Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fables - an important part of growing up

Fables may not be the word I should be using here. Those who follow Christian tradition would probably be more apt to use the word parable. But whatever word you want to use, there are stories, very important short stories that parents need to go back to reading to their children.

Start with Aesop. He? She? was an incredibly wise person. They told stories of basic morality. Those stories made such an impact that they are still passed down from generation to generation. These fables included children, everyday workers, rich people, animals and a variety of mythological creatures. The short tales taught lessons about trust, foolishness, financial responsibility and respect.

In raising my children, the most prominent of Aesop's fables in my house was "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". One of my children had a habit of telling tall tales of their own imaginings. However, these stories were things that could have happened in real life to them and/or the people around them. More than once I was ready to jump to the defense, to call out someone for having done something bad or to reward the child for an accomplishment only to have them speak up in the last mintue to tell me that it was not true. Any time the child did this I told the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf and explained that someday they could end up in a genuinely dangerous situation and no one would believe them. The child could end up injured, unjustly punished, or accepting praise meant for someone else. Sometimes I would pair the fable with the morality poem my parents had taught me; "Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to decieve." This was to teach the child that once the first lie is told then another and another and another need to be created to keep the ruse going. Sooner or later we trip-up in the stories we have fabricated and call ourselves out.

Today it is so apparent that many adults raising children have not only forgotten these morality tales but they are definitely not teaching them to those children. In an era of anonymous electronic communication, children have far too many opportunities to deceive themselves, their families, their friends and total strangers. This deception is proving detrimental in so many ways.

Recently I, an a number of other people, experienced an exceptionally heinous game of "wolf crying". In this round a "teenager" successfully convinced strangers on the web that they are someone they are not and were trying to help a "friend" who was experiencing trauma due to sexual abuse.  By the time it was over, I believe this was someone who was incredibly starved for attention. One has to have enough empty free time to become bored enough to begin even considering such a scheme. If there were real life people interacting with them, they surely would not give something like this a second thought.

Fortunately in the situation, the person fabricating this hoax began to trip over their lies. They also had not not counted on the people they were playing getting suspicious enough to contact newspapers, hospitals, childre protection agencies and law enforcement.  The perpetrator became careless about details. Again, people who had been duped discovered photos of both the perpetrator and their "abused friend" were stock photos of random teens taken anywhere between 2003 and 2007.  As the ruse began to unravel they ran for cover, shutting down Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. They have not resurfaced using the identities of this scheme.

 Now here are the morals of these stories. First, this kind of behavior starts as soon as a child is old enough to understand "No". Parents must teach children that lying is a very bad thing. They also need to be taught respect and compassion from the very beginning. Next, young people have unsupervised access to the internet. It's a crazy place out there full of all kinds of crazy people who can tell bigger and better lies than a child. Kids are in danger on the net.

Here's a spot for another old story moral..."idle hands are the devil's playthings". Where this train really gets derailed is the damage these schemes do to children who are truly in danger and in need of help. With this kind of on-line behavior, people who can help become more and more skeptical about the validity of the cry for help. The child who is truly in an abusive household or being physically assaulted at school, etc. is sustaining more and more injury while the people who can take them away from it do days and days of research to find out the truth lest they respond to a hoax. We all know that if this goes too long or too far it could result in the death of a child. At that point, it is beyond too late. In the end, at best one child lies in a hospital bed fighting to live beyond grateful that someone heard the cry for help in time and believed it. Meanwhile the child who was one of many that slowed the response time walks away whistling, feeling no remorse. Will the wolf catch up to them some day? We can only hope and spread the word that parents need to pay attention. Watch and listen. Stop their kids when they find them crying "Wolf". Explain the danger they are putting themselves and others in. They may not be the only meal for the pack. They can leave weak prey unguarded to become dinner too.

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