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Teens, Rights, Needs, Laws and the Internet

I just talked to a teen who told me her mother has not been letting her on the computer. This teen is almost old enough to legally move out of her mother's house. And she has long been old enough to be a mother herself. Yet another person, her legal/biological mother, can still deny her access to the Internet, at the mother's sole discretion and whim. There are no courts of appeal this teen can go to seeking help in getting Internet access. If just one person, called a parent, says no, for whatever reason, then the teen cannot get access.

And last night as I was talking to a self-harming teen, her parents cut her Internet off in the middle of our conversation, as they often do, with no regard whatsoever to what that teen is doing on the computer. It doesn't matter if she is helping someone who is suicidal or if she is getting help herself, they just shut it down at an arbitrary time, chosen by them of course.

Parents who don't have self-harming and suicidal teens under their control might not believe other parents could actually be as bad as the parents of the teens I talk to. Many parents could not imagine doing something like taking a teenagers cell phone and going through their text messages, demanding to know who everyone is. Other parents might think this is perfectly within the parents "rights" and even obligations as a parent.

So I want to talk about rights and needs a little more, using the Internet as an example. Here are some questions.

Do teenagers have a "right" to use the Internet?

Do they have a "right" to be informed?

Do they have a "right" to the truth?

Do they have a "right" to different perspectives, different opinions, different beliefs than those of their parents or their culture?

Now I will ask if they have a need to use the Internet. Do they have a need to be informed? Do they have a need for the truth? Do they have a need for different perspectives, different opinions and different beliefs than those of their parents?

Now I will ask does the world need teenagers to be informed? Does the world need teenagers to have the truth? Does the world need teenagers to have different perspectives, different opinions and different beliefs than their parents?

I believe teenagers do need to be informed, they need to know the truth and they need different perspectives and beliefs than the ones which are causing so much pain, destruction and killing in the world. I believe the teenagers need it for their own mental and physical health and that the world needs it as well.

People talk about how young people are the next generation and the future of the world etc, yet some of those same people want to control what the next generation knows and believes.

I have written before about the problems when we confuse rights with needs. I would like to see us talk more about needs and less about rights. But then we have the question of laws.

Is it illegal for a parent to deny a teenager access to the truth? Unfortunately, for the teen and the world, I am afraid the answer is no, it is not illegal. It is perfectly legal in all countries I know of to lie to your children and to deny them the opportunity to even search for the truth.

Sadly, even when young people are herded off to schools, they are rarely encouraged to search all corners of the earth for the truth. Instead, they are rewarded for telling their teachers things which please their teachers, school directors and parents, and they are disapproved of, at the very least, if they start to question too many things or come up with opposing views. And to show that teachers, parents and school directors are factually wrong is a risky thing indeed when you are a teenager.

Each parent has his and her own interests when controlling a child and teenager. Each school director, each teacher has his or her own interests. And each country, each politician, each lawmaker has their own interests.

But what are in the best interests of the world? Of humanity?

Take a country which forces its young people to serve in the military, such as Israel. Is this in the world's best interest? Is it really in the world's best interest to let a country keep people imprisoned in that country until a certain age? If you are born in Israel you must serve in the military. If you are 17 years old and you totally disagree with the majority opinion, it doesn't matter. You still are legally forced to stay in the borders of that place called Israel and serve in the military for two or three years, depending on your sex. If you were born male you have to serve three years. If you were born female it is two years.

Is this good for the world? Does it even matter what people do in Israel? Does it matter what beliefs they teach and what laws they have?

I would say, yes, it does matter. I would say it matters to all of us what they are teaching in Israel. And what they are teaching in England and the United States. Or in North Korea or in China.

Should a Muslim teen have access to the Internet? Should a North Korean?

Should teens around the world be allowed to watch the video about the 16 year old who was executed in Iran? Should teens around the world be allowed to read my website? To read about what I call teen prisoners?

I would say yes to all of the above. I say that teens do need access to the Internet so they can get the information they need to become better informed than their parents. I know a lot of teens who are already more informed than their parents, by the way, yet their parents still have legal power over them. Some of these teens have tried to kill themselves. I am convinced that if these teens were allowed to choose where they live, who they live with, who their friends are and what they do with their time, they would not be suicidal. I have seen adults underestimate children and teens over and over again. Children and teens will usually make healthy decisions when they are informed with the truth. They don't need to be lectured to, threatened, punished, rewarded etc. Teens are not circus animals, although many schools treat them as though they are.

Should all teens know how dolphins are trained to jump through hoops and how frogs will stay in hot water until they are boiled to death? Should they know what adults are doing to them day by day? Do they have a need to know the truth? Do they have some kind of "right" to it?

To me we would do better off to just stop using the word "rights". To me the questions come down to these two words. Needs and laws.

Right now there is too much confusion between someone's rights and the laws which supposedly give them these rights. I have also heard things like it is a "god given right." I am not sure what that means on a practical level, though it sounds hard to argue with at face value.

So back to my question about teens and the Internet. Do teens have a need to be informed? Does the world need informed teens? Does it need informed adults? Do we need the truth to live healthy lives?

I say yes to each question. So until we have a better system than laws, I guess I would have to argue for making it illegal for someone to deny teens access to the Internet. Obviously, lots of people are going to say the Internet is dangerous (and yes it is if you are insecure about your beliefs or your beliefs are based on lies), but the most fundamental question is do teens have a need to be informed.

Maybe asking do we "need" something is a very wise question. For example on the topic of pornography, something many people will quickly think of when it comes to children and teens, we could ask "Do teens need access to pornography?" (assuming we could define what pornography is). In my experience, I would say no, they don't because I know many teens who have never visited a porn site and they are quite healthy.

So before this editorial gets any longer I will end it by repeating these two questions as food for thought:

Does the world need informed teenagers?
What do we really need to live healthy lives?

I would suggest that the answer to the first question is an obvious yes. The answer to the second is much more complicated, but it is definitely important and worth trying to answer. The two questions are connected actually. Because we need information to know what we need to live healthy lives.

S, Hein
Buenos Aires
April 28, 2007

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Video about 16 year old in Iran

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