Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thirst for Wisdom

Dear Maggie, I respect that you were reluctant to post something about your children but the subject of internet access is so crucial you raised the question for community response.

Even though I created a blog based on parenting angst and my children don't read my blog I still have a hard time talking about them. Not just because of the emotional pangs I feel but because of respect for them. But you got me to thinking and my thoughts went beyond a reasonable "comment" and the e-mail I was writing began to read like a here we are.

When I was young and the kids were little I was soooo cool. Very laid back. I'd been a rebel (can you believe I traveled with Ringling Brothers for almost a year???), dropping out of college (twice), eloping, etc. When my oldest was 12 I called my Mom to apologize for any pain I caused her. I was beginning to get a glimmer of what my future held.

Situations vary, times change, we went from rags to relative riches after I went back to college and finished getting my degree. But the great job I eventually landed triggered a lot of problems at home (maybe a topic for a different post).

All of this biography is building up to "I don't really know if any of the next part applies." I thought I'd given the kids good guidelines and we'd had open discussions about the internet and trust, etc. but the internet is designed to lure people (including kids) and for people to stumble on things, etc. Instead of looking for a stash of skin mags under your father's side of the bed or in his closet, all a youngster has to do is click a provocative image, then a button that lies about their age for them ("sure I'm 18!"). Once one daughter was doing a study on Harriet Tubman ... try doing a study on anything that involves slavery and NOT hit an inappropriate site.

When my oldest (now 23 YO) was in her early/mid-teens I was relying on the "computer is in a public place and I can look over her shoulder at will" method of control and caught her giving her physical dimensions and age to someone in an Instant Message chat. It seems that despite all of the conversations and warnings, a natural teen tendency is to assume they are smarter than their parents and savvy enough to know what is best - and she was quite confident it was okay and I was off-base.

Down the road I was using PCTattleTale - a snooping software that reports everything going on by capturing screen shots every 30 seconds and storing those images on your hard drive. The problem became "now what?" I soon realized that each of the 3 children still at home needed a conversation. One was addicted to hentai (Japanese cartoon porn). She was sneaking onto the computer in the middle of the night to satisfy her addiction. After the first chat she started deleting evidence in the History, but the TattleTale app was not outsmarted and conversations continued. Porn addiction is real and pervasive but this was long before I understood that.

When one suffered from "stumble on" we had the "what to do when you stumble onto something inappropriate" conversation. When one suffered from what appeared to be natural curiosity gone wild we had the "internet makes everything seem normal but some things are definitely NOT normal" conversation. (Seriously, all kinds of sex, sex with animals, little girls, everything is out there and equally available, with no indicators marking the slide from "acceptable" to "perverse." It is very disturbing. I envy the days when curiosity was satisfied with Playboy magazine.) Later we had a "why are you lying about your age on MySpace" conversation.

Now, I'm back to "trust but verify" with the youngest (almost 15 YO). The computer is in a public place (NOT his bedroom). I have "audit" control, meaning I can look at history, etc. Ditto the cell phone. There are usage rules and we can log onto and at least confirm time of call/text and what numbers he's contacting. I keep an eye on things like that. Also, when he deleted phone records that showed he was communicating with one of his rebellious siblings, we had a chat about that. Trust is betrayed by deleting history. And, when Mom says "I'm concerned about your relationship with someone who might be a negative influence" and teen's response is to hide evidence of the relationship, a chat is warranted.

In hindsight, the toughest part of parenting is the transition from the age when we must protect them to the age when they must protect themselves. How do we transition trust? How do we let them make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while guarding them against harm? Some harm may be required for them to learn. I struggle with this.

I do something every day now that I never did then. Despite being a regular church-goer I didn't really put my trust in God when it came to child-rearing. Now I do. I must.

"Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me." (Isaiah 8:18)

We have them for a time and we do our best, but ultimately they are God's.

God, Thank you for the gift of my children. I pray for their well-being in a world that seems frightening and dangerous. Keep them safe. Help them to become effective, loving adults. I know that may require painful lessons. Help me to be effective in guiding them through all of the challenges they face - allowing them to learn and grow, as needed. Let me be protecting, but not overprotecting. May they always protected by Your grace.


NOTE: I neglected to mention a key point - shower them with love. Never let your concern overshadow your message to them: "YOU ARE LOVED!!!"


Maggie, Dammit said...

"In hindsight, the toughest part of parenting is the transition from the age when we must protect them to the age when they must protect themselves."

That's it, right there. That's what I struggle with.

This was a fantastic post. Thank you so much for your candor and hard-won advice. It helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, ygw. You were the one who reminded me to pray for my children. How sad I am to confess that I was not doing that regularly until I read one of your posts.

The computer/online situation is difficult and wearing on us parents. While "constant vigilance" seems to be in order, the reminder to love is critical. I will own-up to the fact that I have acknowledged that my children really do belong to God - He has just graciously loaned them to us. Giving them over to Him for protection through prayer is definitely a salve to parental angst.

"How do we transition trust? How do we let them make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while guarding them against harm? Some harm may be required for them to learn."

If I have anything to offer back to you, BFF, it is the hope I hold onto in my knowledge of brain development. Some of it occurs, some of the very important maturation for making better decisions occurs AFTER age 18 years.

How-to-transition is a combination of setting and implementing consequences and allowing for some natural consequences.

Inasmuch as I'm not promoting sibling comparisons as a best-parenting-practice, it can be a useful occasional strategy. Our Younger Teen definitely sees the comparison herself - for both bad and good consequences of ManChild's behavior.

Keeping you in my prayers, too. Barbara

Jeanette said...

this was a great post. I read love and concern throughout the whole thing. I know how much you love those kids! Our kids are growing up in a different world than the one we did. I can't believe that I would long for the days of Playboy and Penthouse as the sources of porn. At least they have standards (as low as they are) compared to the internet. I will wade into these waters with caution. Sigh! And look to those who have walked the path ahead of me.

You are right... LOVE LOVE LOVE them and PRAY PRAY PRAY for them!

you gotta wonder said...

@ Maggie, Thank you for your comment! It's taken me a while to get to a point where I can get past blaming myself and distilling what I might pass on to others.

@ Barbara, Thank you. My kids wanted to be treated the same or different, whichever played into their immediate desires. ;)

@ Jen, Thank you, and yes. The key, I'm convinced, is "Love" and "Pray".

Heidi said...

I teared up reading this.

This is such an honest and tough post. Tough in that I can't believe what we're dealing with here - kids and the internet and all of the ways it can go wrong. I am dreading that when my kids get older.

This post was also beautiful. You didn't stop. You didn't stop asking the questions and you didn't stop loving them.

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Still amazed. Three kids myself. Open talk about sex, bad stuff, whatever. Never monitored the internet. All three have degrees from UT Austin, SMU, or are finishing up. I guess I got lucky.

I guess I'll resume my read tomorow. Amazing....