This feature on the anatomy of a parent’s heart draws from Joanna’s parent workshop, Fresh Start, which teaches parents how create a family culture to overcome undue influence of texting and social media.
In this networked environment where we are easily distracted with busy-ness, going through our check lists of getting things done, and focused on the multiple channels of communications, we might wonder really what does it mean to express how much you care about your child?
What does love language look like in this cyber-powered environment we are all navigating? And when does our caring transition into boundary violations of fearful attempts to control the things that belong to the child or a complicit surrender of the duties that belong to the parent simply to avoid conflict?
Children today are worldlier at earlier ages. They will challenge authority in ways previous generations could not have imagined and are exposed to and engage in risky behavior at earlier ages. The nature of cyber communications requires that children learn how to be self-governing in responsible ways at earlier ages. And this can feel counter intuitive because previous generations were raised to impose or despise discipline, but not really inspire it as empowerment.
With the advent of the internet and wireless mobile devices, I see God doing a new thing by allowing a power crisis of our own making with the opportunity to strengthen the parent-child bond in deeper, richer ways than previous generations. In this wireless, connected environment, the new demand for parents is to express discipline as a passion for your child’s liberty – which can be experienced as genuine care for their entire well being.
Learning requires love language
The risks today for the parent-child bond in a cyber-powered world are rooted in confusion about what it means to express love with genuine authority that respects free will as God does. We are at risk of seeking control over our children in order to achieve desired outcomes and prevent catastrophes, or give in to the network pressure because it feels so overwhelming and hopeless. We may have dreams for who our children will become and their contributions to the world, we may have fears that the world is too mighty for our children to stand strong and recover from the consequences of their choices, good and bad.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” – Kahlil Gibran
Learning to speak, walk, use the toilet, and to read – every early childhood development experience is very personal and involves some risk. Mastering a new skill is transformative; we are never the same again, opening up new vistas to explore. Did you know there are helmets for toddlers so they won’t bang their heads when they fall? I understand the desire for safety (especially with children who have been diagnosed with a condition that requires extra protection), but sometimes we try to do too much for fear our children cannot learn do it on their own safely or timely, and we shield children from or interrupt experiences that belong to them because it makes ourselves feel better. But the signal it sends your child is that you do not have confidence in her. Let us consider, for example, that an infant confronted with stairs every day might be taught to navigate them safely, going down feet first on the stomach and thus master a new skill and avoid a spill down the stairs. If we rely upon gates to shield them from the experience of navigating stairs, the risk is greater that our infant will fall when the gate is unlatched or when your child encounters stairs where there are no gates.
Cyber technology complicates further confusion between teaching discipline and life skills as love language and fearful controlling.
Parents quickly learn there are no parental controls that will insulate their children from the cyber risks. As children approach middle school, it is easy to believe that we have no power over the undue influence of social media and texting on our children. The world is literally in the palm of the hand with wireless devices pressing in a network of connections, values and beliefs – some of it good and reassuring, much of it trivial, distracting, untrue and disturbing the peace.
Alas, children are drawn to the technology like moths to a flame and they can be convinced of things that are not true. Some examples include:
- The stranger behind the nice photo or the screen name cares more about me than mom or dad does
- What I say and post on line is simply free speech; there are no serious consequences
- You are invisible unless you are on Instragram, SnapChat or the social media app of the day
- Suicide or murderous rage express feelings of overwhelming doom, isolation and hopelessness inspired by posts, texts, and tweets
- The number of contacts and likes in your network is proof of your personal value and sense of worth
- Prescription pills are safe. I can “google” all I need to know to treat my stress and anxiety
- Drinking alcohol under age is safe as long as you don’t drink and drive
- Parties and celebrations require drugs and alcohol
- Drinking alcohol and doing drugs is glorified as a rite of passage
- Parents are irrelevant. They cannot understand my pressures.
The children will always be ahead of parents on the technology learning curve. So what is a parent, teacher or coach to do?
