Press-Republican

September 1, 2012

Set boundaries to protect children

By MARY WHITE
Press-Republican

---- — A few winters ago, my daughter wanted to ski. She hadn’t skied in awhile and was having difficulty with the equipment. 

We were standing on an incline as she struggled to push her boot into the bind

ings. Having skied very little, I was useless. She asked me to steady her, so I put one hand on her waist. Each time she pushed down, though, she’d start to slide away. I began to laugh (which made her really angry), and she yelled, “Hold onto both of me!” It took me a second to understand her meaning; she wanted me to hold onto both sides of her waist. But her cute, desperate phrasing made me laugh even harder, causing her to yell again, “Hold onto both of me, Mom!” Hysterical, I watched as she slowly slid backwards down the hill, mad as an old wet hen.

Boundaries. What child doesn’t need them? 

In my last column, I talked about the dangers our children face through social media and texting. The thought of any child interacting face to face with anyone while they juggle multiple cyber conversations with multiple emotional layers boggles my mind. While I only see a child staring at a tiny screen, they are, in “reality,” connecting with a vast outer world — a world where one-word texts and ambiguous posts are devoid of tone and body language, leaving everyone uncertain and overloaded. It is disturbing and somewhat horrifying to me that a child’s world could crumble right under my nose, and the only outward sign would be a flicker of light passing across his or her face.

What to do then?

Guard.

Be on guard as if our children were the most precious, priceless prize we could ever fleetingly touch — because they are. And, if I may be presumptuous, I would like to share some guarding guidelines. This presumption does not come from arrogance, but from failure — from times when I left my children unprotected in that nether world and times when my ignorance, fatigue or selfishness put them at risk. So, the following is really my ongoing, internal checklist.

▶ If you permit “other-world” visitation, you need to advise your children that you will randomly check their phones and computer accounts. Then get their passwords and do it; not as a spy, but as a guardian. Insist that they “friend” you on social media. Don’t post, but have access to their page. Guide them on what information is private versus public. Assess their comments for bullying or meanness, and assess their “friends.” You know the old credo “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? In this pretend world, the saying is exponentially followed and unhealthy.

▶ Do not allow your children to have unlimited phone or computer access. Build in a daily time to unplug; a time for silence, real-world connection, eye contact and prayer.

▶ Absolutely do not let them have their phone at bedtime. Take it and hide it, or sleep with it. If they tell you they turn it off or that they don’t hear it vibrate, they are lying. They will not rest with that device buzzing ... try it sometime.

▶ Parental controls cannot replace parenting. Kids get around blocks in minutes. They will always outsmart adults when it comes to technology. Computers must be in main living areas and password-protected so that only a supervising adult can log someone on. Most devices have Internet access, so keep a close eye on iPods and game systems. That innocent-looking Nintendo DS, etc... can connect to porn. Think your child would never? Did you look at someone’s Playboy when you were 10?  Playboys are G-rated compared to the graphic, twisted, addictive images endlessly cycling the Internet.

Psalm 32:8 says “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” More than anything, let them hear your voice, the voice that wins their heart and speaks truth with love. Don’t let the clamor from that other world steal them away from where they need to be: here, in the real world, with you.

Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. For more of her columns, visit http://marywhitelovestories.com.