I often hear real-life parenting stories that evoke two equally strong feelings: on the one hand, sorrow; on the other, gratefulness. I am saddened to hear these stories, always told to me by loving parents who have conscientiously tried to do the right thing, but they also cause me to be glad beyond measure that I am not raising children today. I got out of the game just in time, it seems.
Willie and I did not have to deal with hundreds of cable channels, video games, cellphones, or the Internet with its various temptations, including social media, pornography that a 5-year-old can access (Click Here if Youre 18 or Older!), chatrooms, online gaming and shopping carts. When my kids were growing up, we had a television (sometimes), period. In 1980, I wrote a column in which I speculated that video games were addictive (which we now know is true), and the president of Nintendo USA sent me a state-of-the-art video-game system to share with my poor, tech-deprived children so I could see for myself how wrong-headed I was. It sat, unopened, in my attic until several years ago when I gave it away. In short, Willie and I had it easy. The worst thing either of our kids did was sneak out at night after we were asleep. That would be the son, of course.
One such heartbreaking story was told to me recently. Its been told to me hundreds of times, actually, and every time my heart is broken. It begins with good, decent, responsible parents discovering that their young adolescent boy has accessed pornography of the worst sort on the Internet. They confront him. His father talks to him about how pornography disrespects women. The parents make sure he can no longer access the Internet at home without supervision. The boy figures out how to get around the blocks, how to disarm the tracking software. The parents find him sitting at the computer, mesmerized, at 3 oclock in the morning. Then his best friends parents call to complain that he has introduced their son to Internet pornography. The word gets around. No one will let their children associate with the boy, and the parents figure out that theyve become untouchable as well. And the boy just keeps right on figuring out how to beat the system.
As the parents tell the story, theyre both fighting back tears. So am I. What should we do? they ask. I tell them it sounds to me that theyve done all they can. But its not working! they say, in despair. I ask, Can you accept that youre not going to be able to completely solve this problem? Can you accept that the rivers going to find a way around your sandbags, but that you should keep putting out sandbags anyway?
Then I say something along these lines: Are you willing to accept not only that this isnt your fault, that it has absolutely nothing to do with anything you did or failed to do, but also that you are not the appointed agents of change concerning this issue in your childs life?
In other words, I tell them, do your best, but dont expect much in return. Pray for your son. Above all else, keep the demons of guilt at bay. Guilt is the enemy.
And then I feel guilty for being so grateful.