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Say Hello To Your New “Friend”

In last week’s article, A Prowler In The House, I threw down the gauntlet and challenged fathers to start conducting surprise inspections of their son’s iPods, cell phones, computers, and other devices.*

After I wrote the article, I kept hearing the same imaginary questions being repeated over and over in my mind: “Yea, right Harry.  How do you expect me to go up to my 16 or 17 year old son and tell him I’m going to conduct a surprise inspection of his laptop and cell phone?  If I don’t have any evidence that he has been accessing inappropriate information, images or videos, how do you expect me to justify my behavior?”  Even though I wasn’t asked any of those questions, I think they still need to be addressed.

If you’ve never monitored your teenage son’s use of his computer or other electronic devices, and you have no reason to suspect him, it’s probably not a good idea to start demanding that he turn over the devices to you for inspection.  You’re in a much better position to establish rules and guidelines if your son has not yet acquired an iPod or Smartphone, or gotten into the routine of accessing the internet.  If that is the case, before he is allowed to use email, the internet, an iPod, or another electronic device, he needs to be told that you are going to be monitoring his activity, which means he has to provide you with login ID’s and passwords to his electronic devices and online accounts.  In most cases, you’re the one who is going to be paying for those devices, so you have every right to make his use of the devices subject to your rules.

The task of monitoring your son’s digital and online activities becomes more difficult if he’s already been given the freedom to use his computer (and other devices) without your oversight.  If you walk up to him and announce that you’re going to start poking around on his computer, his response will most likely be: “What’s gotten into you dad?  Why do you want to check my laptop?  Don’t you trust me?  What’s going on?  Who have you been talking to?  You don’t trust me do you?” 

Even if you have some nagging feeling that he may be engaged in immoral or inappropriate activity, you risk permanently harming your relationship with him if you insist on conducting a surprise inspection and then fail to find any evidence of inappropriate conduct.  So what is it that you can do to ensure that your son is not partaking in (or being influenced by) the information, images, and videos that are available to him on the internet?

I told you last week about how my dad stumbled upon a magazine I had left out.  It seemed as though every time any of his children were careless and left something out, such as a magazine or book, my dad would eventually “stumble” upon it. 

Over the years, my children have complained that whenever an objectionable scene appears on television or in a movie, I always happen to walk into the room right when that scene is being portrayed on the screen.  My dad was like that.  It was as though he had an invisible GPS (Global Positioning System) device in his head that directed his eyes toward anything in the house that could cause moral or spiritual harm to his children. 

He would walk into a bedroom to wake up one of his children for school and his eyes would immediately be drawn to a book, magazine, or other item laying on a desk or dresser.  (The truth of the matter is he really did have an invisible GPS device that was powered by God’s grace – a device that every father who is in the state of grace possesses.)  I want to emphasize the fact that before my dad could ever see anything in one of his children’s bedrooms, he had to first be physically present in the bedroom.

While I was growing up, if I wasn’t inside the house watching television, I was either spending time outside with my brothers and friends, or I was in my bedroom hanging out with my brothers and friends.  Because of the changes in technology there is now a new and permanent “place” where our teenagers hang out with their friends on a daily basis.  That place is Facebook.

If you want to see what your son is up to, you have to be able to periodically visit the place where he hangs out with his friends.  If you enter into that particular “place,” you may see another side of your son that he has carefully hidden from you.  If he is engaging in questionable conduct, he will eventually become careless in what he posts on his Facebook page, and you will have the evidence you need to justify the inspection of his computer and other digital devices.

I’m continually amazed at what teenagers (and older individuals) write on their Facebook pages.  It’s not unusual to see comments that are extremely sensitive and private.  It’s as though they forget the fact that hundreds or thousands of people may end up reading what they have written.  Last week, one of my relatives (a teenage boy) posted a comment on his Facebook page that encouraged his “friends” to take part in an online test that would help to measure their sexual prowess.  Worse than the post itself were the comments of several of his “friends” who joked about the test and approved of what he had done. 

At one time, this type of behavior only occurred in locker rooms and other places where boys congregated (and attempted to show off for each other).  I was stunned to find out that this particular boy (whose parents have sacrificed to send him to a well known Catholic high school), was foolish enough to reveal his own depravity to his family members, friends, and anyone else who might find their way to his Facebook page.  If he were my son, I would have immediately conducted a thorough search of all of his electronic devices for objectionable content.  Then I would have: (1) made him post a public apology on his Facebook page; (2) sat down with him and developed a long term plan which would include, among other things, the monitoring of his behavior (by me) and the frequent reception of the Sacraments; and (3) developed a reading plan for him that would include six books that I’m thinking about right now, with an assignment of one book at a time for him to read and then write a report for me to review with him.

As a responsible Catholic parent, you have an obligation to monitor your teenage sons’ (and daughters’) activities on Facebook.  If you don’t have a Facebook page, you need to get one and learn how to use it.  Then you need to request your son as a “friend” and he has to accept you with no restrictions or privacy settings.  If he tries the “don’t you trust me” line on you, your response should be: “You know, the real question that should be asked is, ‘Don’t you trust me as your parent?’  Why are you afraid to add me as your friend?  Do you have something to hide from me?  Are there things you would let your friends see that you would not want me to see?” 

If your son installed a lock on his bedroom door and allowed a parade of his “friends” to come in and out of his bedroom any time of the day or night, but refused to let you in, would that be acceptable to you?  As long as he’s living in your home, you not only have the right to enter into his bedroom, but you also have the right (and obligation) to enter into and be “physically present” in his Facebook room.

You may feel uneasy about what I’m suggesting here, but the fact of the matter is, there are predators and perverts who have set some very seductive traps for your son to fall into.  It all boils down to a decision as to whether you are going to take active measures to protect your son, or whether you’re going to allow him to make daily trips into a digital jungle where his soul is constantly at risk of being eaten alive by cannibals.  Your failure to monitor his activity on Facebook is a “decision” on your part to allow him to enter into and hang out in that jungle, without any protection or guidance.  His salvation may very well depend on whether or not you decide to become his true friend on Facebook.

*Although I’ve been focusing on what father’s should be doing to raise their sons into responsible Catholic men, the lessons in this article apply equally to daughters.

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8 Responses to “Say Hello To Your New “Friend””

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Thank you, Harry, for your comment including young daughters as well as sons! Although I’m not a Parent, I’ve spent much time teaching or counseling my young teens whom I lovingly call my “spiritual” sons and daughters. Blessings to you in your work! Sister Roberta

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