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Bethany, a troubled parent, recently shared a shocking story that all too often illustrates what parents nowadays are dealing with:

“After we caught our 11-year-old son sending pornographic photos of himself to strangers on Snapchat, we took his phone away. We told him he could have it back in a couple of weeks, but that he needed to learn his behavior was wrong. He is so upset now that he sulks around the house and never talks to friends or us. We feel like we’ve ruined his happiness and that he’s lacking socially because he doesn’t have his phone. In fact, we’re pretty sure he’s dealing with depression. This has us worried because he has said suicidal things in the past when he received negative consequences. Is there a better way to handle this situation? Did we do the right thing?”

Modern times have brought with them complexity to parenting that parents aren’t prepared for. Never have children been part of such an enormous global social experiment like they are today. Never before have children been raised on a steady diet of synthetic stimulation via digital devices. And never before have friends for children been an image on a screen or a message on a chat instead of a real person.

This common situation shared by Bethany about her son is a result of improper childhood development knowledge and application. It’s improper for an 11-year-old child to be given a device that is smarter than the child and can so easily manipulate a child’s emotions. Children, and adults for that matter, are easily controlled by the “smart” devices of our age. The fact that an 11-year-old boy, still in his sexually latent stage of development, is engaged in sexual activity is nothing short of a sexual abuse situation. His mind has been perpetrated on by someone or some site via his incredibly “smart” device.

Likewise, the fact that this boy is fighting depression because of a simple correction and a “No” answer by his parents illustrates that he has been allowed to become dependent on the device for chemical stability. This means his brain essentially has been trained to have a “fix” at regular intervals. I wouldn’t be surprised if this parent has allowed her son to take a phone to bed with him at night as well. That is the most common time for digital promiscuity to happen.

Parents should never trust in their child’s ability to self-govern on a device until a foundation of self-government has already been well established and maintained. And even then, parents don’t stop governing the device while still actively parenting.

It needs to be said that the depression this boy is displaying could be very real due to his attachment to the digital world and his friends, or it could be a simple manipulation to create a power struggle with his parents and make them second guess their parenting decisions. Suicide can also be very real because of digital dependency, and it can also be a manipulation too. Always take that seriously.

I won’t go into detail here about how to handle this case since that isn’t really the point of the article. The point is, for these parents to find the answer to their question, “Did we do the right thing?” they need to learn more about what parenting is and what it needs to look like in these situations. To properly do that, it’s useful to look to the past. Principles of good parenting haven’t changed over the years. Rather, parents just think these principles have changed because some of the “No” answers are about things like cell phones and computer games, instead of about playtime and an extra cookie.

Parenting Principles from the Past

What can we learn from parents prior to our digital age? You know, before television? What did effective parents do to create good, wholesome, respectful and motivated children who possessed good character? This type of person existed. It isn’t a myth or tall tale. History is full of examples of men and boys who were leaders of armies and surveyors of lands, and women and girls who managed farms, ranches, businesses, raised children, and wrote world-changing books. What were some of the things their parents taught them?

There’s not sufficient space in this article to list the many principles and skills children of the “old days” learned. I’ve seen documents for young women’s groups and boy scouting groups from the year 1916 with lists of goals and achievements they planned to accomplish that would make anyone wonder if it was even possible for a young girl or boy to really do those things alone.

Some common threads are woven through the lists documenting historical parenting practices. The children were taught to work hard. They had real adult responsibilities starting at a young age. They were talked to by their parents regularly, and deliberately trained socially and morally. Secular education was considered fairly important, but not necessary for helping children learn to become a good person of character.

The families saw themselves as “the social group” in a person’s life. Any other person who entered the family’s life was evaluated and only allowed to interact with the family if they were a good influence.

If the person was considered a bad influence on the family, the person was no longer part of the family social circle. They just said, “No.” This isn’t to say families didn’t reach out to and lift others in their communities. They did. However, they didn’t allow that lifting to damage their own family cultures.

Pioneer Story of Faith

Mary Alice Robinson, one of my ancestors, contracted polio as a baby in the late 1800s. She didn’t walk until age 3, and at that time with braces on her legs. She couldn’t play most of the games with children, and her friends helped her get around so that she could have fun as a child. Her hip was damaged due to her braces and she always walked by dragging one leg.

At age 25 she miraculously married and was moved to an isolated ranch in Star Valley, Wyoming. Her husband was there a couple of months out of the year, during the summer, and the rest of the time she oversaw running the family ranch and caring for the home and family alone. She had five children and taught them to work and have faith in God. When all five children had the measles in one year, she was alone to care for them. While alone, her house burnt and she had to start over with the family. She also saw herself through multiple stillborn births.

Mary Alice had many reasons to not do all the hard things she did. She could have complained and made excuses, or relied on others to care for her, but she had a pioneer’s heart and knew she had to do the hard things to get the rewards she wanted for her family.

Pioneering Parents Today

Even though our hardships look different, parents today need to be pioneers too. When parents possess that pioneering heart that tells them they must do something different for their family than most families are doing, they give their children strength and security.

Parents who give their children “No” answers to the modern gadgets, as well as instructions and inspiration to do family activities and work as a family, train children of sound character and mold their hearts into loving all that’s good and right. Their children will see the world through a lens that digitally disconnected children simply can’t. They will see relationships, communications, work and responsibility in a way that stretches their comfort zones and makes becoming a confident adult the goal and source of happiness — instead of viewing these activities as the antithesis of happiness.

When parents first start teaching their children self-government, it seems hard. When the children don’t want to hear the “No” answers, it seems like it could feel easier to give up trying to correct the problems. Don’t give in to those feelings. Instead, be the pioneer your child needs you to be. Deliberately analyze what your child needs. Don’t worry about what some other family is doing or what is accepted as the “norm” of today.

Your family culture and the product your home is creating for the world is the only concern you should have. Neighbors may talk and other children may not understand, but it doesn’t matter. Your child was born in these days to one day take your place as one of the wise ones. Only those who can daily tell themselves “No” and accept it will be wise enough to strengthen society in the years to come. Children must learn that “No” answers regularly given by parents are okay — and for a wise purpose.

Join Nicholeen for the 3rd Annual Teaching Self-Government Conference on August 5.