The recent news that a 2 year old boy has been killed after being snatched by an alligator in Orlando, Florida has left most of us feeling sick and distressed. I woke to hear that his body has been recovered and felt absolutely devastated for the family whose lives will never be the same again.
And then another feeling crept in. Despair. Despair at the thought that this family may well be vilified on social media. Will they somehow be blamed for letting their toddler play at the edge of a lake containing alligators? Will they be abused just as we've seen with two other shocking events involving young children in the past few weeks?
Image courtesy Pixaby.com
Three Weeks Ago
When 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 few days later a 7 year old boy in Japan 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 was eventually found safe and well at a disused military base shelter.
Both of these stories were horrific but ultimately both children were rescued and survived their ordeal.
What was perhaps more sickening, even more than the incidents themselves, is the callous and abusive behaviour on social media of both 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.
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.
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.
Image courtesy Pixaby.com
Judgment by Social Media
So why have so many people expressed such utter outrage and hatred on social media of these two incidents? What makes anyone think that it's OK to abuse another person from the safety of hiding behind their computers or phones? Where is the empathy and compassion? The parents of all 3 recent incidents will be berating themselves for the rest of their lives over that one fleeting moment that we as parents all experience.
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 all of 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?
My heart goes out to the family of 2 year old Lane Graves. Unlike the previous two incidents, they have experienced the most horrific moment of losing their child in the most horrendous situation. I hope that at some point in the future they can find some peace.
But even more than this, I pray that they are treated with understanding, compassion and empathy, that they are not judged on social media.