Bully for Choices

That is without a doubt perhaps one of the tackiest titles I’ve used for a post – and that’s saying a lot.  But bear with me all the same.

In case you have been living under a rock, my prediction of a year ago has come true – bullying is the rallying cry for all sorts of social re-engineering efforts, bolstered by select, highly publicized suicides of young homosexual people.  Suddenly bullying has become the cause celebre for all manner of people, and Ellen appears to have just been one of the first to climb on the bandwagon of demanding a stop to this pervasive cruelty.  
I speak as a former bully-ee, or victim, or whatever the proper term is.  I know firsthand the pain that bullying brings.  I agree that we should stop bullying, even while I disagree with the social/sexual agenda that is being pushed through the anti-bullying juggernaut.  Nobody should be bullied.  Period.
One of the interesting aspects of the bullying topic at this point  for me is the issue of technology.  I’ve seen several television pieces and numerous print articles that talk about the relentlessness of bullying, now that children are no longer safe from bullying even in their own homes, thanks to the pervasiveness of the Internet.  There is no safe haven any longer, and so the pressure increases exponentially until some decide that death is a better option.  
A few thoughts to parents and grandparents out there about the Internet and your kids/grandkids. 
Contrary to popular opinion, you can maintain a somewhat safe haven in your home for your kids.  If the threat of cyber-stalkers and the pervasiveness of pornography weren’t reason enough for you to seriously consider how you allow the Internet into the lives of your kids, bullying ought to be another wake up call.
First off, you don’t have to allow unfettered, unmonitered access to the Internet in your home.  Whoa.  I know, what an amazing concept.  You’re the parent.  You’re the owner of the home.  You pay the bills.  Your child doesn’t need ubiquitous, 24-hour access to the Internet.  I’d like to strongly suggest that providing this is actually detrimental to your child’s well-being, and quite possibly to your family’s as well.  The fact that you don’t routinely hear people saying this in the midst of all the attention on bullying is rather disturbing to me.
In the dark ages when I attended school, I saw my friends during school.  On special occasions – at least until I was old enough to get around on my own somehow – I’d have friends over or join them at their house after school.  But that wasn’t an everyday or even every week arrangement by a long shot.  Sure, we had telephones.  Strange, bulky things that were anchored to the wall or tethered on leashes that limited our options for where to talk.  But those were not utilized much in my house.  Not till I was in the latter part of high school.  
When I was home, it was expected that I was home.  Not just physically, but to as great an extent as my parents could contrive, mentally and emotionally as well.  I was part of a family, and regardless of my budding social life, my family life was of primary importance.  
So why is it that we assume our kids need to have 24-hour access to their friends – or that their friends need to have 24-hour access to them?  It makes no sense.  You can write me off as just out of touch with the times, but by the way our media is screaming to us about the dangers of limitless Internet access, perhaps I’m not the one that’s really out of touch!
Let’s look at the most common technologies through which bullying is likely to occur.
Cell Phones:  These are ubiquitous.  It seems like everyone has at least one, and some people have multiple ones.  Even babies.  I still have a very old-fashioned one without a data plan.  I only added texting as an option in the past couple of years because I know a few people under 30.  
  • Cell phones for our kids are often pitched as safety devices.  Now you always know where your child is.  Now you can get a hold of your child any time you want.  Boy, that sounds like a nice theory, but I’m betting that this isn’t how it works a lot of times.  I have no doubt that on more than on occasion I would have resorted to the old my battery must have died or I had the ringer silenced still from class excuses.  In other words, they may not be the perfect tool for keeping track of your child that salespeople would like you to believe.  My oldest child is nine.  He does not have a cell phone.  He will not have a cell phone any time in the near future, despite the fact that we know people with children his age that do have their own phones.  He doesn’t need it.  

  • If and when I do get him a cell phone, I will endeavor to not allow texting.  Because I’m cruel and evil, yes.  That’s my job.  I’m a father.  

  • Whether we have texting enabled or not, he will have cell phone hours.  He may have access to it at certain times during the day.  If he gets calls or texts outside of these hours, he can respond to them the next day.  I’m pretty positive there is no call so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow for him to respond to, and just because he’s not keeping me from making a phone call is no reason I have to let him talk indefinitely, whenever he feels like it.  At this time I see no reason to get my child a data plan on their cell phone so they can access the Internet at school.  I know, I’m an ogre.

  • I will also require my kids to program the numbers they receive calls from into their phone with the actual names of the people calling.  Sure, my kids might lie to me about it, but they’ll have to take that extra step in order to deceive me, and I’ll pray that my kids won’t feel they need to resort to that.  I will have weekly check-ins where I review their phone logs for the week to see who they’re talking to.  
The Internet:  Yes, the Internet is a powerful tool that can be a great learning opportunity.  It can also be an opportunity for my children to encounter material that will scar them for the rest of their lives.  If you don’t think I’m going to watch that like a hawk – and if you don’t watch it like a hawk – you’re crazy.
  • Computers will be kept in common areas.  Not in their rooms.  Not behind closed doors.  Whatever they do, will be done so that anyone can see.  

  • Computers will have hours of operation and availability as well.  While there are times and circumstances where extensions will be necessary, those will be requested and scheduled.  

  • While we don’t do this yet, we *will* install software to try and block objectionable content so that our kids don’t stumble across it accidentally.  You’d be amazed at what comes up in a simple image or word search on Google.  We will keep this software updated, just like our anti-virus software.

  • We will talk with our kids about what sorts of things they might run across on the Internet, and hopefully have a good enough relationship that they’ll talk to us if they come across something inappropriate.

  • We will limit our children’s access to social media.  While you wouldn’t necessarily know it, there are age limits (13) on Facebook.  Some parents seem to feel it’s ‘cute’ or ‘cool’ to provide their kids with a page in violation of this rule.  I don’t.  

  • When our kids are old enough for social media (which I’m sure *won’t* be Facebook by that time!), then there will be rules and regulations about how they use it and when they use it.  Just like the phone and the computer itself, social media will not be available 24/7.  I’m toying with the idea of requiring a password to their account, that I’ll agree not to use unless I think their behavior is taking a turn for the unexplained.  If I find the password doesn’t work, I’ll ban access at home and everywhere that I have control over until they get me a password that does.  Thoughts on this?

  • Before we allow our children to begin using social media, we will talk with them about the importance of being selective with who they allow into their network, and at what levels.  With any luck, this will build on similar conversations we will have had with them about friends and discernment and the importance of choosing wisely.  Yes, we are bad parents because we have not yet begun having those conversations with them.
Is this idealistic?  Of course.  Am I unrealistic?  Perhaps.  But I hope that I will at least be thinking about the interaction of technology and my child before my child starts thinking about it, and before they start making decisions on who to interact with that might have profound impacts on them.  And I’m not going to assume that my children must dictate to me how and where and when they have access to the Internet, and through what means.  I am not going to assume there’s nothing I can do to protect my kids.  There are things I can do.  There are things you can do as well.  And I’d love to hear other ideas on this.  Or at least respectful observations about why I am an idiot.
On this particular subject only, please.

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