In a timeless manuscript chronicling the fear-inspiring challenges and anxieties of the WII-depression-era generation, Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944), offers practical, high impact guidance for parenting in the network culture.
Carnegie was most certainly not specifically addressing the horror of 9/11 terrorism, the global economic meltdown and destabilization triggered by the “too big to fail” housing finance crisis of 2008, or the evils perpetrated in the youth social networks inspiring anxiety, depression, suicide, murder, and sexual exploitation. He does, however, offer practical strategies in the form of perspective about the role of religion in a free society that enables people from all walks of life to overcome the adversity of harsh and punishing consequences in the world. He provides a beautiful tapestry of thought leadership in the stories illustrating the faith of regular and famous folks, and refers to ancient philosophers and the epiphanies of modern psychology that typify how individual resiliency is cultivated through a belief in the higher power that is within the individual who offers up a willing heart and mind.
“If religion isn’t true, then life is meaningless. It is a tragic farce.” – Dale Carnegie
His rich, diverse chronicle includes how his own mother overcame the financial hardship of raising children in poverty conditions through prayer, and how he overcame poverty conditions in a lackluster sales career by choosing his thoughts about where his power comes from in the first place. He shares the tremendous insights of legendary characters, such as Henry Ford who he interviewed about worrying a few years prior to Ford’s death. When asked if he ever worried, Ford is reported as saying: “No. I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn’t need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe that everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?”
In this regard, my faith informs me that common sense is the God-given ability to think for ourselves regardless of our circumstances. It doesn’t require a PhD or any other letters after your name; it doesn’t require an act of congress. It is the authority to balance emotion, reason, and faith– like learning to ride a bike in all weather and terrain. Sometimes it is very windy and we are knocked over; other times the roads are slick and wet; and sometimes we face steep mountains that seem impossible to traverse.
And the reason why common sense is not so common is because we are all subject to fear-inspiring manipulations of the physical and cyber realms. So anxiety and worry are dangers that cause us to navigate our thinking away from God’s providence, where there is perfect peace; a state of heart and mind governed by love, not fear – which I understand to be the heart and mind of God.
So let us be clear. Worrying is not the same thing as caring because it is the product of fear, not love. And worry is in my opinion the most toxic temptation of the modern parent given the truly perilous network culture that encompasses the modern childhood.
So often in conversations with parents, worries about their children in the boundary-less social network are expressed as if it is the same thing as caring.
I can relate.
As an ancient cyber mom, I have been terrified about the images and ideas of the network culture streaming untruth and distractions into the hearts and minds of my own children, potentially leading them astray, as they have free will. My fearful heart at times wanted to take away all of the devices and lock the children in their rooms. Below are some of the startling encounters on the devices in our home:
- Circa 1997, while searching for Pokemon websites on NetScape, XXXX porn URLS populated my browser buffer and I nearly clicked on one of them in front of my seven-year-old son. It was at that moment that I learned that internet connectivity in the home is essentially an “invasion” if we allow it. Yes indeed, there would be a lot of learning to do.
- While at the only computer in our home with internet connectivity circa 2000, there was a rap, rap, rap at the chat room door which presented an inquiry from someone with a handle called “Love hurts” asking my 5th grader if he went to the local high school. Needless to say we closed the messenger account (which was established with my supervision and a short buddy list that included a handful of friends and cousins in Texas).
- Before mainstream media reported about it (circa 2003), I discovered MySpace while doing a control H on my 7th grader’s computer to find a URL depicting a MySpace account for a profile of a straight, white male, 17 years old, followed by URLS with porn catering to that profile with very explicit images. The profile contained answers to questions like “vanilla or chocolate?” and “How do you want to die?” It took my son over five hours to help me calm down (admittedly I did freak out which is not a good thing), and understand that this was not his MySpace account, which was called up by a friend using this computer. The account did indeed belong to a student at a school in another town. After I calmed down, together we did research about website filters and installed a net-nanny product to help limit the inappropriate content. And I continued to monitor internet activity. Our family motto is: “Inspect what you expect.” I expected to find my children mostly making good decisions, and anything questionable was a good conversation to impart wisdom and learn from one another.
- In the fall of 2004 my youngest son hit middle school and purchased a “pay as you go” NEXTEL mobile phone, which provided an application called “texting”. My husband and I agreed to let him use his own paper-route money to purchase the phone (there was no contract, he would pay for everything), not thinking about the implications of mobile connectivity which became a game changer for parenting. Before we knew it, just about every child in the neighborhood and in his class were texting and the communication between parents and children and among parents took on a new dynamic which left children extremely vulnerable to risky beliefs and ideas. This clandestine communication of peer communities enabled children to keep secrets, which most certainly harbor risk. Parents started issuing mobile phones to stay in communication with their own children and started to believe only what their children told them about what is happening in their lives. Parents stopped “inspecting what they expected.” The assumption of the day was that when you love your child she or he cannot do anything wrong as long as they are checking in. There was tremendous confusion between trust which is verifiable among humans, and faith which is reserved for God.
And so I have had to learn to tame my own fearful emotion by faith-informed reasoning. Because God honors free will, we have to respect free will in our children and prepare for them experiences to learn how to use it wisely, and recover from the consequences of poor choices, especially when confronted with the serious, life-threatening temptations of the cyber realm. And through my ancient cyber mom experience, I have learned that without this mustard seed of faith we will be left with only worry or abdication. We will try to control them and their circumstances on and off line, or throw up our arms declaring we can do nothing about it and simply believe that our children’s technical savvy with a list of “do’s and don’ts” is enough.
