|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
You might remember about a month ago, a 7-year-old boy fed 13 animals to a crocodile at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. During his 30-minute killing spree, the boy beat animals to death with a rock, then threw them to the croc to finish off. Because the boy was under 10 years of age he escaped a criminal charge - but considering the level of public debate about the social impacts of youth violence, is it time to revisit our assumptions about childhood innocence and discipline?
Professor Mark Findlay, director of the
This is because many children are incapable of moral reasoning and decision-making capabilities until the age of 10. Associate Professor Andrew Martin, a registered educational and child psychologist, discusses the relationship between their cognitive state and their behaviour. He indicates that most children under 10 do not understand that what they do will lead to a consequence.
Martin says the age at which a child is considered developed enough to make responsible decisions depends on the society. “At the age of 10, there will be a particular stage of understanding of what is right or wrong - and impulse control can be difficult.”
However, guardians of younger children who commit serious crimes can be made to pay damages to the victims. “In terms of damages, it really depends on the value of the animals," says
Since young children cannot be charged and tried for criminal activities, many people would ask whether they should be taught a lesson with some other form of punishment. However,
“Children at that age do not make rational decisions about whether they are going to do something good or bad. They also do not sit down and read newspapers and decide well, the punishment for that was very great. Therefore, we won’t do that.”
If we cannot put the blame onto the child, then who should be responsible for this public loss of the animals? Generally we may think the child’s guardians should pay damages for this loss and according to the Herald-Sun’s report, the zoo is currently considering suing the parents.
But there is also a question in the
“The difficulty is if you punished the parents, then what impact would this have on the child anyway? Maybe none. Also, the parents may have been careful with this child. He just could be a difficult or cunning child, I don’t know. But I suppose with the damages the question is who has the money to pay. Obviously, it’s not the child. So the first group you go to would be parents.”
I wonder whether in fact the zoo itself has the sole responsibility to keep those animals safe. “It would be unfair to say the zoo has all the responsibility,”
The tragedy has happened already. However, this sort of treatment of animals could be avoided. The law will let the children escape punishment because of their limited cognitive ability. But can we do something to prevent the occurrence of such incidents again?
“What would be more important is the discussion about what happened.” He thinks the education is essential. “Why would any little boy want to destroy animals in this way? So maybe better than using the criminal law as a force for change, we should think about trying to educate children, particularly those children who have an aggressive nature and to discuss the importance of keeping animals safe.”
Children have trouble controlling their impulses. So formal education is an important factor which affects whether a child will understand that a certain act is wrong. Martin also gives many suggestions of preventing children’s problem behaviour.
Adults should explain to children why something is wrong or right; make sure children observe good modelling; monitor what they are watching and listening to; and not forget rewards for good behaviour – but rewards must be used wisely.
“Consequences are a very powerful way of letting children feel they do something wrong,” Martin says. “For example, if your children break the rule, there is no television for 2 days. But rewards, you should use them very carefully. Their intrinsic motivation is they want to help because they want to help, not (because) they want to help so they get money.”