Jewish World Review July 18, 2000 / 15 Tamuz, 5760
You really laid an egg the other day. And I mean of the extra large, grade-A variety.
Now, Ann, like millions of other Americans I like reading your advice column, and your sister Abby's, when I can. But even more than the interesting problems people have, the thing that intrigues me is that for better or worse your advice seems to be a fairly accurate reflection of our culture's attitudes and expectations - a barometer for what our society is up to and where it's going.
And Ann, that's why I'm writing. Simply put, the other day you delivered a clinker extraordinare, a real tour de force of awful advice. Of course, part of the charm your sister and you have is that when a reader calls your attention to a dud, you often admit the mistake. Good for you. I hope you do it this time around.
Remember "Aunt in Omaha"? She's a single professional woman with a company-provided computer in her home. She wrote to you because she recently hosted a family gathering at which her 12-year-old niece, Sharon, went online, with her permission. Only Omaha Aunt was shocked to later find that Sharon had accessed a pornographic site with explicit sexual stories and pictures. Omaha Aunt wondered if she should inform the child's parents.
But she was afraid Sharon's mother might not realize "how much kids know these days," and she didn't want to "betray" her niece.
Sure, Ann, you offered some sound, general, advice about installing blocking software and being aware of what one's kids are doing online. Good enough. But what's shocking is that you told "Aunt in Omaha" to keep her "lip zipped" when it came to informing Sharon's parents that their daughter was accessing graphic Internet porn! You said that even though Sharon obviously knew how to get at all kinds of material online, Omaha Aunt still shouldn't tell Sharon's mother "'how much kids know these days.'" You didn't even advise that Omaha Aunt herself talk to the child - just that from now on she should tell Sharon her computer is for business purposes only.
Really, Ann. Betrayal is when you deliver someone to their enemy, not when you put them in the hands of the people who love them and care for their well-being more than anyone else in the world. Children are not little grownups. They are vulnerable and desperately in need of the direction and protection of the responsible adults in their lives. Or do you really think a 12-year-old girl has a right to privacy - even if that means something as destructive as visiting Internet pornography sites? Come on, Ann. Just for starters, there are nefarious Internet users who figure out ways to prey on young girls just like her. She's in over her head.
So Sharon will be upset with her aunt if she squeals. Big deal. Any adult who doesn't rightly protect a youngster because she fears making the child angry is not acting like the responsible adult she is supposed to be.
I think one of the reasons we have so many problems with out-of-control children and teens today is that we have too many parents and other adults in positions of responsibility in their lives who are, frankly, terrified of them - who, tragically, don't believe that they have a special trust of moral authority to exercise on behalf of the children they care for and love.
Of course, that role most profoundly and uniquely belongs to the parents themselves. But if crucial information is deliberately kept from them for fear of "betraying" their children, they can't do their job even when they want to. That's a dangerous trend, maybe even a deliberate one, that our culture has witnessed too often lately.
You know, when I was a kid, if I crossed a street that was out-of-bounds to me, my mother would have been alerted by about 17 different neighborhood moms within roughly 2-1/2 minutes. That's the best and true sense of "it takes a village to raise a child." But should these moms have not made such a call for fear of my anger at their "betrayal"?
Parents and other responsible adults need to protect kids because our children's lives, their very souls, are on the line.
Ann, that's where we grownups are supposed to step up to the plate. But on this one, you struck out. I hope you take another swing at it.
07/11/00: Limiting a child's choices