In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
This is the first of two columns for Beliefnet that I wrote regarding parenting in the 21st Century. As always, if you reprint this article, please credit the courtesy to Beliefnet.
“Yes,” I reply, with a cringe in my face.
“Wow! Just wait until they are teenagers,” I am told.
“We will cross that bridge when we get there,” I say, and I stop thinking about it, because I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about my daughters–my little, innocent babies– growing up and becoming teenagers. Yet, that day is fast approaching. My sweet little girls are growing up, and I have to face that fact.
And it terrifies me to death.
So many times as I was growing up, my mother told me that I would never understand and appreciate her until I had my own children. And so many times I would roll my eyes and say, “Yes, I know, mom!” But she was absolutely right. And now when I throw my hands up in exasperation at the difficulty my wife and I have at times with our children, I think of my mother (and father) and say a prayer for them.
It was tough raising me and my other siblings the 80s and 90s. And that was when there was no internet–no YouTube, no Facebook, no MySpace, no texting or instant messaging, not even cell phones (well not as widespread as they are today). But I am a parent with children who are being raised with a mouse in their hand, and I am struggling with how to keep them safe and teach them right from wrong as I watch my children (quickly) grow up into tweens and teens.
Where do I draw the line? How intrusive should I be? How can I be there with them without literally being there with them? How can I be sure that the person they are texting is not an online predator? Should they have a computer in their room? What if they want to create a Facebook account because ALL their friends are on Facebook? How much should of their personal life should I allow them to post for the entire world to see (and I mean, the entire world, frequently and forever)?
If I am too intrusive, will I suffocate my children and force them to do exactly what I don’t want them to do as a form of rebellion? Should I tell them, as I was told, that God will punish you if you do something wrong? But, I don’t want them to have an image of a God that is vindictive and mean. What is a parent to do with this “high tech” generation?
What makes it even more stressful for me is the stakes have never been higher. I was recently talking with a bunch of other fathers during one of my middle daughter’s softball games about an incident at the local middle school, which my eldest will attend this coming fall. There was a female student who met a new “friend” online; this “friend” became a little too friendly and turned sexual. The girl tried to cut off the relationship, but this “friend” persisted, and he (a middle-aged man) actually was able to get into her school to find her. Now, we all doubted the veracity of the story, since no one in the community has ever heard of this “incident.” Nevertheless, this sort of scenario is extremely plausible, and it frightens me to death.
I know one way of parenting in the Facebook era: Total lockdown. One of the fathers with whom I was speaking was very strict with his daughters–no computer in their room, no texting, no cell phones, no Facebook, no MySpace. Once a few of his daughter’s friends were over, and they asked if they could walk around the neighborhood. He said, “Absolutely not.” His yard was big enough, and they could stay there. Another father said he did the same thing with his daughter.
And before you say anything, these fathers were NOT Arab/Pakistani/Muslim “tyrant, oppressive” fathers. They were white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant/Catholic dads. To be quite honest, part of me agreed with that approach. But I know full well that lockdown is not the answer. There are computers at school and computers in the library. There are a lot of ways kids can get around the snooping eyes and ears of their parents.
So is there another way? Is there a spiritual answer? Since I am a Muslim, I ask myself, what would the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)–who also had daughters– do if he were parenting his children in these “www” times? I really have no idea. And in the timeless words of Steve Miller, “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” I have to come up with something before it is too late.
To be continued…