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Meet children where they are. The traditional paradigm for formal authority, where power and decision-making capability is concentrated in a position, such as a parent, teacher, or president, has less impact or gravitas today. We saw this transformation happen in the marketplace in the 1990’s wherein CEO’s had to learn how to lead in a world where hierarchies were leveled by the power of mass communication in the hands of individuals. In the network culture, the world is indeed flat and authority is more of a relational experience that requires fearless collaboration so learning can happen by the parent (about who your child is and what lessons their experiences are teaching them) and the child (to receive wisdom and instruction from parents about fundamental life skills).
It is the seminal lesson of the Garden of Eden. Sometimes our children listen to the wrong voice, no matter how sincere we are as parents. Nevertheless, a parent’s drumbeat of love can continue if we so choose, regardless of how far away from God’s love our children fall in the life lessons of their choices. My faith informs me that redemption is always possible with a heart fixed on the power God gives us to choose what to believe no matter what is happening.
My dear friend Christy Crandell, Co-Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center in Roseville, California, and her son Ryan are a living legend in this regard.
Crandell and her son know well how the human condition can test and strengthen the limits of the love bond between a parent and child. Her 28-year-old son Ryan Crandell became addicted to drugs as a teenager and three weeks after his 18th birthday he was arrested for an armed robbery he committed in order to fund his drug habit and was sentenced to 13 years in Folsom Prison in Folsom, California.
Prior to the robbery, Crandell and her husband had placed Ryan into rehabilitation programs to no avail. Since Ryan’s conviction and incarceration, he recovered from addiction and the magnificent son Crandell knew and loved was serving a higher purpose in prison. Ryan tutored other inmates and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Sociology and is now working on his Masters Degree in Humanities. Crandell and son co-authored a book, Lost and Found: A Mother and Son Find Victory Over Teen Drug Addiction (2006), and she co-founded Full Circle Treatment Center shortly after the book, to help teens and parents overcome teen drug addiction.
Ryan is scheduled for release in March 2014, and plans for a career in social work with teenagers to help prevent and overcome drug addiction. He has spent the last decade in prison very grateful for the opportunity to turn his life around and for the love of his family, and in particular, his mother. “The thing that hurts the most is how I made my mother cry,” Ryan told me at a visit in June 2012. “I am so grateful that my parents never gave up on me. It keeps me going.”
Crandell encourages parents to seek an authentic relationship with their children, by becoming informed about what is happening in your child’s life and in their community. “The pathway to an authentic relationship with your child starts early and is an unfolding process,” she said. “Oftentimes, as children get older, parents shy away from the really hard conversations involving sex, drug and alcohol use, etc. In addition, in order for a parent to be looked at as an authority on any subject requires that the parent be up to date on what is going on in their child’s world – popular TV shows, music, slang terms, dangerous trends, etc. While it is sometimes alarming to parents to discover what is going on in teen culture today, it is of utmost importance to your child’s safety and well being.”
So how can parents communicate how much they care for a child in a world that tells them to resist the limits and consequences of house rules? We must respect the fact that our children are emerging executives whose desire to learn by “doing” via cyber tools is a very real, compelling force.
Anatomy of a parent’s heart: Ethos, pathos, logos
Children today get a lot of fear and fakery in the social network and so they will respond quickly to authenticity at home. And parents already have the genuine authority to communicate house rules and boundaries as an expression of God’s love, which honors free will. While this authority cannot be taken away, it can be surrendered to the fear-based mentality that we must be in control of our children’s life thus rendering our relationship inauthentic. The truth is that when we express our authority with the expectation that the child must choose to learn the lesson we offer, and we respect the fact that we cannot make them learn it, then we can be perceived as authentic.
The authenticity our children seek requires discipline on the part of the parent to tame her own heart and mind to shed fear and embrace the holy confidence that parenting is a divine appointment to teach children the responsible use of intelligent life and free will.
So the question we must ask ourselves and our children is how much power you decide to give up to the internet or the social network? And then it is more likely children will experience discipline as a measure of how much parents care about their liberty and personal power – rather than as parents trying to control them.
