Boys are creatures of impulses, ingenuity, and energy. This can make for an amazing combination and forces with which to be reckoned. It can also make for a terrifying journey for parents of boys in the digital age.
The familiar buzz of a cell phone, alerting one of my kids that he or she has a new text message. The low rumble of someone’s phone on vibrate, crammed up against the couch cushion and a pile of homework, is a familiar sound. From seemingly nowhere this digital world appears – and as parents we are making up the rules as we go. Certainly my childhood memories of dragging the phone cord through the hallway and praying its ring didn’t wake my parents at a late hour don’t prepare me for this. This constant connection we now all have with each other – and strangers around the world.
So it begs the questions: How do we teach boys to be gentlemen in a digital world?
There are no lessons I can recall from my own childhood experience, no words of wisdom my parents gave me about cell phones, emails, and webcams. The most extravagant our home got was having a separate children’s line installed so my parents could finally have free reign on their phone (yes – before the options of call-waiting), and computers were fancy typewriters incapable of instantly sending pictures and videos.
Raising Digital Gentlemen
Technology has changed the game when it comes to raising our boys to be gentlemen. As the mom of three boys, I desperately want to guide these gents to become men of integrity, compassion, and strength, all the while growing into gentlemen. Like so many other parents, however, I am learning that these boys are in the fight of their lives to become true gentlemen. Technology challenges their decisions and their moral compasses.
I’ve decided that I can’t throw away the computer, ditch the cell phones, or hide my kids in the basement, which leaves me with only one option: I need to find ways to raise digital gentlemen.
Cell phone etiquette – Most kids don’t actually use their cell phones for talking – they are texting or Snap chatting or IMing all of the time. We should not be surprised to know that more than 40% of teenagers can text while blindfolded. It is what these kids include in their messages that we need to target.
- Keep the conversation going about respectful texting – just like the birds and bees conversation, this shouldn’t be just a one-time deal.
- Give concrete examples about what might be disrespectful to send in a text message to a young woman. I always tell my boys to remember that at any given time the text message they send to a girl could be read by her father, so always imagine her father reading anything you have to say.
- Set guidelines for texting. It is never the right way to as someone on a date – or break off a relationships. If my kids are mature enough to be in relationships, that means they are mature enough to treat the other person with enough respect to do these things in person.
- Help them understand not to settle arguments or make decisions via text. Way too much is lost in translation.
- Get to know the acronyms that kids are using in their texting – and make sure they know what they are sending and receiving.
Pictures and video on demand – Just because your kids can take a picture of themselves and post it for the world to see doesn’t mean they should. Teaching discernment to boys about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate images and videos is a challenge, but even more challenging can be helping them to make wise decisions with the images and videos that are sent to them.
- Redefine privacy for your boys. Make sure they understand that just because they might receive a message doesn’t mean they should send that message on to others or keep it stored on their computer or phone. Not only are there risks of becoming unwittingly involved with child pornography issues (even when a girls sends a flirty picture of herself), but boys are also at risk of contributing to the invasion of privacy of someone else.
- A frightening statistic shows that almost 90% of teens’ flirtatious, racy, and sexually charged pictures (which – as much as we don’t want to admit it, they do take), are found and copied by parasite porn companies and reposted on pornography websites. Make sure your boys understand the risks involved and the dangers (legally, emotionally, etc.) for being any part of this scary trend.
Digital footprints – What kind of digital reputation does your son have? Help him make sure he has an online image that reflects him as a gentleman.
- Know what pictures your son has online, and who is tagging him in their images (he can be tagged, even if the photo is not of him). Teach him to discern which images to post, and which ones to delete, but most importantly, which ones to never take.
- Make sure your son understands how his comments online can either show him as a respectful young man, or as one who discriminates, demeans, or disrespects.
- Colleges, athletic recruiters, and prospective employers look at digital footprints. What does your son’s footprint reveal about his life?
It can be hard enough to wrangle these grass-stained and forever wrestling boys to gather politely at the dinner table. When we add technology into the mix of raising gentlemen, suddenly parenting feels like a steep climb up a mountain, with no protection from the elements or a GPS. But don’t give up. Keep climbing – our sons need us to be the trail guides.