You are justifiably worried about your child being exposed to porn, bullying, and invasion of privacy due to social media.
Our most serious thinkers pen essays worrying about the dire effects of these things on our children. They call for marches. They call for internet blocks. They want someone to do something.
Well, Auntie Leila is here to tell you what to do. It’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
No one can fix things but you, the parents. No school system, no technological fixes, no government. I’m all for society doing certain things, but it’s not going to help unless parents keep their children safe. The reason is that there is too much money to be made as long as parents are clueless.
So, it’s just you.
But you can do it.
Make up your minds.
You certainly wouldn’t serve up a dish of excrement with their meat and potatoes. Well, I’m going to give you ten ways to keep the excrement out of their spiritual food as well.
You can give your children a healthy, happy childhood. Will doing these ten things guarantee that your kids grow up to be pure and see God? No, alas, there are no guarantees. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing your best. Be realistic, but be confident.
Know that mistakes happen. Lord knows I’ve made my share. I’m not a perfect parent and neither are you, but let’s not get upset.
1. Decide on your standards and stick to them.
Talk about it between yourselves (husband and wife). Revisit, revise, but be realistic. The most important thing is to have standards, and this will necessarily be somewhat relative.
What I mean by that is that each family can figure things out without being exactly like the other families. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re somewhere on the “standards playing field.” I am not going to get into how many inches a pair of shorts can be in the inseam, or at what age a kid can have a phone. I’m just saying, decide for yourselves how to handle things and then handle them, even if it means making sacrifices — and it will.
A secret: Almost any standards will do. Seriously. This is not about being super strict and running away from the world in freak-out mode. It’s about staking your claim wherever you can, showing your kids that you care, and sticking to it when they are older and can really talk back to you — in the second decade. Believe me, that’s what matters.
In general, it’s a good idea to have lots of standards for lots of things, just so that when the day comes for you to say no to an inappropriate mode of dress or an unlimited texting plan, you all have practice.
2. Wives, encourage your husbands to protect.
Just let him say what he needs to say to be protective, even if sometimes it seems like too much. You can talk about it later.
If it’s too little, encourage him when you’re alone. Sometimes you can work it out beforehand that he’s okay with you saying something like, “Daddy says you can’t do that [dress that way, use your phone that way, talk to a girl that way].” Some husbands are by nature not on top of the details — they are more or less happy to delegate.
However, it’s better for the unity of the family for rules to come from him, so this is a good compromise — letting you channel his “wishes.” As long as he backs you up (“Um, right, absolutely you are not wearing that!”) you’re good. Keep your discussions with each other private. Better to err on the side of setting standards than of being permissive. Be grateful to each other for your solidarity in this battle!
3. Don’t allow, and then strictly limit, social media.
There is no way that a small child needs a phone or iPad or what have you of his own. An older child might need one (it’s up to you to decide), but you are the guardian of his soul and the payer of the service bill.
Remember that even a Kindle has access to the internet. Gaming devices (including hand-held ones) do too. Try to think of what children ever did without phones and then make your decisions without reference to whining, attitude, your need for peace and quiet, etc.
4. Be the gatekeeper for visual images.
I can distinctly remember as if it were this morning, the day some boys in my fifth grade (so that would be about 40 years ago) brought in playing cards with pictures of ladies’ boobies on them. Point being, porn isn’t new, it is only now insidiously omni-present and weirdly aberrant, if we can even make that distinction, which I think we can.
But it’s up to us to know what our children are looking at. Movie and show choices are a subject for another post, but do realize that the bar out there is set very, very low. You are the one to make decisions about what they see. It means that you have to know beforehand what the visuals and the references are going to be. Go ahead and stall for time if you are caught off guard. They can re-watch a favorite movie if you didn’t have time to check out the one they want to watch now. It is not unimaginable for you to make a kid call you from his friend’s house to ask if he can watch a certain movie. If he knows it’s a rule, he’ll do it.
There was a popular show from 15 years ago, maybe (but it’s still very popular), where parental bedroom activity was discussed — not cool for an eight-year old to hear, no matter how amusing the show is overall for older kids; so sorry, older kids. You don’t get to have it on, because there is no way I can preview every show. Concern for others is what we’re all about! Don’t go by ratings. Often PG-13 movies are way ruder than R shows. Get some savvy.
Feed them beautiful images — good books, like the ones you find on the Like Mother, Like Daughter Library Project — and good movies, of which there are plenty. Hmmm, maybe we need a list of those…
Feed the imagination with good things. Don’t be afraid.
5. Mind your own viewing and conversation.
If you think your kids don’t know when you’re being a hypocrite, you’re wrong. Practically the only thing that matters to them as they go through adolescence is figuring out whether you are committed to the things you profess. It takes a lot of virtue to overcome your temptations when you are immature. If a mature person can’t do it, well….
Appropriateness expands with experience, of course, and they can be taught that, but there are lines. Sometimes the best lesson you’ll teach your kids is when they realize you were willing to turn off a show you were looking forward to watching because it was rude.
