(This excerpt addresses the challenge of post 9/11 fear-based thinking with personal anecdotes from The Authority In Me, a book by Joanna about the power of family life in the network culture which can overwhelm us. Based upon personal experience and interviews with parents, children and experts in law enforcement, faith, education and health care, this book helps families address cyberbullying, sexting, pedophiles, addicition and anxiety in order to promote personal security and prosperity in a boundaryless Internet-powered world.)
(From Chapter 1: The Digital Native)
Fear-based paradigms of the network culture – In addition to the disruptive nature of the Internet and mobile phones on family relations, the network culture has also made us vulnerable to fear-based paradigms and victim mentality. Parental controls seek to stem the tide of the open nature of the World Wide Web that enables pedophiles to connect with innocent children, cyberbullying that makes the headlines associated with suicides and creates huge distractions for children, scams, pornography, identity theft, illegal drug and alcohol trafficking – you name it. Any kind of criminal or hurtful activity possible off-line is amplified on-line in displays of sinister mastery and intrusiveness that can make one feel overwhelmed, and for some, doomed.
In this context the greatest threat is fear-based mentality and the surrender of genuine authority; our voice is lost, muffled, on mute. We might be shushed into silence as we surrender to the intimidating nefarious and sometimes sinister whims and beliefs of the network culture that attempt to define us and our lives if we let it happen.
When Al-Qaeda made its menacing presence known to the world on September 11, 2001, it symbolized for me how vulnerable we are in the network culture. The cyber technology that enabled so much prosperity, also made us vulnerable to bad actors in the network that want us to think and behave like victims – powerless, angry, immobile – our voices snuffed in fear.
And since 9-11, we are living in a state of persistent threat level Orange.
I remember my oldest son had left for school by the time I was watching events unfold over the news on the morning of September 11, 2001. Once the second plane hit, I went into my younger son’s bedroom to wake him (he was in the fifth grade at the time) and tell him we had been attacked in Manhattan, and that we would learn more about who’s behind it as the day unfolded.
Like most Americans, I was in a state of shock, for weeks wondering how we could function in a world where random acts of violence were promised by a committed, seemingly omnipotent global network of people who were deeply offended by our very existence.
Yes, the world was indeed flat.
There were no barriers.
And what would this mean for the future of our children?
Three days later, I was packing for a plane trip to San Diego to visit my sister for her birthday. My 11-year-old expressed worry that my plane would crash like the ones that plowed into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania. He asked me not to go.
At that moment I heard the echo of Osama Bin Laden’s promise – that Americans would never feel secure again.
It has always been true that dangerous people and circumstances populate the world and it is my faith in God that sustains and guides me despite this reality. Fear of man is what makes us insecure and 9-11 crystallized this truth for me.
So I was determined to get on the plane because I did not want to be bullied. As small and insignificant as this choice was on my part, nowhere near the heroism of our brave men and women in the armed forces, nor remotely comparable to the gallant, faithful service of our first responders, this was still an important moment for me to not surrender my authority to live my life in truth.
“We cannot allow people who threaten violence to rule our lives,” I said trying to comfort my son. His face was full of concern, his brows furrowed and his eyes were pleading. “Look,” I assured him, “The commuter plane that I am taking is too small – there is not enough fuel to make it into a bomb.” I believe that satisfied his concern somewhat, but the reality is we were all uncomfortable and shaken. And the airports and flights were sparsely populated that weekend with good reason.
America was in mourning. We mourned for the lost souls of the 9-11 plane crashes and their families. We mourned for the loss of the world we thought we knew. We suspended our belief that the idea of America is the Promised Land. On September 11th, 2001, Osama Bin Laden, who to most Americans was an obscure figure in the Afghanistan war with Russia, became a household name who promised us to feel hate and demanded us to surrender to the tyranny of oppression and violence perpetrated by nameless, anonymous, angry souls.
