Welcome! If you are new to the Lion's Whiskers blog ...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Using Moral Courage to Navigate Facebook and other Social Jungles!

On the eve of my son’s adolescence, he begged me to let him have a facebook account. At the time, there was a loosely followed guideline that only those 13 years and older could log on and join.  Since I didn’t really understand yet how best to navigate my first born’s adolescence anymore than facebook’s social jungle, I was stalling for time. 

I was also, it turns out, arbitrarily setting his adolescence entrance at age 13 and at facebook’s front door.   I could have opted for the more traditional Native American vision quest to mark his transition from childhood to adulthood.  But with no Native American ancestry whatsoever, such a quest would not only be totally out of integrity, but likely to involve a lot more preparation and trouble.  What wilderness could he wander alone in anyway to complete the sometimes weeks long journey from boy-to-manhood?  A place devoid of traffic, people, and other modern day distractions where he could survive with little water or food, where I wouldn't go nuts with worry? How long could I put off his school’s attendance officer calling every morning wondering whether or not he had yet achieved the necessary spiritual insight and maturity sufficient to return a more mature young man to middle school?  The East African male circumcision was out of the question, too, for obvious reasons.  So, facebook became intertwined with my son’s quest for more independence and offered a secret passageway to a parallel universe far, far away from anything mom or dad could even remotely understand. 

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of facebook.  I am, however, shamelessly using it to help promote Lion's WhiskersI also didn’t know yet the kind of evils we would encounter together in this particular social networking jungle. 

The arbitrary age limit thing didn’t stop him from pestering me a lot.  I half-listened to his complaints about how EVERYONE else and their mother has a facebook page.  Even when he said “Mom, someone at school has made a facebook account with my name.” I absentmindedly responded, “Well, just tell them to delete it!” 

A few months passed.  Little did I know the scope of my son’s classmate’s moral indiscretion.  Or the impact that someone hacking into our family’s life could have!  Because I did not take the time to understand my son’s pleas, or facebook for that matter,  I was ill-equipped and too distracted to help him navigate this moral morass.  Big mistake!  He eventually took matters into his own hands, with the help of an older friend, and created his own facebook account with a pseudonym. Since  his classmate wouldn’t stop impersonating him, he reasoned he should alert his friends that though they thought they were “friending” him on facebook, they were actually communicating with an imposter.

We are pretty connected, my son and I.  He also breaks pretty easily when I kick my training in therapy/interrogation techniques into high gear.  I could tell he was hiding something.  Something was heavy on his heart.  It took about a day for me to discover that he had just joined the facebook generation, albeit as a dude by the name of  “Ferbmeister.” He faced the consequences from us.  He was lectured pretty heavily about the ills associated with lying, unsupervised computer access, and the fact that two wrongs don't make a right. 

As his parents, we spent an entire weekend trying to understand who and how this other child had managed to “friend” people we knew all over North America.  Not one parent of any of the other children alerted us to the fact that this impersonator was “friending” them on behalf of our son, despite having their suspicions and knowing that our kids weren't allowed on facebook.  Thankfully, one was willing to share who the impersonating child was.  If we don't stick together as parents, with a common vision to help guide our children towards moral, right, or otherwise kind behavior, our children are at risk for not developing the kind of moral courage we are proposing through Lion's Whiskers.

Next, I mustered the moral and social courage to confront, albeit diplomatically and without accusation, the parents of the child who we knew was impersonating our son.  Their response was defensive and they minimized the impact of their child's actions.  “It’s just kids being kids.  Besides, our child isn't really ever on the computer and wouldn't know how to do such a thing even if they were.” WHAT?!  I mean I’ve heard of putting your head in the sand, but this parent had theirs deep in the Sahara!

ostrich head in sand

Whether out of embarrassment, denial, or a lack of comfort with the kind of authority we have the privilege to hold as parents, it is, in my opinion, unacceptable to shelter our children from the consequences of their actions. 

We never received an apology from the child or the family, nor were any of our friends notified that who they thought they were communicating with for all those months was not, in fact, our child.  It took weeks for us to undo the child's handiwork and for the child to finally delete the account, after we alerted the powers that be at facebook.  It saddened my heart that this child would not receive the benefit of a consequence to help them correct their moral compass in the direction of ethical, kind behavior.  And it really angered my kids. 

Kids, for the most part, have a pretty good sense of the difference between right and wrong on the playground, so this wasn’t much different.  Research now shows that from birth, humans are hard-wired to care.  As parents, we have the responsibility to help them learn how to connect and activate, through practice, that wiring through our care for them.  Developing a moral conscience is no longer understood to be a logical or even stage-by-stage process.  Rather, it is a learned skill best passed from parent to child through loving communication, care, and in my case, finally listening to my child’s pleas for help  and asking others to be accountable for their actions—even if they aren’t willing to be.

My kids demanded justice.  “Mom, how come you give us consequences and so-and-so has none?  That just doesn't seem fair!

I, in turn, asked them, “How do you think we would have handled this situation if you had been the one impersonating a classmate?” 

Their answer: “You would make us apologize, delete the account, and probably even make some other kind of amends to make things right again.”  “You bet I would,”  was my emphatic response. 

Unfortunately, morality is sometimes a double-edged sword.  Even when we show care for others, they may not care about us.   Even when we do the right thing, it can often be hard.  We may risk our own safety, welfare, social acceptance, or even imprisonment for the causes we believe in.   How then do we teach our children to do the right thing?  Especially when life doesn't seem fair.  Well, we can be the kind of people we hope they will someday become.  We can model for our children how to react in ways that are life-affirming and not to be victims of our circumstances.  We can advocate for them when they need help.  We can dig our heads out of the sand!

Gratefully, many months after the facebook fiasco, my son's teacher not only arranged a ritual in the woods whereby each child had the opportunity to cross over a metaphorical threshold into adolescence.  She also tried to intervene with my son and his imposter.  She could see the distrust and distance the incident had created between them.  She asked the offending child to apologize.  My son was forgiving, but remained unimpressed.  Kids are like that.  They remember who pushed them off the swing, bit them in playgroup, or stole their identity. 

A few months later I ran into the child on the playground.  The child clearly wanted to avoid me, looking embarrassed and ashamed.  I said, with kindness and compassion in my heart, “You never need to avoid or be ashamed around me.  I care about you and I care about my son.  We all make mistakes.  I just wanted you to know the impact of your actions.  I wish you well.”  I turned the other cheek, so to speak. 

Never underestimate the impact of your real or virtual moral footprint, especially in the lives of your children!


For more on the moral development of children, and how important YOU are as your child's first and most important teacher...be sure to read my post "Hard-wired to Care: You Matter in the Moral Life of Your Child!"

No comments:

Post a Comment