Ongoing strike leaves parents in a quandary

Although police statistics suggest that youth violence have not risen since start of the school strike, organizations and parents see a clear link between the two.

It's 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and the two teenage girls I've come to interview about their feelings on the current teacher strike and how they've been spending their unlimited free time are still sleeping. "It's a ridiculous situation," declares Adina (not her real name), the mother of one of the girls. "[My daughter] goes out every evening to meet her friends, and during the day, all she does is sleep. Her motivation to learn has gone way down, and I am very worried that even when school does eventually start up again, she will find it difficult to get back into a routine." She adds that she has finally decided to inform her daughter that from now on, she'll only be allowed out one night a week. "It's hard - on the one hand, you don't want your child to be different from everyone else; on the other, they hang out on the streets until 1 a.m., sometimes walking home on their own, and I'm really scared of what might happen to her," continues Adina, highlighting two recent instances of youth violence in which a 12-year-old Pardes Hanna girl was found drugged and appeared to have been raped by two 13-year-old boys, and a 16-year-old Haifa boy, Raziel Hajaj, was murdered in Herzliya. "He was killed for no reason at all," she says of Hajaj. "We [parents] want the government to provide a framework for our children as soon as possible. The summer vacation is over, and they need to be back in school." Although police statistics released Monday suggested that youth violence and crime have not risen since the start of the school strike, organizations and parents like Adina see a clear link between the two recent incidents and the lack of formal activities for their children. "It's a catastrophe," comments the second girl's mother. "I am fed up with fighting with her over how much TV she watches, how often she is on the computer and whether she can go out every night with her friends." She adds that she tries to make sure she knows where her daughter is at all times and drives her to and from social gatherings. "But when she decides to stay over at a friend's house, I have no control over what time she returns or where she is really going," says the mother, adding that only last week she went out at 1 a.m. to pick up her daughter and found the streets full of kids hanging out. "Anything can happen to her, even five minutes from home," she says. At this point, the two girls have woken up and are ready to share their activities from the past two weeks. It's a short conversation. "Its nice not to have to wake up early in the morning," begins Adina's daughter. "But it is starting to get boring." "We don't go out every night anymore. We did in the beginning, but it's getting boring now," her friend chimes in. "But now it's hard for me to go to bed early, because I'm used to staying up late, so if I don't go out, then I just chat on the computer with friends." While staying at home might be the preferable option, it is notable that the girl in the Pardes Hanna case met the two boys in an Internet chat room. "Internet is the new danger," comments Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the National Council for the Child, a children's rights organization. "In the past, sex offenders had to go to a park to find their victims, but today, with the Internet, its much, much easier. They don't have to drag their victims into their cars or bribe them with candy; they can just prey on them on-line." "I heard about what happened [to the girl in Pardes Hanna]," acknowledges Adina's daughter. "But I'm not scared, because I only chat with people I already know, and I only go out with my friends from school." "The scariest thing is that these kids are just not scared of anything," Adina interjects. "I just hope the strike ends soon before another disaster happens."