As I write this nearly ten years later in 2010, the news headlines are dominated by the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the suspected terrorist whose botched attempted car bombing in Times Square, New York on Saturday May 1st fanned the flames of public fears of the security issues of our time. In recent months past we have witnessed a string of attempts to execute terrorist violence on U.S. soil. There was the infamous “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who on Christmas Day in 2009 failed to detonate explosives sewn into his underpants on a Northwest Airlines flight 253 which landed in Detroit. And only one month prior on November 5, Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army Major, serving as a pyschiatrist at Fort Hood (Killeen, Texas) was shot and killed after he went on a shooting rampage killing 13 people and wounding 30 others on the base.
In the network culture, boundaries are obscure because it is open by its very nature, much like the idea of America. In the cyber world, there is no state structure. And terror inducing groups and individuals persist as an enigmatic bullying presence promoting fear and anxiety as a constant, omnipresent signal.
If there is a silver lining behind the dark clouds of terrorist acts and the fear of economic and personal insecurity it signaled, it can be found in the anchoring of our souls to what really matters: truth and faith in God that enables us to regain some perspective and reclaim our inherent authority as a practical matter for living our lives with some peace of mind despite the circumstances of the world.
What parents need to appreciate about the network culture is that their role as a source of wisdom to help children develop the capacity to self-regulate and the perspective essential for discerning truth from specious, bullying arguments and ideas is imperative.
Mike McGuire is the principal of Granite Bay High School, in Granite Bay California, where my youngest son graduated. He has been in education for over 30 years, as a teacher and administrator. “I can remember feeling very anxious growing up during the cold war.” McGuire recounted how his parents did not have enough money to build a bomb shelter, and how everyone knew that hiding under the desks wasn’t the answer either. “I wish I had had a parent who could have assured me that it’s going to get better,” said McGuire, adding that he is certain his parents had the same worries he did.
Today we have the same anxieties about different circumstances streaming into our lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week on smart phones, computers and television.
Instead of the Cold War, we are fighting a War on Terror, and are at a constant threat level of Orange. Our economy is going through a major transformation, as millions of old jobs are being shed to make room for new opportunities, which have not yet surfaced for GDP statistics.
“Kids need to know that it’s going to be a better world. There is hope,” said McGuire. “If you are not ok inside, then your validation is based upon others – which makes one vulnerable to the fickle, often subjective opinions and desires of other people, peers, teachers, coaches etc. It’s like being a cork on the waves.”
By the same token, McGuire observes there is a certain amount of abdication by parents happening. “If you have the time, but you choose not to spend it with your child or deal with their issue, because your children don’t want you there, that’s abdication,” said McGuire.
Consequently, McGuire is concerned that the social networks have become “our children’s parents”, because actual parents are not asserting the full authority of their roles. “What happens when your social network ‘parents’ tell you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that you are not good enough or there is no hope for a future?”
And there is no counter message from home.
We need to help children think correctly before anything can change. The biggest problem is choosing the right thoughts. If we do that, we are on the high road to solving problems. This couldn’t be truer for our economy and the hope for our future in the next generation.
Marie Hall is the Executive Director of BeMoneySmartUSA, a non-profit organization she founded in Carmichael, California, to help children learn how to manage their finances and build wealth. She observes that parents are succumbing to network pressure. A mother of two teenagers, Hall knows all too well the network pressure. “The Internet is a tool, not a replacement for relationships and intimacy,” said Hall, as she observes that children have become comfortable saying things on-line that they would not have the nerve to do face-to-face. Another problem she has observed is that peers can become the “authority” and lead kids down the wrong path.
“Money doesn’t define the person or your success,” said Hall. “While money allows you freedom and opportunities, it can enslave you.” Hall wants children to learn the distinction between making money work for you, versus becoming a slave to money and acquiring things that in the end are meaningless.