First consider three main components of the parent’s heart as a teacher or instructor:
Ethos (credibility and trustworthiness as expressed in 1 Cor. 13: 4-8)
Pathos (your passion for your child’s civil liberty)
Logos (the content of your message)
Ethos.This is your credibility that comes from demonstrating trustworthy character. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8). When we are consistent, when we demonstrate integrity in as much as our actions align with our expressed values, this removes uncertainty. When our children know by our consistent messaging and actions over time that our primary objective is to help them become good decision makers, independent and secure, then we can develop rapport that trumps all technology and apps.
Kim Fredrickson is a Marriage and Family Counselor in Roseville, California, who helps parents understand how to prepare their own hearts and minds in order to form healthy family bonds. “In order to pass onto our kids a solid self-esteem and the ability for them to be there for themselves in positive ways, we need to have these internal strengths ourselves, to some degree,” she said.
According to Fredrickson, in order for children to not be swayed by peers, bullying, and the temptations and influences of the internet world, they need to value themselves, advocate for themselves, and calm themselves when distressed. “Building a compassionate relationship with ourselves is essential for both parents and children,” she said. “When we have this positive relationship with ourselves as parents, we can pass on this perspective, as well as the practical skills our children desperately need.”
This is why lecturing does not work well. Kids tune out. When we lecture, we do not expect the child to have anything to contribute to learning in life, when indeed they have much to share that would educate the parent about their experiences and perceptions. Being open to our child’s perceptions, experiences and observations does not mean we are being a friend instead of the parent, or that we refrain from enforcing consequences for poor behavior. It does mean that we are genuinely interested in what our child has to say; their point of view is vital if there is to be open communication, and then we can help them learn how to develop self-control by talking through feelings and observations about what is happening in their life.
Pathos. This is your genuine compassion for your child’s liberty and it is the strongest signal of love a parent can emit. It requires role clarification; we must recognize when our parenting lane ends and the life of the child begins. When we are sincerely interested in our children as unique individuals who have the God-given ability to think for themselves, accept consequences and stand corrected, the children know it as the real deal. This is the authenticity they seek, sometimes resist, and will empower them to be free agents in the flesh and in the network.
So a formula for demonstrating compassion is: consequences + love = empowerment
My faith tells me that this formula is demonstrated by Jesus’ example.
- Meet people where they are, no matter how much you disagree or how painful
- Speak truth with a heart of mercy and hope
- No judging
- Show the way
And then, this is the hard part for most parents, leave the child in peace to think about it and choose to change their ways of thinking and behaving. You cannot do that for him. That is between your child and the Lord.
Once you have had your say, then pray and you both will be empowered.
Logos. This is your message. It is the marshalling of evidence to engage heart and minds to impart wisdom. The content of our messaging to children (beliefs, values, rules, consequences, experiences, traditions, family history, etc.), when delivered with an authentic (ethos) and compassionate heart (pathos), shapes our children’s perception about overcoming adversity and the pursuit of happiness.
Logos-centric parenting. Our parenting culture tends to focus on the logos, the message, which is not engaging hearts and minds because without ethos and pathos in alignment with the message it is a one way communication. In the network culture, kids will tune out as they are conditioned for interactive learning and it is human nature to learn by doing. Consider the Chinese proverb:
- I hear and I forget
- I see and I remember
- I do and I understand
So in order to be perceived as a trusted resource, parents must check their own motivation (pathos) which is the signal that carries your message. What is the source of your motivation? Whatever the topic, (such as who your child is hanging out with, texting non-stop, time spent on line with games and social media, drugs and alcohol, sex, foul language, helping around the house, how siblings are treated, homework and school, etc.), if you are motivated to control an outcome, then the source of your motivation is fear, not love.
Always, always before you seek to express your concern about a situation, communicate a standard or expectation, or enforce a consequence, check your motivation because the signal that carries your message is more important than the content of your message. In order for content to matter, children must be able to receive it with an open heart. Signals of fear inspire defensiveness and the lesson the child learns is that it is not safe to be in open communication with you.
For more about a parent’s heart and building a family culture rooted in faith to overcome the undue influence of social media, check out Fresh Start, Joanna’s training for parents. To schedule a workshop at your home, school or church, contact Joanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceed to next article: How to help kids prevent and recover from risks involving drugs, sex and bullying
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. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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