Editor's note: This is the second in a series on raising boys. Read Part 1 here.
I'm not much of a disciplinarian.
The kids' beds remain unmade most days, their shoes and backpacks litter the family room, and I'm likely to say, "Oh, just finish what you're reading and then do the dishes."
My children are fueled by hugs and kisses and lots of praise. The world will be unkind to every one of us; home should be a haven of acceptance and love.
I think because I don't nag and so rarely insist on much, my children listen to my opinion. And, well, maybe I do have a lot of opinions.
'Tis the season when everyone shops for gifts, and several times in the past few weeks I've been asked, "What age is appropriate for an iPod Touch?" "Have you heard of any good DS games?" "Are you buying a Kindle Fire?"
An uncomfortable silence (for me) usually follows. Most of the time, I'll remain quiet and let others carry the conversation, but once in a while someone persists in hearing my opinion. I hesitate to speak up because I hate to offend.
But here it is: no iPod Touch, no personal game consoles, no smartphones, no Kindle Fire, no Internet connection or TVs in any bedroom. We do have an iPad shared among the family — always password-protected, usually hidden on a shelf or in a drawer and drained of power. A few iPods also roam the family, but they are used for long runs, lawn mowing or late-night study sessions. No one wears ear buds around the house or at the dinner table.
We're certainly not Luddites. Our laptop and my big desktop computer are usually buzzing during homework time (but forever and always password-protected and never moved from the kitchen). My phone is pretty popular and gets passed around the family a lot, but I figure one smartphone is enough for all of us.
In fact, it's probably because I love my phone a bit too much that I'm strict about most electronics. With five boys I’ve always felt I needed to be extra-cautious because:
a. Our household is probably already more violent than yours;
b. We are prone to addictions; and
c. I'm not as good at monitoring as other parents.
Interestingly, none of my kids has ever begged or pushed for any game or device. They simply know we don't buy those things and they take a certain amount of pride in being different.
I'll tell you what we do have — a wood pile at the side of the house, tools in the garage, art supplies, thousands of books, a playroom strewn with Legos (as valuable as textbooks, in my opinion), blenders they can take apart, my camera equipment, musical instruments, cooking supplies, sprinkler pipes for making potato guns, board games, bikes and balls and baseball bats, and a mom who doesn't mind a mess or music playing at full blast in the kitchen.
With my children being the ages they are, I can't monitor them every minute of the day. Yes, I have a good Internet filter and check the history regularly, but, more importantly, we've instilled in them values to direct their actions. My boys understand why we don't read/watch/listen to certain books, movies, TV shows and music.
Teaching media awareness starts young and changes with every new bit of technology, but when children are driven by values, rather than rules, our decisions are pretty simple.
I want my children to be smart, kind, respectful, considerate, well-spoken. What I don't want: any objectification of women, coarse language, violence, mocking others or any form of cruelty. I worry about pornography every single day and protect my family.
Finding a hobby, playing sports, studying, hiking, time with friends and family — all these insulate our children from pornography more than any filter. Happiness in life is more about the DOs than the DON'Ts. Addiction to pornography stems from emptiness, a hole in the heart, which a person tries to fill with an artificial thrill. Alcohol and drug abuse and overeating stem from the same emptiness.
Sadly, many in our country still believe pornography is a harmless pastime and fighting against it is a job for the religious right. But pornography hurts everyone. Our entire society pays a price for increased sexual assaults, broken marriages, destructive attitudes toward women, job loss and depression.
By the end of this year, everyone in the U.K. will have to opt in to receive any kind of explicit material, hard-core everything will be banned, and those typing in certain search terms will be black-listed. And hooray for Google, which is working to eliminate child porn from the Internet.
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How can we best protect our kids? Love them. Fill that hole in their heart. And if/when they do mess up, love them. Tell them they are still good people; teach them to resist temptation. Teach them why pornography is wrong and how it will hurt them: impairing relationships, putting grades at risk, taking time from positive activities, increasing feelings of worthlessness and shame.
Every one of our children will be exposed to pornography to some degree. As my son Ben so wisely informed me when he was in high school, "It's not a matter of seeking it out; it's a matter of turning away."
Writer and photographer Michelle Lehnardt is raising five future fathers and one little mother. She writes at segullah.org and scenesfromthewild.blogspot.com on building chicken coops, hosting tea parties and missing her missionary son in Russia.