Never has exercising free will responsibly been more important for children than in the social network, wherein connections can pose as relationships and a lie becomes an experience that murders the truth. In the network culture, there is pressure to believe things that are not true (you are invisible unless you are on Facebook; the voice behind the photo cares about me more than my parents do; or drugs and alcohol are the best way to relieve the stress).
The real question remains, what is the aim? What is the motivation to be in the social network? It is the same question for why we are put in the world. And this is why faith matters.
Children are granted intelligent life and free will, which makes them executive learners. So their motivation to learn how to use free will responsibly is key. When they are motivated by the wrong things (to deceive by creating alternative social network profiles and keeping other secrets), they learn the wrong lesson that they can hide risky behavior and be okay, or circumvent house rules is a way to be “free”.
The lesson our children need to learn to be secure in the social network is that freedom has limits, or boundaries, that are actually liberating from the manipulations of the world on and off line.
The parental role, therefore, is a matter of acting in faith that children can be self governing. With proper instruction they can decide to take responsibility for their personal security in the social network, in age-appropriate ways.
GPS signals for hearts and minds
There are three realms of security: 1) physical (guardians, alarms and locks), 2) cyber (Internet security software and parental controls), and 3) hearts and minds (beliefs, values, norms, emotions). It is in the domain of hearts and minds that we find our internal global positioning system (GPS).
When we think of GPS we think of how the cyber-powered mapping technology tracks our movement and recalculates routes to our destination when we veer off course. Father Phil Massetti, at St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church in Granite Bay, wants parents to consider that our children have this same capacity in the Spirit.
In the domain of hearts and minds, envision your child’s internal guidance system as like a Global Positioning System (GPS) of the Spirit, which will always recalculate a way for course correction aiming for the “bulls-eye” of God’s heart (the center of the cross).
Our role as parents is to help our children tune into the GPS signals at the heart of the bulls’-eye, where God and man are reconciled; it is a state of love being in complete alignment honoring free will. And yet one of the challenges for parenting today is to recognize that the power of our signals does not come from a title (I am “the parent”) or how much money you make (“what I can buy my child”).
The power of your signal comes from the state of your heart and mind, which is expressed as your authentic self when the three elements of your being come into alignment:
- Ethos (trustworthy character – reliable, integrity)
- Pathos (compassion for your child’s liberty; respecting the individual and honoring free will in instilling discipline, as God does)
- Logos (the content of your message; beliefs, values, rules, expectations, norms)
The state of your heart and mind characterizes the content of your message (logos – what you say or do) into signals of love (pathos — as in “I care and am trustworthy”) or fear (as in “it is not safe to communicate with me”).
In this regard, fear disrupts love language carried by our pathos.
The parent role in the GPS of the Spirit is very clear; we are to provide discipline as an expression of God’s love. In this regard we have certain authority over the household for this purpose. Our aim is to encourage children to use free will responsibly. The home is therefore a culture of forgiveness and individual accountability.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
“The Lord launches us into the world through our parents so that we can all learn to love,” Massetti said. “And parents are equipped to launch and steward children so they can experience God’s providence. He gives us everything we need, especially when things don’t go as planned or we have trouble.”
Instilling discipline is not the same thing as punishment. Admittedly, sometimes consequences can be punishing. Discipline must be an expression of your faith – so that your heart, or your “pathos” (compassion) for your child’s security and future can be felt in the delivery of the message (logos). Then house rules become love language deepening the parent-child bond.
In this regard, the discipline that allows children, especially teens, to feel connected to their “sender into the world” (the parent) is communicated as love language; it is a boundary setting process that respects the individual like Jesus does. “In order for the parent’s words to work like GPS, there have to be consequences,” Massetti said. “A raised voice does not do the trick. In fact the more words you use in lieu of implementing consequences, the power of your signal becomes diluted. Especially when you raise your voice.”
There is an old Chinese proverb that expresses this truth beautifully, in as much as we learn from what we experience by doing, hence consequences are essential:
I hear, and I forget.
I see, and I remember.
I do, and I understand.
What every parent must know about the internal GPS of the Spirit for children
Everything you say and do is transmitted by a signal of love or fear, whether you intend to send that signal or not. So your reactions to the things that other people do send signals; your reactions over time train people how to treat you. Some of the reactions of others to your fearful reactions in the home may include:
- Avoidance of communication on matters they consider you to be sensitive
- Over-anticipation of your needs in ways that miss the mark completely
- Repeat the same mistakes over and over
- Resistance to changing behavior
Correct thinking about discipline as love language. In the first place, we must think correctly about discipline. Discipline is always about protecting civil liberty (free will) and involves forgiveness and individual accountability. All attempts to influence behavior with house rules and consequences should be implemented with civil liberty at the heart of the objective communicated clearly. It is a training experience. Think of it as an apprenticeship for life.
Be authentic. Children today are “children of the Web”, or “digital natives”, who cannot imagine the world without WWW connectivity; they are conditioned for authority as a relational thing. They are seeking authenticity, and trust is their currency (which is always verifiable, while faith is for God who requires no proof).
Being authentic is important to communicate house rules as love language – which entail three dimensions of the parent “self”:
- Ethos (character/trustworthy) – consistency with beliefs, values and actions
- Pathos (compassion for helping children use free will responsibly) – speak truth with mercy, enforce consequences without judging, give a clean slate (forgiveness)– the Jesus model
- Logos (content of your message) – create a family creed or motto which expresses the beliefs and values that govern your life, and are demonstrated in house rules
According to Massetti, the good news is that God gives us what we need. Whether you are a single mom or dad, or in a blended family, parents can assert their inherent authority in the social network by making the mustard seeds of faith for civil liberty the cornerstone of the household discipline (we are intelligent, trustworthy individuals with free will), and establish house rules that honor this faith with forgiveness and individual accountability.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays. Her next book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media will be released in the fall 2013.
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