Wednesday, December 15, 2010
By Dean Kalahar
The Federal Government, through The Center for Disease Control (CDC), is once again conducting its national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). States, through their county school systems, administer the test to children in grades 6, 8, 9 and 11 to collect data on youth behaviors. “The purpose of the YRBS is to monitor priority health-risk behaviors that contribute substantially to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth, which contribute to patterns in adulthood.” Stop and think to yourself: have you ever heard of this survey taking place in your child’s school? Do you know what is in the survey?
The compassionate intentions of the program are potentially useful, but for all purposes, the program is abusive. The reasons for concern are twofold. First, the survey is not a generic data collection event for caring school officials. It is a highly provocative and morally questionable set of questions being asked to our most vulnerable population, children as young as 11 years old. You can judge for yourself with a sample of the following questions from this year’s 99 question YRBS.
-Have you ever had sexual intercourse?
-Have you ever had oral sex?
-How old were you when you had sexual intercourse for the first time?
-Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?
-During your life, with how many people have you had sexual intercourse?
-During the past 3 months, with how many people did you have sexual intercourse?
-The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?
-How many times have you been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant?
-During the past 12 months, did you make a plan about how you would attempt suicide?
-During the past 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?
Secondly, the subject matter alerts any sensible adult that highly specific administration guidelines must occur to protect parental rights and be in compliance with the Family Privacy Protection Act (FPPA) and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Although there are clear rules to follow when conducting surveys with minors, so as not to violate laws in regards to parental consent and confidentiality, these safeguards to family and children’s rights are not being taken.
In fact, the CDC website states that “Local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administration of a YRBS.” In addition, the CDC states “Parental permission was obtained for students to participate in the survey. Student participation was voluntary, and responses were anonymous.” Regrettably, these statements are pure fantasy. The fact is, close monitoring of parental permission is not happening and the test is being administered with little regard to children’s rights. Because of this negligence, the situation has to be exposed.
It is easy to witness or experience the abuses first hand working as a public school teacher. Problems include ignoring signed parental non-consent forms, not alerting parents of the survey by letter, not giving instructions to students taking the survey, and legally questionable opt-out procedures offered to parents. Additionally, there is no oversight or consideration of the ramifications the questioning has to a student’s emotional or psychological stability after the survey.
Processes are clear on how to obtain parental approval through active or passive parental consent laws. Again, according to the CDC, “Most states employ passive parental consent when administering such surveys. Under this system, written notice is sent out to parents informing them of the upcoming survey and the types of questions it will ask, and then permission to participate is assumed unless parents or students indicate otherwise. With passive parental consent all students and parents can decline to participate at any point in the process.”
Again, the CDC can tell the public whatever it wants, but it is up to the individual school districts, schools, and classroom teachers to follow the specific rules through “written instructions” to effectively administer the survey and provide safeguards against surveying a student whose parents had not given their consent. Vigilance, ethics, professional, and legal requirements obligates anyone involved in administering the survey to protect individual freedom. Inexcusably, bureaucratic apathy all but negates this from happening.
Even with all of these specific rules and regulations, laws are being ignored? As such, targeted legislation needs to be passed addressing the lack of seriousness in following the law. Stiff penalties in the form of fines or jail time should be legislated to create the incentives to once and for all end the blatant disregard for the role families have in raising children as parents see fit.
Potential legal actions against the misadministration of the YRBS are justified. They would be an expensive and embarrassing wake up call to survey advocates. Parents, government officials and school leaders must now take action on this issue. The YRBS should be stopped until such time as all parties can be assured the laws that govern the administration of surveys to children will be done with the utmost of respect for the process and protection of individual rights.
Any response less than a full scale investigation will signal only one conclusion; the government wants to know if your child has “had sexual intercourse,” and they are not interested in such pesky things as laws, ethics, mothers or fathers.
Monday, December 6, 2010
By Dean Kalahar
Not so long ago, teenagers learned the hard realities of life, face to face, while they were busy hitting the books. This process was a predictable and stable series of life events, challenges, and personal achievements that guided them to adulthood. In fact, Eric Erickson, a pioneer in psychology, detailed why this interaction and group dynamic is important in the maturation process of teens. First, group interaction allows teens to feel acceptance, fit in, and find a temporary identity. Secondly, the group acts as a manageable measuring stick for a teen to psychologically compare and contract their unique temperaments, values, and principles. This interplay eventually solidifies into a unique sense of self where individual acceptance occurs. In short, the process allows a teen to grow up.
Today, however, technology such as Facebook has unknowingly removed the fundamental aspect of personal interaction and juvenile maturation. The devastating cost of this cyber-disease that ravages the minds of our most vulnerable citizens needs to be understood and evaluated.
Facebook, the social networking site that has become a primary link for many aspects of commerce and communication is robbing our youth the ability to answer the most important question of the maturation process, “who am I.” As a result, children are reaching adult age without undergoing the orderly and sequential experiences and associated cognitive growth necessary to become adults. The result is a generation who are immature, confused, self absorbed, and incapable of handling rejection, disappointment, challenges, and reasoned thought.
Facebook creates a lifestyle of empty friends, phony group dynamics and self-promotion that inhibits the behavioral interactions necessary for personal growth. Today’s teens do not learn about life, face to face, they covertly create a cyber identity where they hide from themselves and the realities of growing up, while believing they are becoming mature and ready to face life’s challenges. The group dynamics created by Facebook is an ironic mirage that has nothing to do with true social interaction or networking.
Teens using Facebook are forced into an unmanageable and unpredictable maturation process based in a cyber reality where the dominant need is to “fit in.” This is done following a software model of being “friended,” updating ones “status,” and obsessively self-promoting and visually glorifying every trivial second of one’s empty existence. Maturation with Facebook is an unstable series of cyber interactions, cyber attacks, and worthless cyber achievements that create psychological confusion and hold hostage a child’s ability to grow and mature.
In a seemingly safe attempt to build a persona and ultimately accept one’s self, kids are actually placing themselves in an experience that does just the opposite. Facebook offers the non-adult mind severe identity confusion, moral relativity, anger, and depression- just to name a few potential maladies. Our children are not becoming productive self reliant adults, they are becoming slaves to a false world of human interaction and surface noise where everyone is connected, everyone communicates, yet nobody speaks. The result, psychologically stunted adults.
Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook from his dorm room at Harvard has been portrayed as a social outcast in his youth. What began as an alternate reality to replace genuine interaction for Zuckerberg was turned into a multi-billion dollar practical joke as if to say, “If I had to suffer, so will the rest of you.” In Facebook, we truly have the Revenge of the Nerds.
We are losing our traditional system of self acceptance through personal growth and replacing it with a dangerous computer application that transcends the guidance of the family and tangible friends. In the end, adult children who are empty, confused, and lost can thank Facebook for their inability to face the world. How do we know Facebook is becoming a surrogate to accepting self? Half of the 500 million users log in every single day. “Please define me Facebook, I need you to be whole.”