’s for 10 seconds, it is a scary and desperate moment.
So why have so many people expressed such utter outrage and hatred on social media? Where is the empathy and compassion? This mother will most likely be berating herself for the rest of her life over that one fleeting moment that we as parents all experience.
The incident in Japan was harder to understand. Yes, it was stupid and absurd to leave a child alone by a bear infested forest even for a small amount of time. But who hasn’t become exasperated by their child for constantly misbehaving? Who hasn’t tried to find a new way to discipline or treat their child in the vague attempt to change or modify their behaviour?
The parents didn’t mean to lose their child for 7 days, they wanted to teach him a lesson. When Yamato was found, his father said, “Our behaviour as parents went too far, and that’s something I’m extremely regretful about. I thought that what I was doing was for his own good, but, yes, I realise now that I went too far.”
Do these parents also need to experience the constant abuse online from others who seem to serve as self imposed judge and jury? Surely the realisation that their child could have been killed by a decision that they’d made is enough of a punishment to endure.
Both incidents are terrible, but both stories could have ended in a much more horrific way; with both children being killed.
Surely the torment of reliving those awful days, asking themselves over and over what they should and could have done differently, is punishment enough for these parents.
Surely we need to ask ourselves whether it could well have been us that lost sight of our child for a fleeting moment or whether it could well have been us who lost our temper with our children. If a 60 second snapshot of our lives was uploaded to social media to be judged could we be certain that our behaviour as parents would be perfect or would it most likely be flawed?
Surely we all need to have much more understanding, compassion and empathy for these parents and stop judging each other.