Monday, October 22, 2012

Old School Rules In The Technology Age

Ok, I've seen posts about Amanda Todd a lot this week, a girl who is only the latest in a stunning number of bullying-related suicides. I read these stories of heart ache and evil and, as a human and a Christian, I am outraged. That any one child would go out of his or her way to harass another is bad. That mob mentality so readily takes over, peer pressure and the evil enjoyment at causing someone else to feel so alone and so hopeless, that it happens this regularly, I find even more concerning. You may argue that bullying is nothing new. Perhaps this is true. Today, however, with the internet and social media so accessible to most kids, the potential for the harassment multiplies. Your home is no longer a guaranteed safe haven from the evils of the world. They come right in with the push of the "on" button, or worse, directly to your wifi ready smart phone. Bullying can reach victims 24 hours a day with no intervention.
So, what can we do? How can we protect our children? One way is to be the security that your child needs. Make sure that they have no doubt about your love for them. Tell them from the day they come into this world, who they are, what they can achieve, why they matter! And it is equally important to tell them who they are in Christ. Let them know that they are precious, and unique, and that they are safe to be who they are around you. Little girls who are told that they are special and beautiful and worth more than diamonds to their daddies, they don't have to look for that love in boyfriends. Little boys who get quality time and training on how to be a man, a gentleman and a honorable warrior, they don't have to join a gang or just listen to the loudest voice at school, to know how to be "the man." Fill them with so much love, that they overflow into others around them.
Another way to protect them is to fight the old evil with new, current rules. The internet and social media should not be freely accessible and should not go unmonitored, for children of any age. It should be limited and treated as a privilege, not assumed as a right. And never assume that other parents will take the same care with your child that you do. Kids do not develop the kind of long-term reasoning that they need to be on their own until almost after they are legally considered adults. They are short-sited and it doesn't matter how smart and responsible you think your child is, they could cave to temptation and curiosity, given the right opportunity. So, do everything in your power to remove temptation and limit opportunities. I look at Amanda Todd's story, in the very beginning of her tale, when she says she was with a friend, video-
chatting and was asked to do something revealing. I was horrified that this meeting strangers via web cam was a frequent hobby for these 7th graders. That is so dangerous and it is obvious that they had no parental supervision and no fear that they might be interrupted by adults while behaving in such a way. I cringe when I think of how her dad, who I gather was separated from her mother, probably gave her permission to go to her friend's house, thinking it might be safer than being home alone while he was at work. I'm sure he never could have dreamed that she was participating in something so dangerous, something  that would ultimately ruin her life.
Teach your children about internet safety. Monitor their web searches and text messages and social media. It should be understood before they are given access to such things that you can and will, at any time, look at their communications. Let it be known if that is not acceptable to them, they can live without cell phones and email. The term is "deal-breaker." This is for their safety and your peace of mind. And have them bring friends home, rather than go visit. Unless you really know the other family, it is just safer to keep them home. Plus, you can meet and get to know their friends. This may sound too strict to some, but is it really too much to ask when you love your children. This is where the real parents are separated from the rest, when it takes extra timeand effort. I  would rather have my kids safe and annoyed, than at risk and thinking I'm cool. Don't be afraid to turn off the data plan and confiscate the laptop. I wonder if Amanda's story would have a different ending if she no longer had access to Facebook, where her tormentors kept finding her. What if her cell phone was turned off, her Facebook page deleted? Would she have found a moment's peace if, even though it sounds extreme, she had gone media-dark? Maybe it seems like punishing her to take away her phone and computer, but is it really punishment if it stopped the harassment from reaching her? We will never know, but if one of my children was in that much pain, I would go to the ends of the earth to stop it, so canceling my data plan and removing computers from our home would be nothing. I wouldn't give it a second thought. Radical? Maybe. I am, by no means, passing judgment on any of the parents who have suffered such a loss. I'm just proposing a return to "old-school" parenting. Kids are less capable of taking care of themselves than they were 100 years ago and yet they are given much more freedom in a world far more dangerous. I don't care if every other kid at school has a smart phone, a Facebook account and their own laptop! Mine will survive with a family computer, and when they are older, cell phones and social media will be earned and monitored.

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