Sunday, June 29, 2008

Signs of the Times

Two interesting items from church this morning, both of which relate to the family:

Bishop read the latest letter from the First Presidency this morning that dealt with California's struggles to keep marriage defined as being between a man and a woman. Given the overwhelming majority that passed Proposition 22 in 2000, it is an especially grave thing to have a majority of the California Supreme Court reject the voice of the voters in allowing same-sex marriages in this state. The Church is strongly encouraging us — as it always does when the family unit is under attack — to do everything we can to support the new ballot initiative that will make the traditional definition of marriage a constitutional amendment.

In a related discussion, our 5th Sunday lesson in the 3rd hour was a Bishopric discourse on the dangers of texting among our youth today. The visible problem is that the kids are seen to be texting during the passing of the Sacrament, and even during events such as Bishop's firesides. Our Bishop said today that there are few things as frustrating as trying to talk about deeply spiritual topics and having one group of kids laughing at something that someone else had just texted to them from across the room.

But the visible dangers pale in comparison with the more hidden problem: the content of those messages. Texting is a (pardon the seeming contradiction) disconnected form of communication that gives the texter a feeling of anonymous power. This means that kids will do and say outrageous things using their phones (or, of course, their computers) that they might never have done in person. Bishop disclosed that some of the things these kids are doing to each other are downright pornographic in nature, and that the problem is steadily increasing.

I call this a related issue because, as with most social activities, the boundaries that our youth observe should be well established within the family unit long before they get turned loose on their social networks. If a righteous set of parents are working together to set reasonable limits on what kids can and (more importantly) cannot do, it becomes more difficult for those kids to wander outside of those boundaries as they get older.

Notice I do not say "impossible." I'm no fool. My own experiences as a parent remind me that every child has his or her agency and will ultimately do what they decide to do. My job is to help them make the best-informed decisions possible, hopefully before they arrive at a critical junction.

Fortunately, Mrs. Woody and I do not live in a vacuum. We have both come from technophile backgrounds and fully understand the impact of the information age. It was, after all, the power of the internet that brought us back together after a mutual absence of more than fifteen years. We know as well as any expert in the field what dangers exist in this day of instantaneous communication. We have therefore established rules of engagement in this battle that have been in place since before our kids were born, and even in advance of the current craze of texting that kids seem to do 24x7 these days.

Our daughters are being raised to understand the need for privacy in their internet dealings. We have parental controls in place, obviously, but one of our counselors in the bishopric reminded us today that these are not enough. In fact, any tech-savvy teenager can overcome just about any form of parental control given time and privacy. This same counselor is a lawyer by profession and exploded for us one of the greatest myths under which parents seem to operate today. Too many parents, he said, seem to labor under the belief that once they hand their teenager a cell phone their privacy is somehow inviolable. This is nonsense. For as long as those kids live under your roof — and certainly until they reach 18 — you have every right and responsibility to understand what they are involved with. Pick up those phones, he advised, and read those messages. If your service has such an option, make sure you get reports outlining your kids' phone usage, including the content.

I agree with one of my co-workers who refuses to activate texting on his sons' phones. If it's important enough to communicate, he told them, you can take the time to dial the number and talk. Talking is somewhat less private than texting because it's easier for parents to listen. Even if we're only getting one side of a story, it's generally enough to help us know whether this is something that needs our attention before it gets out of hand. With texting it's generally already gotten out of hand before we even become aware of it.

When my Elders Quorum President told me essentially the same thing after the meeting this morning, it basically confirmed what Mrs. Woody and I had already decided. Our daughters will not become text addicts until they're old enough to choose that (and take responsibility for that) themselves.

I know that social "networking" is one of the new trends that everyone says will represent the world in which the next generation lives. I even understand what the benefits may be. But in order to benefit from this trend, controls must be in place in order to keep this new world from devolving into a full-blown anarchy.

So I will be pounding the pavement later this year to support the marriage amendment in California. I want to make sure that traditional families have all the support they need because, based on the discussion above, they're gonna need all the support they can get. This fight is a long way from being resolved. But it is a fight that requires my participation.

This is, after all, what Inner Dads do. They fight for their families.

No comments: