I always thought drowning would be noisy.
I discovered its silence one day when our children were 10, 4, 2 and newborn. We were at Meacham Lake, and I stood out in the water, holding the new baby while the toddlers played beside me. My stepdaughter paddled from shallow to deep and back. I looked away for a minute. All of a sudden, my stepdaughter screamed the 2-year-old’s name. I turned just as our baby flipped from sideways in the water to upside down.
As he floated under, I caught sight of his confused face. It never occurred to me that a baby would have no idea how to right himself once he had slipped under water; even more haunting was the resigned expression on his face.
Do you remember what it felt like to be passed a note? The unbearable anticipation as we wondered what news it might bring. It weighed on our minds until we could open it and discover whether it held gossip, hate or romance. We would keep the note — in some instances, examining each punctuation mark to decipher the exact meaning.
For our kids, this process holds steady. The form of the note has morphed into texts and posts, and there is a difference in the volume. Can you imagine receiving as many notes per day as the number of text messages that your child receives? The other difference is that the notes never stop. There is an endless cauldron of emotion brewing at our children’s fingertips.
One of my dear friends says that when a phone vibrates or something posts, our children look to see who that particular message says they are. At a time when everything about them is in question, a phone and Facebook page offer infinite feedback.
When I was in high school, I can remember being called a Goody Two-shoes, a pothead, uptight and rich, and easy all within the same year. The same year. For our kids, that might happen within a few minutes. To make matters worse, the critic is often a hurt friend or romantic partner. So, not only is there an instant forum for abuse, there is the potential outing of a person’s most private secrets to an unimaginable number of people in the flash of an angry moment. Is that considered “friendly fire”?
The age in which we’re living also provides a new venue for peer pressure. If your child has a phone or social-media account, he/she has been asked for a naked picture or he/she has asked for a naked picture. This has nothing to do with good or bad children; this has to do with availability and temptation. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself, “What if I could have convinced the cheerleaders to let me into their changing room when I was 15? Would I have been tempted?” Or, “What if my biggest crush had said they’d date me if I would show them something?” Our children face this every day. I have been told that often one “suitor” will ask for a nude picture repeatedly, all day long, sometimes threatening blackmail with real or made-up information.
I don’t believe that our children are any worse or any better than we ever were. If we’re honest, we’d confess that we have been the hero, the bully and the victim all in one lifetime. Many times, all in one day. Our sinful nature hasn’t invented anything new since Sodom and Gomorrah. This is just a new twist on an old story. But if we are going to adequately protect our children, we have to accept that their pressure is different in the unmonitored power that is, literally, at hand — 24/7.
There was a time when I believed that technology is to us what heavy-metal music was to our parents: something harmless that sets apart a generation. But I have witnessed the fallout. And I believe that we must confront the danger and damage our children wrestle with every time they turn on a device — not only from predators, but from each other. If we fail, they might drown, without a sound, without a fight, within inches of help.
Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. For more of her columns, visit http://mary whitelovestories.com.