6. Actively seek out friends who will share the journey with you, even a little.
People don’t have to be 100% on board with every little issue you have (see #1) to be in solidarity with you on the way. Most people these days are suffering from utter memory loss. They are the ones who had all-night prom parties and middle-school sex-ed demonstrations (all this has been going on for a long time). And now they (and we) are parents.
Most of them, through no fault of their own, have even less idea than you do how to raise their children. Even the people who are gung ho for natural childbirth and breastfeeding and staying home and making their own bread are at a loss when the nine-year old wants to be Miley Cyrus for Halloween.
It’s up to you to share your struggle.
When you mention that your children aren’t going to be seeing such-and-such a movie, their ears will perk up. Notice that. Those people are the ones who are going to be on board with your crazy ideas (see #7). Even if they are on board for only some of them, that’s how a real community of like-minded people is formed. If nothing else, they will remember your comments when making choices that involve your kids. You want that to happen.
We’re all on a learning curve here. Be open to those who are willing to figure things out, even if they don’t get it all right away. Who knows, they might teach you a thing or two.
Befriend everyone your child interacts with — at least be open to friendship. Don’t dismiss people out of hand because they don’t look like the sort who will be up for the community you have in mind. Share your thoughts honestly, as the situation allows.
Sooner or later, you will find kindred spirits who will go along when, say, you nix the pleas for whatever is replacing Facebook for tweens these days. Since their children won’t be doing it (whatever it is), thanks to your outspoken yet friendly willingness to air your views, your children will be more likely to forgive your intransigence. At least they will know you aren’t the only crazy parents in the world. A valuable state of affairs.
If everyone is silently deploring the conditions that their kids are exposed to, but no one knows that the others are as well, how can things change? So yes, go outside your comfort zone and express your opinions to your acquaintances. You don’t have to be that wild-eyed crazy mom. Just ask them if they’ve read the headlines and see what ensues in the way of conversation. Even if they don’t seem interested or actively oppose you, don’t worry. The important thing is that you tried.
My seat-of-the-pants assessment is that if five families in a community made a commitment to these points here in this post, in a way that leaves room for family freedom of expression (that is, don’t be a wacko cult), you’d see a big difference made where they live. At a minimum, you’d have enough kids for a fun bonfire.
7. Provide healthy interactions with friends.
It’s not enough to refuse to go to the pool party on the grounds that the ten-year olds were uploading videos of themselves dancing in bikinis (true story). No, the burden is on you to provide a pool party where the kids swim, innocently play games, and enjoy their time together. (It’s also on you to be the adult who walks over and says something to the effect that the phone needs to be put away.)
I’d say that the first ten years of your family life should have as a goal to end up in a living situation where fun can be had. In other words, try to plan for hospitality and conviviality. It’s hard if you’re like me and didn’t grow up with it.
Just keep trying and keep making mistakes.
Your goal is to contribute what you can to the community in terms of fun, wholesome entertainment, great music (think folk music of some kind that’s easy for everyone to join in), and whatever kinds of culture you can dredge up!
8. Provide peace and quiet.
Most people, children included, actually don’t want to be stimulated all the time. Social media can remove the possibility of down time. Bullying has always existed, but a child could get away — once he got home, he’d be safe, at least. I remember my father telling me to get off the phone. Part of it was that if anyone wanted to call, the line would be tied up. But part of it was the truth that after a certain amount of time, enough is enough, interaction-wise.
Texting in particular makes it so that a person has no recourse, no refuge, no inner space. I’m a little astonished at the lack of rules about texting for kids.
But who would make the rules? Only the parents can do it.
9. Trust and show affection — real affection.
Most advice from the world won’t touch the reality that parents simply ought to take responsibility. The peer culture is so strong that even adults don’t dare point out to other adults what their duties are. Experts fall back on urging us to trust children, although they haven’t given a plan for the basis of trust.
Instead, provide the basis and then trust — according to the age and maturity of the child, of course. Mistakes will happen. Be confident. Know that when you don’t panic but show firm confidence in your principles, your children will respect you, even if they err. Can you remember straying? Well, then.
Don’t make your kids feel like you are certain they are doing something terrible. Don’t create a paranoid atmosphere of distrust, no matter how bad things seem out there, and they are bad. Stick with the old adage: Trust, but verify.
I think a lot of people equate being strict (or even just having some standards) with lacking affection. What I have learned in the Hard Times University is that the best way to raise children is to be warm and demanding. When you aren’t smacking them upside the head (that is a figure of speech — don’t leave me comments about it), you should be hugging them.
Smacks, trust, hugs.
Pray together as a family, pray on your own. What else do you have a family for, other than to see the children grow up happy and healthy, with blessedly pure eyes with which to behold the Lord? Why else would you go through the trouble, if not to make things better for everyone? What are knees for, anyway?
Trust that God will give you the grace to do what you have to do, even when it seems hopeless — as long as you do your part. No giving up, no giving in, no making your peace with the popular culture.
Especially, live Sunday as a day of rest that bestows the peaceful connection to God’s will. Enjoy each other’s company! Your family needs this. We all do. Things are bad, but there’s hope. God made families to protect their children. So that’s what you need to do.