Bubblewrapping is not optional


A DAD'S LIFE:After much consideration, a few years back, the missus and I packed up and left Dublin ,where we had both lived most of our lives, for a taste of country living. We balanced all the obvious positives of such a move against the negatives of how much we would miss the city and friends and family. Friends and family could visit; we could visit the city. How bad could it be? Not bad at all.

Another factor that we flirted around, but didn’t like to voice because it would make us sound like overprotective, nonsensically paranoid parents, was that we figured such a move would be beneficial to the kids. I had been happy for a long time to think of my girls growing up in the shadow of Croke Park, but before our departure a couple of less than savoury local incidents made me wonder would an alternative be preferable.

We upped sticks and moved. We can always come back, we said. But the thing is, because the kids put down roots way faster than us, we can’t really. We’ve been here only a few years, but they’ve been here more than half their lives at this stage. This is home.

No matter how we may feel about that particular anchor, I tell myself to retain the same positivity. The kids are happy, have fantastic friends and are receiving an education with class numbers we couldn’t have hoped for before the move. And they’re in a super-safe, cotton-candy environment.

Then I read about the death of Erin Gallagher from Co Donegal, who took her own life after alleging she had been bullied in an online discussion forum, and I realise this notion of geographical safety is nonsense.

Growing up is hard and kids can be nasty. You can box yours in bubblewrap, but sure as a 15-year-old can’t resist squeezing a whitehead, they’ll find ways to hurt each other. They can be wonderful and generous and caring to each other too, but some will suffer and we will continue to have sad stories like that of Erin Gallagher.

Social media annoys me for any number of reasons. Principal among them is its own insistence that it is crucial to humanity, as if it is a miracle we survived for as long as we did before Facebook arrived. Close on the heels of that lie, rumbling on every day and night, is social media’s utterance of banalities.

People tweet and status-update utter dross ad nauseam. Public companies, philosophers, politicians, premiership footballers, popstars, they’re all at it. They spew their thoughts and they are

published and gain credence. If they are repeated, liked, shared, retweeted, or whatever, they gain further kudos. Merit is granted on the spread of a witticism, or an insult, or a nauseating sentimental insight, at the speed of a finger-tap.

I’m sure there are positives, but I really don’t care – now the novelty has worn off – about seeing your 75 blurred photos from Friday night on Leeson Street and I doubly don’t care that you have retweeted Joey Barton’s thoughts on the state of, well, anything, as if the two of you are now bezzies.

I have been guilty of this myself many times. Checking back into Facebook to see if anyone else has commented on my oh-so-hilarious snap of our dog dressed in a tutu. I’ve felt the rush of approval gained from lols and rofls, urgh, and I want to slap myself hard in the mush for the thrill it provided. If I, a big, hairy, grown fella, am seeking approval and bigging up my self-worth from likes online, how can a teenager, searching to understand the person they are becoming, not believe in the importance and value of opinion on the internet? Even if this opinion is supplied by the same people they see in class every day, but this time in cyberspace, where everyone can see, and laugh, and judge.

It’s insidious, but to blame social media for Erin Gallagher’s death, which I would love to, is to shoot the messenger. Kids are delicate and teenagers, despite their near-adult bulk and their confident attitude, are floundering their way out of an earlier, cocooned, kid existence. An existence as inextricably linked to the online world as it is to the world they walk out into every morning.

Whatever walls you put up, the world seeps in, more easily now than ever before. But the rules remain the same: mind those kids until they can mind themselves. Then mind them some more.

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