Returning to our installments on raising tolerant children, I would like to review the points we have covered.
I discussed Emotional Intelligence (EI) and suggested that when children ask “Why?”, parents can empower them by asking “Why do you think?”
Racism, gender bias, religious intolerance, and homophobia persist through silence. We need to challenge the common ways in which our children use language and make sure that consideration is given to what is meant and what is said.
When we listen to our children, natural opportunities will arise to address gender bias, homophobia, privilege, and inequality.
Tolerance requires warriors of justice who confront the unjust and successfully change lives. This is the ultimate goal of parenting to tolerance.
Now, in this week’s installment…
Exploit the Media that Would Exploit Your Child(ren); Discuss Current Events
In the last installment, I described my son’s run-in with a bully during high school. At the time, I was ranting and raving about the unjust way in which teenagers deal with each other, when a much wiser mother than I said, “And that is why there is no Facebook, Twitter, or Social Media during school!”
Growing up in the proper South raised by Independent Southern Baptist biological parents, I was not allowed to wear make-up, cut my hair, wear pants, or speak unless I was spoken to. The strict rules governing my behavior of were numerous. There was no room for creativity, and I can even remember my biological father lamenting, “Too bad she was born a girl, ‘cause she would make a great preacher or President.”
My gender restricted the life options open to me. I was encouraged to become a nurse or a teacher and marry well. I find that many earth-based practitioners’ co-parents suffered similar issues as they were raised. The restrictions that they found intolerable as children are not things they want to impose upon the children they are raising. As a mother, I have always strived for moderation.
After the aforementioned incident, it struck me suddenly that I had gone out of my way to ensure that my son fit in. He had good clothes and a cell phone and access to all the same electronics as his peers. I didn’t want him to suffer the stigma I did when it was discovered by my middle school peers that my parents wouldn’t let me shave my legs. In doing this, my actions were counter to what I had intended to teach. I chose to make sure my son could blend in when I valued those who did not blend in. I unconsciously suggested to my son that being like everyone else was better than sticking out: “The nail in the board that needed to be hammered into place,” as my biological mother put it.
This enlightenment has come too late for me and not for you. I sincerely believed that all decisions I made were based on the highest good for my child. I never thought to examine what that highest good was. Just because everyone else wore Vans clothing, did it really follow that my boy’s highest good was to be dressed in that manner? Just because other parents spend thousands of dollars on school clothes, did that mean that my son’s highest good was to do the same?
Parents can be overly sensitive when worrying about their children being popular. Since “popular” is really something only a few achieve, most parents are intimately familiar with not being thus exalted. We would save our children that stigma if we can, but in doing so, we perpetuate the lie that “popular” means “good.”
My friend was/is a better mother than I. She recognized that social media creates a direct download into her child, a download that is constant and unfiltered, placed upon a child who may not be mature enough to filter for themselves. So she forbade social media when more important matters, like schooling, were at hand. She restricted texting during the school year as well. I have to say, I can’t imagine doing this to my son. Texting allows my son access to people he would not have access to otherwise, being a child who gets along better with older people. Texting allows for communication that when I was a teenager was done by phone. It is also too late to change our ways. My son is in tenth grade and trying to put that rabbit back in the hat would be impossible.
These issues, however, are things that are worth thinking about. Dr. Gary Small notes, “The downside [to early and extensive technology exposure] is our face-to-face human contact skills… those neural wires are weakening.”[i]
Finding a way as co-parents to balance the positive and uplifting use of technology while continuing to develop the art of human interaction is important.
At Pantheacon, I had a great conversation with a Pagan Dad named Bryant. We discussed how the kitchen table was the most powerful magical tool a Family Coven has access to.
“I think sometimes there is this backlash by earth-based practitioners and liberals when you suggest they observe a meal at a table. It seems like such a right-wing Christian thing to do,” I commented.“Yeah, but that’s where it all comes together. My day, what my kids did that day, what my partners did that day. If we didn’t meet at the table for dinner, when would all that come out?” Bryant wondered.
I think that Bryant has the right of it. All families, Christian or earth-centric need to make time and space to reconnect. You need to center your family around some structure that is an the end unto itself. You aren’t getting children ready for bed or trying to get everyone off to start the day. You aren’t texting or talking on the phones or electronic devices. You are practicing human interaction. Through that interaction, some of the suggested conversations in this series can take place.
Common sense dictates that you try some simple methods to govern the media’s access to your children.
- Electronics can be restricted to weekends only. No texting, no gaming, no television, no computer usage unless it is on the weekends.
- Laptops needed for schoolwork can be accessed for one hour per day.
- During the week and weekend, electronic access is dependent upon chores being complete, school work being complete, and behavior that is deemed appropriate by the Family Coven Virtues.
- Observe the gaming and television ratings. Visual images are powerful, and downloading images of violence and sex into a child’s brain before they are able to properly process that does have detrimental effects.
- Do what is best for your Family Coven, remembering hindsight is always 20/20. Do I wish I had imposed stricter rules around electronics with my son? Absolutely. I didn’t, and I have to navigate the waters we find ourselves in. I have made a hard course for us, and I am doing my best. Carefully consider the consequences upon your child and Family Coven today and in the future when you make these decisions. Seek the advice of other Family Covens. Meditate on it. These decisions matter.
I will say that having a child who is interested in current events and is sixteen has changed dramatically what we watch as a family. As a matter of course I record The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report. These shows bring current events into our home in a manner that is palatable to a teenager and can spark great conversations. We watch these shows as a family and often press pause so we can discuss what we have seen. The most recent episode we discussed was “Friday Night Rights.”
This piece is about University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay before the National Football League draft. After watching the segment, my son, my husband-priest, and I discussed how his draft standing had fallen after the announcement. We talked about how likely it was that there were many gay NFL players already, and Sam’s announcement was a step toward removing the erroneous portrayal that all gay men hate sports and all lesbians hate lipstick.
In my mind, this is an excellent way to try to confront intolerance around gender bias, homosexuality, racism and more: utilizing a program to spark the conversation with my child. I have found the news is another great way to have these discussions.
Eighteen-year old Keshia Thomas protects a Nazi protester on June 22, 1996. After a building confrontation, the man fell and the crowd descended upon him, attempting physically assault him. Horrified, Thomas, laid upon the man in protection even though she was there as a member of the National Women’s Rights Organizations Coalition (NWROC) and has been in direct protest against the KKK moments earlier. This photograph was captured by Mark Brunner.
A few years back, I distinctly recall a conversation sparked after watching the national news. The story was about a fraternity where a girl alleged she was passed from fraternity brother to fraternity brother and raped during a party. This led to a discussion with our son about what was more important, oaths taken to a group or justice and the defense of the defenseless. This discussion was graphic and hard to have. It led me to tell my son that if he was witness to such an atrocity and he didn’t take action, I would love him but be beyond disappointed.
These are important conversations to have about tolerance. Tolerating poor behavior because you like someone or are invested in a relationship with them should never be encouraged. In order to know what you should and should not tolerate, you must have a clear understanding of what your own values and virtues are. Discussion of current events allows co-parents to explore with their children what those virtues and values will be for them. Tolerance of intolerable actions is criminal and destructive to the spirit, soul, and mind of society.