I’m not at all enthused about home schooling: too limited a degree of socialization, not enough involvement with a variety of peers, teachers and situations to learn to negotiate securely outside the family circle.
Keeping even small children hermetically sealed from the evils of the real world is terribly imprudent. Often hell breaks loose once teenagers are off to college with no parental controls, no helicopter moms or dads hovering over them.
On the other hand, I shake my head in disbelief when I observe an opposite scenario, much too common in our cities, suburbs, towns, wherever you turn. Johnny and Mary enjoy plenty of down time unsupervised, left all by themselves with their favorite tech toys.
Many grade as well as high schoolers have their personal computer in the privacy of their bedroom rather than out in the open family den. Pre-teens and teens alike may carry their own cell phones with apps that put them in touch with everything unfiltered at the press of a few digits.
In far too many cases, a minor’s access to virtually unlimited programming and his availability to receive any kind of communication go unnoticed by a parent or guardian. For all practical purposes, Johnny, like spunky Kevin McCallister, is “Home Alone.”
When a child’s bedroom door is closed, and mom and dad think Mary is sound asleep after typical doings at school, the most exciting part of her day may actually begin for her around 11 p.m.!
Yes, chat rooms entice our (unsuspecting?) youth who think they’re connecting with a caring, cool “friend.” Law enforcement professionals warn us that droves of predators prowl these sites, claiming to be peers of the (pre) adolescent – who may well have faked his or her age – to get online and meet them.
Some websites invite kids to post their picture and name, perhaps include some background details and share their thoughts and feelings about whatever is going on in their lives. This may include current gossip and negative comments demeaning a particular classmate.
Word of mouth gets around; others familiar with the individual chime in. Before long, cyberbullying of that scapegoat is under way for anyone, anywhere in the world, who logs in to see. Such a hurtful putdown publicly shames a young, sensitive person who can feel rejected – maybe even abandoned by the group where he or she most longs to be accepted.
You’re aware of a number of headlined cases reporting the next steps toward fatal tragedy. The victim of cyberbullying finds out about the defamation, loses her sense of self-worth, sinks into depression, tells no one and commits suicide.
“Ask.fm” is a popular social network where kids throughout the world hang out. Our youth at St. Jerome Parish browse it. Our principal was informed and downloaded six of their pictures with names. The data show an early stage of bullying, the startup of a cruel consensus directed against an unsuspecting peer. I’m hopeful that we’re nipping the danger in the bud. We’re meeting with all the parents and then the sixth through eighth graders themselves.
Kids make mistakes, as we all do — sometimes serious ones. The important thing is we learn from mistakes, learn to practice respect for each other at all times, whether we’re friends or not. The God who created diversity calls us to appreciate shy kids as well as live wires and to resist any kind of suggestion that we put down and demean anyone.
“Ask.fm” – a social network where kids must first give their profile and then sign in – has been associated with nine teenage suicides to date.
According to The Guardian, a leading British newspaper, “users of Ask.fm [like your son and daughter] are able to set up profiles which they use to answer questions other members ask of them. While the answers must be given by a named user, the questions can be asked anonymously, which has led to the site being labelled a hotbed of bullying.”
The underbelly of Internet technology is closer to you and your family than you think. Only an ostrich should ever keep its head in the sand.
Yes, I’m not enthused about home schooling. Helicopter parents are asking for trouble a little further down the road. God bless us with what our youngsters and teens really need: the dad and mom who are “there,” who are good coaches, present to their child’s experiences but not hovering, able to talk over what’s going on in his life, able to encourage his growth in freedom, step by caring step.
I remember when my dad would let me sit in his lap behind the steering wheel. I was thrilled by the brand new feel of “driving” the car. Dad’s arms surrounded me to “help” guide our movement. We talked a lot about those experiences. I knew his affection and trusted his guidance more and more. In time I felt secure enough to take my second road test after I flunked the first.
Sound like a plan?
(Fr. Yockey is pastor of St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc.)