Fifteen years ago, just before the advent of smartphones and social media, mobile devices landed in the hands of youth. At that time, my youngest hit middle school. He had purchased a “pay-as-you-go” mobile device with his own paper route money. My husband and I thought, it was no big deal. It was like having a walkie-talkie. And then something called “texting” surfaced as his peers were also equipped with the devices and there was plenty of evidence that the kids were keeping secrets and unwittingly used this power to communicate in ways that intensified their exposure to the risks of addiction, bullying and exploitation. Parents too believed that equipping youth with devices would keep them “connected” thus them making them safer, when it actually made it easier to conceal risky situations.
This power crisis of connection reinforced for me a universal truth about humanity: a lie can become a real experience that murders the truth only if you allow it in your own mind. It is easy to believe things that are inappropriate or beneath your dignity and then act on them. And the advent of internet-powered life made it even easier to believe that everything you need to know you can simply access from the device…which was fast becoming a single point of reference for life. My fearful desires to be in control of my child’s security informed me that I was powerless as a parent. And yet I instinctively knew that my fear would not help. In fact, I realized that honoring my fear would hinder any of efforts to become a trusted resource and guide my children in their own course correction with the device in their hands.
Now while I consider myself to be an American mom with a heart for Jesus Christ, I fully acknowledge that this is an identity of my own choosing. I know that I cannot make my husband and children believe what I believe about the personhood of love. I can only live it out to the best of my ability and come into agreement about the core values that make home a safe place to learn how to become better and stronger from all of life experiences – especially the deeply shame-inspiring and painful ones. So my faith informed me that my children needed to experience my own confidence in a) my ability to impart wisdom as a civics lesson about freedom, and b) in my children’s own inherent capacity to learn from the consequences of their own choices. This meant that I needed to trust that my children possess the same inherent powers of self-determination as an adult, which makes life-long learning possible in the first place. I realized I have a lot of learning to do.
Thankfully, my training as a behavioral scientist at U.C. Berkeley (which initially drove me to understand how technology could be used to improve the quality of work life and business relationships) fueled my desire to better understand the hope for the human condition and the parent-child bond in a cyber-powered world. In the summer of 2004, I made a radical shift to focus my energy away from a career in the technology industry and redirect it towards better understanding what it means to grow up with global access to people and information, good and not good. And more importantly I wanted to know how to respond to the new demands on parenting these future generations of digital natives. As an anthropologist, I knew that the pre-internet paradigm for parenting would not be effective. So with other caring parents and adults in our community, I became a founding member and eventually chaired a coalition for youth substance abuse prevention strategy in Placer County which just completed two federal grants last fall. This initiative continues today as Raising Placer.
Well, hindsight is 2020, right?
After all these years of working in my community as a strategist for youth substance abuse prevention and studying the nature of addiction and recovery, and mental health healing modalities emerging from the science of the brain and somatic properties of thoughts, what I have learned is that parenting digital natives requires us to understand the human condition as a family-centric response to addiction. The science of the brain, trauma, addiction, recovery and faith teaches us that addiction happens in many forms and can convince us that we are disconnected and hopeless. Devices and apps are designed to have the same impact on the brain as drugs. As with any crisis, how we choose to respond can make us stronger.
Creating a culture of connection at home
As a response to the power crisis of mobile connectivity in the parent-child bond, I have developed a tool kit for parents to foster connection with tech-savvy youth which also involves renewed thinking about what it means to be a parent and a child growing up with the rapid pace of innovation in a free society.
This means we must understand that parents do not possess control over their child’s thoughts and actions nor their child’s life journey. The child is actually in charge of him or herself. And while parents do not possess control of their children, they do have inherent authority to 1) provide protective cover for basic needs which includes training on good citizenship and safety, and 2) to create a home environment that promotes learning and expressing discipline as boundary-setting for self and others that builds trust and a secure sense of belonging.
Some of the reasons why a sense of “disconnect” persists include confusion over legal custody and parental authority to connect and correct as described below in a Core Connectivity workshop.
The difference between legal custody and parental authority
There are many reasons why parents need clarity about legal custody:
- Divorce and/or biological parental rights matters
- Blended families (step parenting)
- Foster and adoptive parenting
- Loss of parental custody due to abuse, addiction or trouble with the law
- Unruly, unresponsive or disobedient children
- Children suffering with mental health and/or behavioral health issues
- The disruptive and addictive impact of devices in the parent-child relationship
Putting parental power and control into perspective requires us to first examine the legal definitions that honor parent authority in the home, which is limited power.
Custody: /ˈkəstədē/ noun: 1. the protective care or guardianship of someone or something. “the child was placed in the custody of a grandparent”; 2. imprisonment “my father was being taken into custody“; 3. parental responsibility, especially as allocated to one of two divorcing parents /”he was trying to get custody of their child”.
The underlying meaning of custody as guardianship, whether it be the parent or the state, is to care for, protect, and correct a way of life. The implication of this meaning is that a person or institution that has custody is trustworthy to use this power wisely.
Limits of parental legal authority
The legal authority of parents in our society includes limits. Consider the federal, state and local laws of the land regarding the caring for and raising youth. Some examples of laws impacting parenting include:
- HIPPA (in California at the age of 12 a child must be allowed to make their own choices about reproduction including abortion and birth control.)
- Child abuse laws (it is a federal offense to strike a child and leave a mark/sexual relations with minors is a federal offense).
- Vaccinations (state law mandated for public schools).
- Curfews (local city and county ordinances for youth to be off the streets by a certain time).
- Provisional (graduated) drivers licenses (for first six months new drivers not permitted to drive with underage passengers)
- Alcohol and tobacco laws (not allowed to serve youth under 21).
- Court-ordered co-parenting (divorce and custody agreements)
- State and federal education codes/truancy laws
Intergenerational cultural competency & parental authority to connect
The role of a parent in the life of a child incorporates and transcends legal authority recognized by society. Legal limitations cannot limit the inherent authority to connect and build trust, and model resilience.
In this regard, the Core Connectivity curriculum focus is on intergenerational cultural competency as it relates to shared beliefs (worldview), values and behavior standards that build trust and nurture a secure sense of belonging to something greater than yourself. In this training, connection refers to the spiritual dimension of wellness that engages that “something greater than yourself” which is love in the boundary of human relationships against which there is no law.
This spiritual authority to love and be loved is in me, in you and in our children, and it enables us to respond well to behavior health issues and adversity. The sciences of the brain, trauma, addiction, recovery and faith edify this truth. In this way, I understand connection and resilience as interdependent. This connection to wisdom thoughts may also be referred to as the origin of resilience.
Connection: /kəˈnekSH(ə)n/ noun: 1. a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else. “the connections between social attitudes and productivity” or “the connection between beliefs and behavior”
Resilience: /rəˈzilyəns/ noun: 1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; 2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity
To learn more about these connection building tools, check out the training material:
- Fresh Start Family Culture for Household Executives: How to Maintain Open Parent-Child Communication in a Cyber-Powered World
- The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child: Insights on Love and Suffering in the Family
To schedule a workshop for your school or church, or schedule private coaching session, contact Joanna.
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.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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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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