In my view, neither approach demonstrates good faith for us or our children. And so I have found that cyber parenting requires fearless collaboration with our children which cannot happen without faith in our God-given ability to govern our own lives – everyone steering their own ships as learning executives in a free society.
Hence, Carnegie’s lessons apply precisely for these circumstances that can feel overwhelming and at times impossible or absurd.
When we worry, we call it “caring,” but it is actually fear expressing itself and it is not pleasant, inviting or even safe for children to be open and honest about what is happening in their lives, especially their mistakes and poor choices; it actually cripples our capacity to express boundary-setting in the hearts and minds of our children as God’s love, which is empowerment. For we cannot love our children with a fearful heart; there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). In this regard, I have been comforted by one of God’s promises expressed in Jeremiah 31:16-17; that the children will return to their own border (heart and mind) when we are faithful to Him first.
In other words, we have the authority to govern our own heart and mind and teach our children to do the same in the face of fear-inspiring circumstances at any age and stage in life. And when we and our children stray, do not give up hope because our faith in who God is and His promise to return the children from the land of the enemy (i.e., a world that does not know who God is), will be honored by our faith in Him, not by our fearful, controlling attempts to make the children change their minds and their ways.
“That is how I understand the role of God in the parent-child bond. It is an eternal commitment to love God and one another through thick and thin, from cradle to grave; to shed fear and embrace one another with honesty and mercy in our weakness so we can become strong.” –Joanna Jullien
When the ‘sky is falling’, how do you respond?
So taming fear and worry is essential for the modern parent who wants to raise their child to be secure in the flesh and in the social network. And yet we know that our children face great danger in the cyber decisions they make every day. This network culture presents us and our children with a power crisis – which requires us to affirm what we believe.
Here are some examples of “sky is falling” moments with cyber-powered kids:
- A child has seen and experienced too much too soon about material lusts, sex, violence or bullying. There is a disconnect as the shame she feels by what she has experienced or witnessed with her friends keeps her from consulting with you about it.
- A child becomes convinced that “the world” is more trustworthy than his parents, and proactively keeps secrets from his parents in order to be “free”.
- A child has become hooked on heroin, a habit he started trading prescription pain pills in plain sight via texting in his peer community. The children believe prescription pills are a safe way to cope with pain because doctors prescribe them.
- A daughter is being cyberbullied as a “slut” because she sent a naked photo of herself to a love interest, who entreated her to show him she loved him in this way. Girls can easily believe their worth is tied to their sexual appeal, when they are so much more, and the attention they deserve involves respect for their souls.
- A child is feeling isolated and depressed and is hostile; there is no joy in life. There is too much shame in what he has witnessed, and cannot let go of the things he has said and done associated with porn.
- A daughter is convinced that a stranger behind a very nice photo and/or anonymous texts loved her, and engages in a romance involving sex with a pedophile.
- A child takes his own life because he cannot reconcile harassing and humiliating things his peers are saying about him with the truth. The cyber-powered peer community had become the single point of reference for life.
Tips for conquering worry adapted from Dale Carnegie’s book:
Accept the inevitable. Prepare yourself to accept the worst outcome with your child’s free will expressed in the cyber realm. When you make peace with the things you cannot control, there is a release of energy. “When we have accepted the worst, we have nothing more to lose. And that automatically means- we have everything to gain!” (Carnegie, p. 19) And then my faith tells me it is possible to be still and hear the will of God for me and my child in all circumstances (James 1:5).
Get the facts. Feelings are not facts. This is the problem with worry, which is rooted in the emotions of fear. Worry convinces us of things that are not necessarily true and aims us towards the path of hopelessness based upon an emotional reaction to trouble. And I have found that something is only true if you allow it to be so in your own mind. So my faith tells me that the facts must be evaluated in light of what I believe about God’s promise (Jer. 31:16-17), such that when I apply my faith to overcome the lies that have become a real experience murdering the truth of who my child is in my own mind, a better outcome is possible. Let your child in recovery from bullying, addiction or exploitation see the merciful and hopeful face of Christ, not the angry, frightened parent. I have learned that everybody has the power to stand corrected, redeemed and blessed by overcoming the consequences of choices that lead to bondage and suffering.
Choose hope and make a plan for improvement. Calmly try to improve on the worst which you have mentally agreed to accept. Come up with an action plan for an outcome that promotes individual resiliency for you and your child. Collaborate with your child and seek the wise counsel of family, friends and professionals in your community.
Prayer as a practical matter of empowerment. My faith informs me that every individual is an executive; a creative being granted intelligent life with free will by our Creator. The free will component means that we can choose to worship our Creator, or not. But we are wired for worship – seeking a sense of being connected to something bigger and more meaningful than ourselves. So prayer is an important part of sustaining abundant and instructive guidance to overcome the adversity of our time. Prayer helps us to come into alignment with the values and beliefs that bring about peace, and a heart at peace, I have found is in a better position to receive Wisdom. Fearful, worrying thoughts interrupt God’s grace and keep us distracted from our source of creative power to strengthen relationships and prosper despite what is happening with our children. Below are some ways that Carnegie describes prayer as a practical matter:
- Prayer helps us to put into words exactly what is troubling us.
- Prayer gives us a sense of sharing our burdens, of not being alone.
- Prayer puts into force an active principle of doing.
Most importantly I have experienced prayer is empowerment; it is executing the authority within to communicate with God so as to know and express His will; it is how we are able to be in a fearless state of collaboration with Him so we can learn what it means to express a hopeful love response for all things – especially concerning the cyber-powered risks and consequences confronting us and our children. (James 1:5).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is 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.