Friday, October 26, 2012

A Warning For Parents

There are two big topics of conversation in New Jersey today.  The first is the tragic case of the murder of a 12-year old girl and the other is of a massive storm heading our way.  I believe the storm is described as potentially "historic."  I have to be honest, that is not a word I like to be associated with storms heading my way!  Believe it or not, these two stories are related, at least metaphorically.  When we know bad weather is coming, we prepare.  We do everything we need to do to ensure the safety of our families.  It is those who do not pay attention to the brewing storm or ignore the warnings that usually come out the worst.  The same can be said for our children.  There is a storm heading right for our children.  This storm is made up of predators of all ages and with many motives and our children are their target.  Parents who put their head in the sand and ignore everything they see around them generally are the ones whose children come out worse, if even at all.  Some may think that what I am about to say is incredibly cold, but reality is often cold and many times it takes reality to smack us in the face to wake us up to the dangers that really exist all around us.  The fact is, though, the tragic murder of this 12-year old girl is a perfect example of parents who did not perceive these dangers.  Parents, if there is one lesson to take from this is that you need to prepare and take steps now to keep your child safe from these storms because once they come, it is too late to act. 
A prudent [man] foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.  Proverbs 22:3 NKJV
We live in a different world then when we were children.  I got my first computer when I was a young boy.  There was no internet.  In fact, my first computer had no sound, no color, no real graphics, and no disk drive.  It hooked up to a regular television and if you wanted it to do something you had to program it yourself.  The only storage was a cassette tape.  Yes, you would actually hook a tape deck up to your computer to save programs.  Today, young children carry cell phones that have more computer power than I could have even dreamed possible when I was that age.  These so-called smart phones allow anyone to instantly share photos, videos, personal information, and just about anything else with anyone else in any part of the world.  Sure it makes phone calls, too, but that has almost become secondary.  I myself seem to text more than I call.  Then there are social media sites like Facebook where, once again and without thinking, many of us share information with "friends" and anyone else who wants to see depending on your privacy settings. 

The internet and modern technology have given us many great things, but they have also created many new dangers.  Let's look at this recent case and see how this poor unfortunate little girl was a sitting duck for a predator.  First of all, a friend of mine posted on Facebook last week that she went to this girl's Facebook page (it was still up at that time) and there were zero privacy settings.  Anyone can see one of the many photos she had of herself, her home address, and even a handy map right to her front door.  Now this is not what happened to her, but it just as well could have.  Compounding matters, apparently there was little to no parental supervision of her Facebook account.  In recent days, it has come out that this girl and one of her eventual killers were conversing on Facebook just four days before that terrible day.  Someone saved a screen shot of that conversation (meaning it was public) and there are a few important points to make about it.  First of all, she is talking to a 15-year old boy about his "sexy" bike.  Remember, she is a 12-year old meaning she was in seventh grade.  Furthermore, his response was to (and he did this several times) invite her to come to his house.  Again, she is 12 years old.  No 12-year old should be even talking about going to a 15-year old boy's house to look at his "sexy" bike.  Another troubling aspect is when this conversation took place.  If you look at the time stamp of the message, she was talking to him at 3:00am.  Yes, that was 3:00am.  This 12-year old seventh grade girl was chatting with a 15-year old boy about coming over to his house at 3:00am to see his "sexy" bike.  Parents, you need to check your child's accounts.  In this case, it could have saved a life.  As we know, she did eventually go to his house, and that is where this boy and his brother strangled her to death. 

Of course every parents thinks that their child is different.  Parents often live with their heads in the sand thinking that theirs sons and daughters won't fall for the same dangers as other children.  I am sure this girl's parents thought the same way.  The thing is, though, she was no match for these con men.  Everyone knew these boys liked to steal bikes (even their father who has not even talked with them in years knew of it) and someone in the very same Facebook conversation pointed out that the bike in question probably did not even belong to him because the picture of it was not even taken at his house.  As for the boys, they basically operated a bicycle chop shop in their own home right under the nose of their mother.  They also hid this girl's personal items, her bicycle, and even her body in the very same house under that very same nose for days.  Of course, I know, your children are Christian.  While that may be true, you also need to take on your God-given responsibility of parents and do all you can to keep them from trouble.  I remember back when I used to minister to inner city youth. One night, at our church's youth group, someone pulled me aside and told me to make sure that the boys I brought to church did not flirt with this one particular girl (not that they even had that kind of reputation).  The father of this girl was an elder was concerned as she was very "innocent."  This father had his head in the sand.  It just so happened that this was also a night to sign up for a youth retreat.  Would you believe that this girl, without even asking permission, copied all the phone numbers from all the inner city boys into her cell phone?  She was not quite as innocent as her father wanted to believe.  Furthermore, I know of no less than two teenage Christian girls who got pregnant either on a youth retreat or with someone they met on a youth retreat.  I am not writing this to say that Christian boys and girls have loose morals, I am only saying that you can not take anything for granted.  There are many wolves, even in the church, and even among the youth. 

The fact is that parents need to be very aware of what their children are doing.  You need to know their Facebook and email passwords and check in on them frequently.  You need to have transcripts of their text messages.  You need to make sure where they are going and who they are going with and you need to have them check in frequently.  You are not called to be their friend, you are called to be their parent.  If you must give them a cell phone, there are many companies that sell ones that do not take pictures or connect to the internet.  I know not giving them the latest gadgets that every one else has is hard, but your job is to do what you need to do to protect your children.  Personally, I would not even let a child have a computer in their own room.  The internet is a wonderful thing in many areas, but it is also a gateway to the most sick and depraved things in this world. 

I am not saying that you should not trust your children.  As Ronald Regan used to say: "Trust but verify."  Even if your child is the most well-behaved child in the world, you still need to keep watch.  It is not just about trusting your children, but also trusting everyone they are in contact with.  Do not think your child is above falling.  They are at least just as likely to ever do anything wrong as you were.  That should give you pause.  Of course there are a few who were perfect little angels, but the reality for the 99% rest of us is that we lied to our parents at times, we hid things from our parents at times, and we did regretful things out of peer pressure at times.  Your child will be no different.  Yes. we should trust God to protect our children, but remember it is parents who He has equipped and charged with that calling.  You may never know if you save your child from any harm, but I am pretty sure you would rather live and never know what might have happened then living with the inevitable and crushing regret of wondering what you could have done to prevent what did happen. 
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left [to himself] brings shame to his mother.  Proverbs 29:15 NKJV

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