I had a very disturbing incident happen this weekend. If I take any lesson from it, it's that we should never try to shield our children from the uglier things in life, because they must have the ability to recognize such things as being ugly.
Saturday morning, DJ was busy at the computer, working on his Neopets Guild layout. If you don't know how to make such a layout, there are other Neopets users who will share their code with you, and all you have to do is change a few lines here and there to substitute your words for therirs. Basically, they are lending you their design.
So DJ, having experienced too much frustration in trying to make his own layout, decided to ask one of his Neopet buddies for a layout. The buddy (known only through AIM and Neopets) happily agrees and sends DJ the needed code.
About twenty minutes after DJ plugs the code for the new design into his layout, he comes into the living room where I am sitting, looking very disturbed.
"Mom, some guy just IMd me and said that I have to take my layout down because he's Jewish and it offends him."
"What's on your layout?"
Well, that doesn't seem right to me. So I tell DJ to tell the person that he doesn't have to join the guild if he doesn't like DJ's use of a religious symbol. DJ does that. He comes back five minutes later, tears in his eyes.
"Mom, the kid says he's going to report me if I don't take it down. I don't understand!"
So I get up and go into the kitchen, where DJ's computer is. I ask him to show me the layout. He does. I can actually feel my face turn white. There, on DJ's layout, is on Iron Cross with a swastika embedded on it. I think I panicked.
"Take it down. Right now. Down. Take. It. Down."
DJ looks both confused and scared. He immediately erases the entire code, sensing my alarm.
"What is it, mom?"
"You don't know what a swastika is?"
"No, I don't know! I swear, I don't know if it's bad or not, I just wanted to use it 'cause the red and black matched the rest of my guild!" He's starting to cry now. I briefly explain to him what the swastika represents. He is well aware of the Holocaust and of Hitler, but for some reason, the swastika was never brought up during history lessons at school.
Meanwhile, the other kid is IMing him at frantic pace, telling him that he's going to get DJ's Neopets account taken away and that if DJ doesn't take the picture down, it's a hate crime.
I get on AIM and start talking to the kid, who seems to be older than DJ, maybe in his early teens. I explain that DJ had no idea what the swastika represented, that he's very sorry. The kid relents a little, but I can tell he's still mad. The kid's father gets on AIM and tells me that they immigrated here from Israel about ten years ago. I exlpain over again about DJ's ignorance of the symbol, and I feel horrible that my son did not know. He should have known. The father is very understanding, very nice. He checks and sees that DJ has taken the offending graphic down and assures me that he will not report my son to Neopets.
Then we both realize that the person who sent DJ this graphic not only has it on his own guild, but stores the image on Neopets. The father agrees to be the one to report the kid to Neopets.
That part of the ordeal over, I approach DJ, who is now in his room, still crying. He feels so guilty that he upset this kid and his father, and very guilty that he had that symbol of hate on his site.
Was it my duty to teach him what a swastika is? I just assumed that they would go over these things in class as part of history. After all, history is filled with probably more bad things than good.
It's not like you sit the kids around the table one night and say, well, now that we've told you about date rape and dirty syringes, we'll show the hate symbols of the past.
How do you bring this stuff up out of nowhere? At least in schools, they would teach it in the context of a history lesson, which I just assumed was happening. Even when we did talk about Hitler or the Holocaust at home, I never bothered showing him a swastika I felt that he just didn't need to know about it.
How wrong I was. Knowledge is power. Had DJ been able to recognize the symbol when he first saw it, he would have never put it on his site and he would have reported the kid who sent it to him right away.
I wonder how many other things I've not bothered to tell my kids about will end up costing them in the future? I certainly can't depend on the public school system to teach them everything; that's apparent by the textbooks they bring home each year. History has been whitewashed.
Well, lesson learned, I suppose. The hard way, of course, but not many lessons are learned the easy way.