Guarding hearts not computers

On October 10th 2017 Amanda Todd, a 15 year old Canadian girl, was found dead in her home. Her suicide was attributed to cyber bullying at the hands of ‘friends’ and strangers alike.

It started when a photo of her topless (which she uploaded at the request of strangers she was connecting with via video chat) was circulated on the internet. What followed was a series of tragic events – she struggled with anxiety and depression, turned to alcohol and drugs, her family moved towns, she changed schools twice, she had sex with a guy-friend, she was physically attacked … On September 7th she posted this video online …

Her story has sparked a lot of discussion about the perils of social networking and the need for greater regulation. Whilst this heartbreaking story is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of internet use (the need for adequate monitoring, the degree of ignorance our teens tend to have to the permanency and scope of choices made in those ‘now’ moments, the cruelty of teens to one another, the speed with which those things can escalate etc) my heart broke to watch this video for a deeper reason.

I watched this and wept for a girl who was completely at the mercy of others to determine her own sense of self and to know her value and worth. Every step of this story is reflective of her search for significance in the responses and acceptance of others who are seeking exactly the same thing in their own (dysfunctional and depraved) way. I see a girl who would no doubt have felt she had no other options than the ones she chose.

I wonder if this couldn’t be a great resource to parents and leaders looking to engage and invest into youth? Perhaps this is a video you could watch with your teen and discuss it together? It would be a great opportunity to help them see the various “t-intersections” Amanda faced and the choices she made at each – workshopping some alternatives or ways she might have avoided some of the situations she found herself in.

Our young people are inundated with opportunities, interactions and decisions that are beyond their maturity and capacity to handle alone. Let’s be intentional about having preventative/pre-emptive conversations with our young people. Firstly, to equip them to navigate life in positive and healthy ways. But secondly, (and of infinite importance) to develop relationships of trust, safety and openness that will stand your young person in great stead to look to you (or other significant adults in their world) when they find themselves in circumstances beyond their ability to navigate alone.

Just a thought.

Guest Blog – 2 weeks screen free!

I invited Sharyn White (inset with husband Scott) to share some reflections on her family’s fortnight of no screens. Read on for her insights into the challenges and surprises of the process. Through this project her kids raised over $1600 for our church’s building fund by collecting sponsorships from family and friends.

From the first day I sat my son down in front of the television with the purpose to entertain him to now, 11 years later when I let him play on the computer for a couple of hours straight, I have wondered if I’m being a good parent by allowing him to do this, or a bad parent.  There is something about screens as a form of entertainment that leaves me uneasy.

So when my children decided to attempt two weeks of no screens to raise money for a project they are passionate about, I was excited and slightly terrified.

We have three children:  Harrison(11), Riley (10) and Alexandra (7).  Depending on homework or sporting commitments, they can spend up to two hours in front of a screen on a weekday.  On a Saturday and Sunday, that number could go as high as five hours if you include a game of football or an afternoon with a friend.  I’d like to think five hours is the exception, but in the footy season it’s probably not (and then there’s cricket in the summer!).

I am really aware that for some reading this these numbers constitute child abuse, and for others they might be small in comparison.  I desperately want to justify them to make myself feel better, but will restrain. They are what they are.

My biggest fear in attempting the challenge was what we were going to do with all those free hours.  How was I going to keep my kids entertained?  And by entertained, I guess I mean out of my hair and under control.

Surprisingly, entertainment was never an issue.  Screens were quickly replaced by a range of other activities, which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.  And other than some board games and a couple of outings on the weekends, the kids initiated their own play.  They never once asked to get in front of a screen. 

The kids didn’t struggle to find new ways to spend their time, but they did struggle.

The first week was tough.  The kids weren’t bored, instead they were very tired.  Every afternoon involved fights, tears and tantrums.  I could see that at the end of a school day, they just wanted to sit and switch off in front of a screen.  These meltdowns were so absurd, and the effect of screens so glaringly obvious that in these moments if I didn’t laugh I would cry.  It was really hard to watch my kids adjust.  It was so tempting to put them in front of a screen knowing that it was all that was needed to bring peace and rest to the house.  But it also made me more determined to see this challenge to its end.

I’ve always known that screens provide a lot of entertainment for very little effort.  It’s called instant gratification.  Screen-time can be both mindless, and stimulating.  But what shocked me most during the challenge was how conditioned my kids are for that type of activity; so conditioned that it affected their physical and mental capacity when it was removed.  Remaining pleasant, being creative and staying engaged took more effort than they were used to.

Fortunately it only took one week for that conditioning to change.  The second week was a completely different story.  Their capacity to positively engage in their surroundings increased, and the rewards were great.  They spent longer on homework, they settled into other activities for longer periods of time, and I think the familiarity with certain board games allowed them to find this form of entertainment relaxing.

I discovered through the challenge that if screens equal instant plus gratification, then removing or restricting a child’s screen-time doesn’t remove or restrict the gratification part of that equation, but the instant part.  My kids loved their screen-free challenge.  Harrison even spoke of extending his time because he could identify the benefits.  The entertainment and the enjoyment were there.  But they had to adjust to the effort it took and the character traits required to get these things in their different forms.

Harrison would identify the benefits of the screen-free challenge as better quality school work, learning new board games, and spending more time with mum and dad.  As their mother, I too enjoyed all those benefits.  But I also loved to see them grow in perseverance, their consideration of others, creativity, patience and the list goes on.

I would recommend taking up the screen-free challenge to any family.  Give it a go, and you might discover some interesting things.  But if that’s not your cup of tea, then can I encourage you to remove some of the ‘instant’ that invades your children’s lives; whether it be in the form of play, extra-curricular activities, dinner magically appearing on the table or a fresh pile of ironed washing. 

My kids are capable of more than I give them credit for.  And it is a joy to see them thrive on discovering that for themselves also.

You have our trust

Recently I emailed our youth parents to let them know about our upcoming Youth & Young Adult camp. Our theme this year is “Alive in Us” and we’ll be utilising the resources from Youth Alpha and a visiting speaker to engage the topic of the Holy Spirit. As a team, we are keen to have our youth families on board and have sought to enlist their (and our church family’s) prayer coverage and support as we prepare and head off next weekend.

One of the emails I received back from the parents had this as the opening line: “You have our trust.”My heart leapt!! What an awesome reply! Such an incredibly powerful thing to communicate. “You have our trust.”

Our ministry teams work hard to be worthy of the trust of the parents we serve alongside in the raising and faith development of our young people. They are diligent in their faith and personal life, committed to all aspects of their ministry role and dedicated to developing personal relationships with the children in their care. Do they have your trust?

It’s a question for parents to ask in relation to school teachers, church leaders, sports coaches and music instructors alike; do they have your trust?

Two thoughts flow from that question … the first is to recognise that your children will know if those people have your trust or not and it will communicate very powerfully to them whether or not they should trust them too. How do you speak about your child’s teacher or their coach? Do you demonstrate trust in the way you encourage your child to respond to their instruction? Do you model respect in the way you speak about and handle disagreement?

Secondly, does your child’s leader (teacher/coach/mentor/instructor) KNOW they have your trust? Have you communicated that to them (directly or indirectly)? Or have you, by your absence of affirmation and action, allowed room for their leaders to doubt your support or trust?

Easily fixed … just an email, a call, a ‘thank you’, a handshake. “You have our trust”.

… just a thought.