What distinguishes us and our children from murderers, criminals, addicts, pedophiles, bullies, sexual objects, and victims? Honestly, I have come to appreciate that it is our opinion informed by our own chosen faith which is an intensely personal perception of our spiritual identity. What you choose to believe about your core identity influences your personal response to the power and control issues in the world (which are fueled by fear). Over fifty years of family and work life has taught me that in the world a lie can become an experience murdering the truth if I allow it in my own mind. And so I conclude that it is the courage of our conviction as individuals and families that makes it possible to be fearless when we are experiencing “sky is falling moments” (i.e., financial hardships, relationship issues, illnesses, crimes against humanity, trauma and the consequences thereof). When we stand for nothing, we fall for anything, to borrow a phrase from Alexander Hamilton.
Why does this truth matter for parenting children who must learn to navigate the hyper connected world? Because the realm of heart and mind takes on increased significance when it is easy to believe you can simply google everything you need to know, and the adult issues of bullying, addiction and exploitation are exposed to youth at earlier ages with greater intensity. There is great confusion between knowledge and wisdom.
Consider for example that knowledge about your child’s social media profile can be accessed by a pedophile or a bully and the personal data about your child can be used against him or her depending upon the motivation of the person accessing it. While wisdom, on the other hand, might be understood as the application of knowledge in ways that respect, nurture and protect the individual. So if a child understands that posting personal information makes them vulnerable to untrustworthy people and agendas, they will be wise in how they use social media.
By the same token, we are all vulnerable to believing and acting on the wrong things, making mistakes or being duped by the snares of nefarious agendas and actors in the social network and in the flesh. In a recent sexting case in Illinois, for example, a teen sent a nude selfie to her love interest believing it was between the two of them. He showed it to his friends and extorted her into sending more nude images via SnapChat. She and the “ex-love interest” are under investigation for charges of violating the anti-sexting law. So what happens if your child becomes convinced that the only way to express affection for a love interest is to send a sexually explicit photo of herself which is later widely distributed and she is cyberbullied or considered criminal? Does this experience define her? Well, that depends upon what you think, and more importantly, what your child thinks about her true identity. The simple truth, which the hyper-connected communications makes difficult to believe, is past mistakes and experiences do not define us unless we allow them to.
So let us consider that if you have a family culture that is dominated by the opinion of strong personalities, there is risk of not recognizing and correcting errors on the part of individuals. Some of those errors may likely remain secrets that harbor risks (cyberbullying, sexual exploitation and addictions) because the perception is that it is not safe to talk about choices and experiences that inspire shame and fear.
Examine groupthink at home
To that end, Cass Sunstien’s book, Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, features the failure to correct errors with group dynamics when the honest contributions and perspectives of individuals are not fostered, encouraged and respectfully considered. Essentially, he observed that government and corporate groups fail when groupthink, a culture of conformity and uniformity, prevails. For the modern family, dealing with the power and control issues of the world, (bullying, addiction and exploitation), the temptation is to be fearful and reactive as individuals and as families. If our goal is to create a family environment where children are raised to be wiser and nobler than the undue influences of the world that would seek to manipulate and cajole them, here are some considerations based upon insights gleaned from Sunstein’s Wiser.
Check list for the group dynamics at home
- Are parent opinions leading groupthink? Consider that your opinion and wisdom are not necessarily the same thing. I understand wisdom comes from within the individual through the heart of God (James 1:5), and is gleaned through actual life experiences. In this regard, our child’s childhood is not informing them the same as our own. It is therefore important to consider that your child is the expert on their childhood and teenagehood experiences. And so it is important to create an environment where it is safe to unpack and examine those life experiences for truth and error, with the wise counsel of a parent or other trusted adult.
- Are all perspectives welcome? Are individuals free to express their views –especially when they are not in agreement with the rest of the family or are contradicting your own views?
- Is it safe to share bad news? Or are individuals encouraged to only share the good news? Take an inventory of the topics that surface family conversations? Is it mostly good? Or is there troubling stuff as well?
- Consider that creativity and innovation are byproducts of diversity and dissent. We learn the most from considering another person’s perspective. This is true with parents and children, and among siblings. A home environment that encourages freedom of expression – especially dissent, with respect for one another is an important life skill in a hyper-connected world wherein we are exposed to many different points of view and ideas.
- Clean slate rule. How does a person become redeemed in your home? Is it possible to be forgiven? There is great confusion between forgive and excuse. To forgive is to hold a person accountable with a merciful and hopeful heart, and not keep reminding him of the past offenses or mistakes. This does not mean you excuse poor choices. Once the consequence has been administered or experienced, then wipe the slate clean. Give your child a clean slate – especially when the world condemns him or her, as with the sexting example.
To learn more about creating a home environment characterized by open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
Proceed to next article: Why the modern child feels “unlovable” and what to do about it
*** NEXT EVENT***
Symposium on Meeting the Spiritual and Mental Health Needs of Modern Youth and Families – June 13, 2015, in Citrus Heights, California
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.
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