Today’s parents are more worried about the possible harm technology will bring to their children than the benefits of it. Youths can develop hundreds of online relationships that range from the casual to intimate.
A recent article in the Daily Mail raises a good question about how well youth may be prepared to confront a lie or a manipulation in the social network. According to the report, Ofcom, an independent regulatory organization of communications industry in the United Kingdom, recently released results of a study that revealed children ages 12 to 15 years believe that what turns up in the search engine is true, and they are not discerning an advertisement from a well researched or reasoned publication or statement. And being so gullible, this raises concerns for more serious manipulations and exploitation including:
Pedophiles (child exploiters)
Scammers (identity theft criminals)
Jihadi recruiters (terrorist recruiters/inciters)
The concerns of this study are rooted in a simple truth: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything” (Alexander Hamilton).
What you and your child believe about the nature and origin of personal power matters more than ever in a hyper-connected world. At a very early age, children need to learn how to think for themselves; to recognize a lie when they encounter it. And without training on thought leadership (which our chosen faith gives us), it is easy to believe things that are not true and focus on things that don’t really matter. Below are some examples of lies (the thoughts in the mind that when we choose to agree with them can lead us into risky traps):
The voice behind the stranger’s photo really cares about me.(Insecure)
In order to be intimate with a love interest, I must send an explicit photo of myself. (Insecure)
I have no future, no hope. There is no point in going on living.(Disenfranchised/depressed)
The lies torment the soul. They are real experiences that can murder the truth if we allow it in our own minds. When we agree with them, they distort an individual’s perceptions to inspire anxiety which impacts psychological and emotional well being. So we want our children prepared to meet the fear and fakery of the internet with the confidence of knowing where their own power comes from, and that the internet is a tool for communicating all things true and not true, good and evil. They need to know that they are divinely equipped to learn how to respond to people and experiences in the social network without giving up power to the wrong thought, desire, person or group.
Tips to discern opinion, ad hype, manipulation and wisdom
Empower yourself to empower your child. First, you as the parent must be clear in your own heart and mind about your child’s power, (on and off line), to learn how to overcome undue influence. What is your motive? What is your desire? To prepare the road for the child, or prepare the child for the road?
The individual resilience our children require to navigate internet-powered landscapes comes from the spiritual wisdom of your chosen faith. I have come to understand this as an executive movement within the individual heart and mind, starting with the mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible in the first place. One benevolent God, one Creator of all of humanity, grants every soul command and control over their own intellect and will. This is power over thoughts and actions that can never be taken but is easily surrendered to the bully, drug or device.
This means that at a very early age children can and must be expected to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.
The seminal question for the modern parent is simply this: with all of the reasons we have to be anxious and afraid about the bullying, exploitation and addictive influences of the social network, do you really believe that your child has power of his or her own soul and can choose to learn how to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions?
Cyber Parenting ChallengeImpart the spiritual wisdom of your chosen faith. Your opinion and wisdom are not the same thing. Your opinion is your limited understanding of a person, situation or circumstance and it has value, but it is still not all knowing for all time. Wisdom, on the other hand, comes from the heart of God, who is Divine Love, which is infinite in all knowledge, caring for the soul, and eternal. Wisdom does not change. Hopefully our opinions evolve and mature as we grow in wisdom with life lessons about learning to love one another fearlessly as God does.
So it is important to be clear when you are responding to a situation or a circumstance that you do not communicate your opinion as gospel. When you are expressing an opinion, state this is how I understand it, and then when you are bringing the wisdom of your faith into it refer to Scripture and let you child think about it and decide for himself what to believe.
Recognizing the lies. I have learned that the truth is simple, and brings about peace. While lies tend to be complex and stir negativity – they torment the soul. Because of free will, in the world a lie can become a real experience murdering the truth in our own minds if we allow it. So it is critical that we teach our children to understand that something is only true if you allow it to be true in your own mind. This is the power of the soul, to choose what thoughts to focus on, to put your trust in and then govern your response.
When something happens that disturbs your child’s peace, have her write down the thought. And then write down the opposite thought. The opposite thought is God’s opinion on the situation. This is the hope of our faith. That God’s strategy is to pull good from evil for the faithful. It is a matter of standing your ground regarding your truth. Do you agree with God or do you agree with the bully? It is a decision that every person must make for him or herself.
This ability to declare God’s truth for you and your child is especially important when kids do fall into risky traps (drugs, sexual exploitation or addiction). If your child has been compromised by their own decisions and/or the actions of others, it is critical that you as the parent can declare that your child is a divine idea in the mind of God despite the real experiences murdering the truth, and encourage them to seek to pursue this truth in their own minds so they too can set aside shame, and change the course of their life.
To learn more about creating a family culture characterized by trust, open communication and fosters individual resilience, check out this workbook for parents: Fresh Start Family Culture Builder for Household Executives.
By Joanna Jullien