Truth and fear distinctons
McGuire and Hall point out how truth distinctions are very important in uncertain times. The distinction between challenging circumstances and hope for the future, or money and technology as tools to be used by people to further a higher purpose is important to reinforce somehow. How we respond to challenging circumstances reveals our character, and our character will determine our resourcefulness to overcome adversity and conversely receive good fortune with gratitude and responsibly.
To this end, the first thing our children need to experience is discernment for truth.
Fear has been described as: False Expectations Appearing Real.
In this network culture, fear is more easily inspired because the technology makes it easy to deceive. Witness the headlines of teens and young adults who have committed suicide. You’ll recall the shocking story of 15-year old Megan Meier who took her own life after being duped into believing that a fake personality on her social profile was a real love interest by the mother of a former friend who then dumped her using that same fake personality. In January 2010, Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts took her own life convinced that relentless humiliation of being exposed or taunted by her classmates would never end. And then in the fall of 2010, we learned of the extreme violation of privacy experienced by Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in N.J. and talented violinist who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in order to escape humiliation of his private love making in his dorm room broadcast into cyber-space through a video feed hidden by his roommates. The technology makes the communication of our experiences, thoughts and ideas omnipresent – for better or for worse. Fully integrated into all the nooks and crannies of our lives, cyber communications can make us feel hopelessly anonymous (I can say or do anything – I don’t matter) or overexposed (the humiliation is not survivable).
We have the tools to publish widely whatever comes to mind, uninhibited and unedited.
A fear-based response might call for a moratorium on the openness of the Internet, which doesn’t solve the problem. It has always been true that FEAR is what we should fear most. Fear makes us surrender our lives or manipulate the lives of others. It suffocates authenticity, and smothers the sound of our voice. It convinces us that truth does not matter, that life has no more power. It convinces us that we are mere puppets or puppeteers.
Over the ages children have always had to deal with hard knocks. There is nothing new in these headlines except that the dissemination and staging of cruel hoaxes are more intense and can make the target believe there is no escape; it can dominate their reality because perception is reality.
That is why being purpose-driven in our use of cyber technology is so vital to personal security and taking charge of our family lives.
Helping our children understand what it means to have a purpose-driven perspective is the heart of the matter. It is where they find their inherent value, authority and voice. It is the thing no one can take from them – not even the ‘Net’. In order to be silenced, they have to surrender their authentic voice.
Knowing that our authentic voices matters in all circumstances has been demonstrated by some popular figures in sports that overcame circumstances as children that could have defined them differently had they allowed it. Their stories illustrate how correct thinking about what is true and what really matters makes all the difference, and can inspire us today in responding to the network pressures that can make us feel small and insignificant.
Sunday June 6, 2010 in the auditorium at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California, the Biletnikoff Foundation assembled legendary athletes Fred Biletnikoff (NFL Hall of Famer), Tim Brown (former Oakland Raiders receiver) and Tony ‘the tiger’ Lopez (3-time World Boxing Champion) to speak to over 350 student athletes from the North Sacramento and South Placer counties.
The message was clear. “You matter. You have a purpose. Find it and take a stand.”
These athletes related their personal experiences to the teens so they could know what it looks like to “take a stand”. Bilenikoff talked about his daughter Tracey who was a recovering teenage drug addict and alcoholic. She took a stand when she decided to go into rehab. Then Fred and his wife Angela took a stand for Tracey’s hope and founded the Biletnikoff Foundation to help teens lead drug and alcohol free lives after their daughter was murdered by someone she knew who was high on drugs.
“I didn’t listen to people who said I couldn’t be a world boxing champion,” said Lopez who encouraged the young audience to focus on the right things: work hard and believe in yourself.
Celebrated former Oakland Raider Wide Receiver, Tim Brown, was awarded the Heisman Trophy, and played 17 years for the Raiders where he broke many records as a professional athlete. At a very early age, he had to make some decisions about what he believed, in spite of what his father told him.
