We had some sweet little friends over recently during a rare spring-like burst of warm weather and had the snacks flowing and the sprinkler turning in the backyard, and I had a very “I have become my mother” sort of interaction with one of my son’s buddies.
He had his “phone” with him – an old iPod or a very original iPhone, I’m not qualified to confirm which (though it looked more like a phone to me) and was asking for our wifi password to connect to the internet to play music videos off of Youtube.
“Sorry buddy, we don’t do screens without parents in our house.”
“But it’s just music, Miss Jenny (I don’t ask them to call me this, but it’s fairly adorable/extremely aging that they do).”
“Yeah bud, I trust you, but I don’t trust the internet. Here, I’ll pull up a Pandora station on my computer.”
He continued to fiddle with his device for a few more minutes until I had to gently lay down the law: “bud, you’ve got to turn that off and put it in your pocket, or else you need to take it home.”
Thankfully my kids are not old enough to be mortified by me yet, but I imagine at some point they will feel exactly the way I did when my mom poked her head into the family room and caught my girlfriends and me watching a “Sex in the City” VHS (Lolol) tape that we’d rented from Blockbuster for a sleepover one Saturday night.
“Girls, you’re better than this. This is garbage. You can’t watch this in our house.”
I eye-rolled her haaaaard (and also rebelled like a hellion in college), but my mom was right. And she wasn’t afraid of me – or of my friends – thinking that she wasn’t cool. She didn’t have any ego in her parenting as far as morality was concerned. If it was wrong, she let us know, and while there is room for improvement in everyone’s parenting decisions, this was one area that mine got pretty right.
The funny thing is, even though my parents were known to be less permissive than some of my friends’ parents, if only because they were more likely to be home and therefore less likely to let us host raging parties during their weekends away – my friends flocked to my house after school and on weekends, many of them specifically seeking out the counsel and friendship of my mom. Even though (maybe specifically because?) she often told us “no.”
Fast forward 20 years and I know that we are in the minority in our parenting choices where media and technology are concerned. Our kids don’t have iPads, they don’t have internet access without us peering over their shoulders, we don’t have cable, and we (try to) vet anything they watch on Netflix before they see it. Are we being overprotective? Hell yes we are. Will they someday have unbridled access to everything the www has to offer and go hog wild, glutting themselves on the raunchiest content available? Yes… and hopefully, no.
We’re trying to train them to make good choices in that realm, just like we’re coaching and micromanaging the things they eat, the time they spend on their homework, and the physical activity they get each day. I’m not planning to follow my 18 year old around checking his cell phone any more than I’ll be trying to sneak bites of broccoli into his pasta sauce at that point: the hope is that the training and coaching will have paid off by that point and he will be captain of his own ship. But between now and then, it is our job to teach, guide, coach, protect, and, frankly, look like a jerk in front of his buddies who have their own tablets.
He may never thank me for it, or he may look back in his early 30’s and be glad we tried our best. Either way, it is not my job to be his best friend. It is my job to help him become the best version of himself. And in 2018? That means being super, super cautious where the internet is concerned.
It isn’t a matter of if my kids will eventually see porn, it’s a matter of when. And it isn’t a matter of whether they see the darkest and most degrading, chauvinistic violence committed onscreen, but at what age they first encounter it. I’d just as soon they be twelve than seven, since by that point we will have had several dozen conversations about dignity, sexuality, abuse, consent, and addiction.
It’s not enough to say “well, it’s out there, we have to assume our kids are going to find it,” throwing our hands up in surrender. It *is* out there, and yes, our kids are going to find it. And it is up to us as parents to arm them with the training in virtue and common sense to do with it what they ought: identify it correctly as dehumanizing garbage and reject it as such.
Will they falter and fail? Almost certainly. Will they pick themselves back up again after they stumble, and have the courage to start fresh? That part is up to the grace of God and the best efforts of the adults in their lives to form them, pray for them, and model lives of repentance and virtue.
Our culture eats purity. It feasts on vice and mocks virtue, and signals to parents that any wild oats our kids may sow are simply inevitable stages in modern life. We are told our kids will – and, in fact, should – question the gender we “assigned” to them at birth. That pornography is healthy and normal. That sexual activity among preteens and even younger is only natural, and is best managed with a box of condoms, a scrip for hormonal birth control, and a well-supervised setting where they can experiment “safely.”
This is asinine and more – it is diabolical. We throw our children to the wolves and then we cry out in horror when they themselves become the wolves. We have to be the grown ups, and not to get too Daniel Tiger up in here, but groo-oohn-ups pro-tect.
And say no. And generally do things that make them super unpopular with kids, like withholding matches and credit cards and car keys and, yes, even technology, until and unless the child proves himself capable.
I’m already sweating over the inevitable “how to recognize pornography” talk with my seven-year-old, and came darn close to it last month when his kindergarten brother came home wide-eyed from a trip to the modern art museum and regaled the back seat with tales of “naked people” paintings. We had a decent conversation about the beauty of the human body and how there is a difference between “art” and “bad pictures” like someone might take with their phone and…we stopped there. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the anecdotal point of reference to be able to return to as the conversation continues over the years. On the other hand, I’m going to have 3 teenage boys in my house in less than a decade and come Lord Jesus, come.
What are your best practices for modeling – and expecting – good behavior with technology in your home? Are you already getting the eye rolls from your kids? Do you have good, open communication with their friends and have clear expectations for what flies in your house?