Recently I was asked to appear on television to discuss the latest ‘sexting’ scandals among our public servants. What a mess!
And also, quite recently, my young daughter has started to save up for an Apple iPod ‘Touch’, a device which allows for not only game playing, but also wireless access to the internet, email, and texting.
Well, somewhere in the midst of these current events in the Ferraioli household came the following question: How are we, as families, supposed to talk about and deal with the implications of our children having total access to these increasingly popular wireless devices?
Make no mistake, handing our children something as simple-and-innocent-appearing as an iPod Touch or a cellular telephone does have implications.
They don’t just play games on them and download ‘cool apps’ to them—they also go online with them and they text each other with them as well, both of which are major draws for kids that many parents don’t fully realize.
Now I’m sure that none of what I’m about to share will come as a major surprise to many, if any, of you.
But the problem is that we are so busy in our lives, so caught up with what everybody else seems to be doing, where the culture is going, and what is widespread and popular (i.e. ‘the norm’), that we seldom make a deliberate effort to actually sit down as families and discuss things.
So this is why I’m writing this today: so that you can have a reason to pause and to think about and discuss this topic with your spouses and your kids.
Handing our children wireless internet devices is tantamount to inviting the world into their lives, all at once, and without discretion.
Anyone who wants to text them, can.
Any time they feel like texting others, they can.
Same with email.
And, in most cases, the same goes for exposure to pornography, cyber-bullying, ‘hooking-up’, etc.
I’m certainly not the first one to say this, but families seldom get together regularly anymore to just talk, to review their days with one another, or to discuss hopes, goals, frustrations, and other important topics.
How are we supposed to pass down to our kids the values and morals which we want them to have?
And furthermore, did anyone consider these things when we were kids?
Maybe, maybe not.
And that’s a big part of the problem: We don’t even know what it is that we’re not giving them!!
And, needless to say, the days of families attending church, temple, synagogue, or mosque together are fading or are a thing of the past.
So where are our kids turning to spend their time, energy, curiosity, and creativity; and to learn about themselves, about morality, and to form their sets of values?
Their iPods, cell phones, laptops, etc.: exactly the places where we, their parents, are not.
Again, we, the parents, are not there with them. They are unsupervised and unguided by us.
Any time, day or night, kids of all ages can openly or secretly go online with their portable wireless devices, and text, receive texts (including sexually explicit ones, i.e. ‘sexting’), do email, and search websites.
And they can do it with each other, and with adults.
I know of several instances in which a young child (10 or younger) has been caught texting after 10 p.m.—this is really NOT acceptable parenting in my opinion.
We need to discuss and set guidelines if our children are going to use portable wireless devices at all. And the subject absolutely MUST get discussed as a family.
If nothing else, the mere act of taking the time to talk about it together as a family will bring more accountability, more deliberateness, more safety, and more healthy respect to the issue. It will also bring us closer to our kids.
Please don’t forget: giving your child (or letting them buy) a wireless internet device has many more implications than our fast paced, busy lives will often allow us to think about and acknowledge.
You wouldn’t let your child have the keys to your car, along with a fake I.D., some weapons, drugs and alcohol, pornography, and a stranger you don’t know join them for the ride, would you?
Well, my friends, when we let our young kids take wireless devices with them wherever they go (including their bedrooms!), unsupervised and with unlimited access to the internet and texting, that’s exactly what we’re agreeing to.
Oh sure, they’ll eventually have the freedom to gain access to all of this stuff anyway, for that’s the way of the world out there, but, by then, we will hopefully have had a chance to have enough of a positive, affirming influence on their self-esteem, values, and morality to at least make it a fair fight.
Please don’t make the mistake of agreeing with what you haven’t deliberately, consciously thought about and discussed with them. They won’t hate you forever, and they’ll love you for it later.
Let’s not throw our kids into that big mix out there just yet.
Soon maybe, but not yet.
With my best intentions,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, “Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)”