When I decided to leave a career in technology to focus upon the impact of technology on family life (2004), my youngest was entering eighth grade and mobile connectivity had just landed in the hands of youth. Before the smart phone, texting had quickly surfaced as the primary mode of communication. I really felt compelled to better understand how this mobile connectivity in the home and peer community would impact growing up and parenting.
My decision was validated within the first few weeks.
At the beginning of my son’s eighth grade school year, one of his classmates named Evan committed suicide. A few days after the funeral service I found myself in the kitchen preparing dinner and having a conversation with my middle schooler about the reasons why a child would kill himself. This was my son’s reality, a reality that I did not know at his age; to experience a peer taking his own life inspiring so many questions and raising fears and doubts among the adults as well as youth.
My son explained to me that the counselors suggested that Evan killed himself because he was feeling too much pressure from his parents to get good grades. At least that is what he took away from the counselors. Apparently Evan had left a note indicating a sense of doom and failure about grades, or so this is what was rumored. “Maybe you and Dad should stop expecting me to get good grades,” he said.
A well of sorrow and mercy surged within me as I struggled to give my son a reply that would empower him and respect the horrific loss of Evan’s family and our community.
“How do you think this logic makes Evan’s mother feel? Do you really believe that she cared more about Evan’s grades than his life?” I inquired of myself as much as of my son. The question hung as we both pondered this thought. My heart was aching for and continues to ache for Evan’s mother. “A person does not kill himself because of grades, a break up with a girlfriend, money, or any other reason offered in this world,” I told him. “A person kills himself when he cannot see his current problem as temporary; when the person has lost all reason for hope. It is a matter of perspective.”
And with this eternal truth in mind, that our perspective shapes our reality, I have devoted myself to help parents assume their role as the primary educator for life; to help our children take charge of their perspectives; to equip parents and youth to consider that technology has enormous power to shape our perspective, for better or for worse, only if we allow it. Our perspective about life, power and control must be able to stand alone, separate from the social network. Now more than ever, what you believe about where your own power originates from matters. Fast forward, twelve years…
Most of us have seen or heard about a popular Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” that features a fictional tale of a female teenager who took her own life, and the tapes that recorded how the people in her life contributed to her decision to end her life. The series is both hailed and criticized for exposing in explicit detail how a child can come to the conclusion to end his or her life.
Whatever your point of view about such programming, it is nonetheless true that in the network culture, we and our children are swimming in a sea of judgment with the 24-hour news feeds, posts and texting that can easily become a single point of reference for life, making us vulnerable to the fear-based paradigms tossing us like the waves of the ocean. We are witnessing increased trends in youth suicide, and in particular girls aged 10 -14 stand out according to an NPR report. In Pennsylvania there is a recent report of youth suicide spiking, with children as young as five years old having taken their own lives.
Emotions are intensified in this cyber-powered environment, and even when we are together in the same room, it can feel very lonely as mobile connectivity can inspire a sense of isolation and disconnectedness. Everything kind and cruel is hyped as truth. Again, now more than ever, your perspective is your reality.
As I write about this, 60 Minutes is airing a story on “brain hacking” by the technology industry. This feature explains how social media engineers and the titans of the “cloud” (Google, Facebook/Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter) develop apps that essentially program people’s perspectives. The investigative report explains how social media developers go about manipulating consumers by deploying sophisticated coding that 1) stimulates the lower part of the brain connected to primal (fear) emotions that function to detect and react to threats (inspiring anxiety to check the device frequently and often –a condition known as fear of missing out or FOMO); and 2) also activates the reward system of the brain (dopamine) with “likes” and other notifications which are addictive, like a drug, and are largely empty in value. This is the cyber-powered stress our children navigate in their social networks.
By the same token, I have learned through research, fieldwork and personal experience that in our humanity we are gifted with an inherent capacity to forgive the things in the world that are not true but seem true, offend or harm us. It involves the same mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible, which declares every person has God-given intelligent life and free will and this is power to choose our own thoughts and actions that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. This power is our capacity to exercise forgiveness as a life skill – to decide how offended we want to be in response to the intensified manipulations and cruelty on and off line that is a part of our life journey.
Think about it like how anti-virus software quarantines viruses that cause dysfunction in your operating system. Forgiveness is not about excusing manipulative, cruel or bad behavior. Rather, forgiveness is about holding people accountable for offenses without anger, revenge or condemnation in our hearts; setting the offenses and manipulations aside so they cannot infect your heart. The capacity to forgive, or quarantine offenses, is our inherent capacity to choose not to agree with the manipulative and painful experiences, on and off line, which can inspire hopelessness, suicide and violence if we choose to agree with them.
Because we are all vulnerable to cyber-powered manipulations, I am always seeking and sharing insights from folks who know intimately how to put this mindset of forgiveness into action; this, in my own mind, is the science of faith which can be demonstrated. To that end, Pastor Clay Rojas, youth pastor at Parkside Church and founder of Prison Families Aftercare ministry in Auburn, explains the three disciplines of forgiveness which make it possible to reflect back the goodness of God in the middle of hostile circumstances and painful experiences. He spoke at the at the 2017 Core Connectivity Symposium on Forgiveness last April 29. Below are the three insights about the disciplining of our own minds that can help parents have conversations with tech-savvy youth in response to the bully pressures in their cyber social networks.
- Purpose-driven thinking. It takes discipline to think correctly because the brain is processing a ton of information. We have the power to cultivate a hopeful and empowered perspective to resist the urge to continue feeding the hostility of being offended, or enticed into risky and/or meaningless habits. Whatever you give your attention is your power. “Think about what you are thinking about,” Rojas said. “Whatever you feed your mind, manifests in the physical as words and actions. If you struggle with a person, it triggers the hurt. Give it to God [and you can be set apart without blame and trust Him with the outcome].” (Philippians 4:8-9)
- The discipline of thanking. “God dwells in a thankful heart,” he said. “Complaints stink and leave a stench in your heart, sucking the life out of you. Only God has the complete eternal perspective, which is different from our own perspective. God will never cut you short. He inhabits the praises of his people. When you don’t feel like it, thank God on credit”. The words you chose to focus upon and express are also your power. Be grateful so that you can call upon the goodness of God to enlighten the mind and warm the heart of every person in your life to the experience of love overcoming hostility. (Philippians 4:6)
- Reordering your loves. When being in alignment with God is on top of your list, life gets easier. When you make God your first priority, then it is possible to change your perspective from victim to victor, whatever the circumstance or people involved. “Offense is an action; offended is a choice,” Rojas said. Keep in mind that this capacity to choose not to agree with the offense as making you a victim is a God-given power over your own thoughts and actions which can never be taken. This is the mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible in the first place. An atheist has the right to stand in the public square and declare there is no God, because a handful of people acted on a mustard seed of faith that God said so, even when the odds offered by the world appeared to be against them.
If you or a loved one are dealing with thoughts of suicide, seek help: NAMI Suicide Prevention/Crisis Hot Lines.
To learn more about creating a family culture that builds resilience to the manipulations of cyber-powered peer pressure, go to: Fresh Start.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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