An Cailín Rua
Throughout the recent trial of the teenagers convicted for the murder of Ana Kriégel, the media drip-fed the most grotesque details of her death from the court, but it was only once the verdict had been issued that the cream of reporting really rose to the top.
In what has to be one of the most outstanding and compassionate pieces of written journalism in recent times, in nearly 17,000 words, Conor Gallagher in The Irish Times pieced together Ana’s story, and that of the boys who so cruelly tortured and killed her. In doing so, he managed to shine a spotlight on Ana’s personality, and the love that existed within her family home, while describing a sequence of events so horrific that they cannot but have chilled the hearts of parents to the bone.
What Gallagher’s piece also did was shine a light on the wider context; the environment in which this incident happened, and the way in which Ana’s peers treated her. ‘Endlessly bullied’, she was a child who just wanted to have friends, to be in company. Instead, she was mocked for her disabilities and for being adopted.
The murder and the trial raise so many questions and fears. Activity on teenagers’ mobile phones, including the ease of access to violent materials. The age-old problem of bullying among young people. The feeling is that this level of cruelty and deceit and violence by two so young is unprecedented, and that as a society that facilitates this, we are somehow becoming worse.
It is easy to decry the current situation as the end of days, but it is important to maintain perspective too.
The reason this case shocked the nation so, is that was an outlier; an event so rare and so awful that it probably could not have been predicted. The internet is being cited as one of the major reasons it happened, but the internet is just a contributor, not a cause. While of course it presents challenges, just as TV and video games did not signal the downfall of the human race, neither will the internet deliver the demise of humanity.
However, there are lessons to be learned, and these lessons must be both learned and delivered at home. I can’t claim to be an expert on parenting, but I was once parented, and if I’m honest, still avail liberally of the wisdom of the not-so-auld pair. And there are some messages that children need to start hearing, fast.
Our boys need to be told, starting from when they can talk, how to respect girls – really respect them.
Remove the constant focus on the appearance of girls, stop constantly sexualising the bodies of women and deflect this. Instead talk about their achievements, about their abilities, about their qualities, their brains.
There is a connection between how boys are taught at a young age to regard women to how they regard and treat them while they are older, and it is not difficult to join the dots. They need to be taught at a very early age how to obtain willing consent and make it a principle throughout their lives.
And they need to be guided towards empathy.
Our girls need to be taught to be confident in their intellect and their abilities, assertive and empathetic. Girls can be cruel just as boys can; kindness is a quality that goes a long way among all. We also need to equip our girls to challenge the perception that their appearance and their bodies are there to be appraised, judged, sexualised and remarked upon.
We also need to talk to children about how they behave with their phones in their hands. While bullying will always exist, mobile technology creates a barrier from behind which it is easier to throw stones, to abuse, to hurt, to share harmful material, to threaten. It can be hard for young people to disclose this type of abuse, and by its very nature it is silent, isolating and debilitating.
Being a parent or a guardian is not easy; but the time and thought invested in developing your children’s attitudes towards their fellow human beings will reap more rewards for society than time invested in academia and extra-curricular activities combined. And now, it is needed more than ever.
An Cailín Rua