“When I was a teenager, I had to make some critical decisions,” recalls Brown, “Right path, wrong path decisions.” Brown shared his experience as a 13-year old when his father came home drunk one night and threatened his life. “As I sat cowering in the corner, while my mother and older brother tried to calm my father down who went to get his gun, I realized that it was the alcohol wanting to kill me, not my Dad.”
That was the defining moment for Brown, who decided to never drink alcohol or get into drugs and “be the man God wants me to be”.
In a separate interview, Brown further explains that this terrifying incident turned out to be a blessing because of the decisions he made in response to it. “Had I decided to be more like my Dad and start drinking, then I am not sure I would have had a 17-year career in the NFL,” said Brown who reminisces reconciling with his father when he was 25 years old.
Tabria Broadway is a student from Grant High School in Sacramento who attended this event. “It was inspirational for me because the speakers were real and they spoke our language,” she said. “They were not fake.”
Justin Ramirez of Granite Bay High School was also impressed. “Take A Stand taught us that life is not just about what’s happening to you,” he said. “It’s about what you think, the decisions you make and what you do next.”
Two-time super bowl champion Dan Bunz is legendary for one of the most famous plays in the National Football League (NFL): “The Stop” – which was a game breaker play at the 49er goal line preventing the Cincinnati Bengals from scoring a touchdown for the 1982 Super Bowl XVI victory. Bunz believes you must earn everything, and values hard work and a good attitude. He takes nothing for granted. In 1978 Bunz was the first draft pick for the SF 49ers. “When the reporters asked how did I feel about being first draft pick, I said that I wanted to work hard to make the team, and they laughed,” said Bunz.
Bunz is very forthcoming about the fact that he has achieved success through hard work. He describes what happened after he was cut from his first Pop Warner tryout: “My mom said it was because I was a ‘sissy’ – and I was.”
So after that tryout, Bunz worked out with his older brother. “He worked me hard… I made the team the next year and I wasn’t very good even then”, said Bunz.
“It’s not what you do in front of the coach; it’s what you do [to work hard] away from the coach”, Bunz says to the athletes training with him.
If Bunz had not been honest with himself, he would not have been able to improve and achieve greatness. Another child might have been discouraged by a mother’s comment like “sissy”. It’s a matter of what you chose to believe and think and then act on those beliefs and thoughts that determines your motivation to take charge of your own life.
Cyber parenting with a higher purpose
By the same token, the optimist in me sees how the network culture is selecting for character and demanding more leadership from parents – a genuine authority in a caring relationship, yielding deeper and stronger bonds with our children. In this crazy, topsy-turvy network culture, where “everything is situational”, as one teenager put it, young people are craving authenticity from the adults in their lives – starting with sincerely caring, authoritative parents at home.
This authenticity is best expressed via that inner confidence that comes from sifting truth from falsehoods in a world that seeks to define and manipulate individuals for agendas that are exploitive whether they are commercial or perverse. Personal security comes from embracing the limits of self-discipline, acting on the importance of personal contributions to family and community, and seeking higher ground in a world that is fallen.
What to do?
This book is for every parent who wonders, “Is it really just me who feels this way?” or who feels powerless against the tidal wave of pressure to “trust” their child because it’s no longer acceptable to double-check with other parents about the planned activities, or to insist honoring standards and enforcing consequences.
For every parent whose inner voice is screaming “this is wrong!” or “how can I help my suffering child?”– there are answers. Very simple, profound answers found in the inherent authority of a parent that is a divine appointment. To be lost, parental authority must be surrendered. Understanding why and how to exercise that authority in genuine and authentic ways can lead you and your family onto a path of peace in a crazy, topsy-turvy world.
Giving a voice to the silent majority, this book addresses how parental authority is the key to meet the challenges and quell the anxiety of dealing with the seductive and sometimes outrageous claims of the network culture on the souls our children. This book explores how parents can develop purpose-driven perspectives essential to leading children in the network culture; cultivate self-governance in children at earlier ages; and develop house rules that promote personal security and confidence.