Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ethan Meets "Fake News"

A few weeks ago Ethan asked to play on my phone for a few minutes before school. This is a sometimes-privilege granted when he's completely ready for school, chores done, good attitude, etc. He nearly always goes to YouTube and looks up videos about Minecraft.

This day seemed different, however. And while I'd like to say I monitor every moment my child is online (because God knows what's out there!) I don't always see everything he's doing, especially if he's on for a brief period of time. It wasn't until we were walking to school that he sighed, "My greatest wish in the world is to be able to fly." This isn't the first time he's said this, along with sharing his love of bald eagles and how he wants to be a bald eagle -- so he can fly, of course.

But this time there was more. "Mamma, do you know there IS a way you can fly? For real?"

"And what's that?" I asked slowly, suspiciously.

"Well, I saw it on this video..." Warning bells went off. Loudly.

"What video?" I asked, my voice rising.

"On YouTube."

"Is that what you were just doing??"

"Yes. There are these videos, and the people said if you do it you really will be able to fly, and they weren't lying. And they even showed them flying. I swear!"

I didn't even know where to begin with this. "Ethan, what did they say to do?"

"Well, one said you had to think really hard about being able to fly, and drink a lot of water, and then say these words and spin around, and you would really start flying."

Again I was left speechless, and yet it was almost time to see him off to school. How to start a discussion with a very literal child about the evils of the internet, about not everything you see online being true, about special effects and people who will say anything to get followers and about when someone is kidding or doing a little "spoof" versus real life?

All I could think about was when I used to work for the hospital full time, and they had the "Safe Kids" program that was dedicated to child safety and educating people on issues like drowning or choking. They had an ad campaign called "Kids Can't Fly" that highlighted the way some children, in their longing to be superheroes, were actually seriously hurt trying to do things like jump out of windows, believing that yes, they could indeed fly.

"Ethan, I'm sorry, but people can't fly on their own. And you can't believe anyone who tells you that. I need you to come to us always and check before you try something you see online." He said he understood as he headed off to school, but I wondered.

In fact, I fumed about the incident on and off while he was at school. Yes, there are practical jokes and parodies. But where do they cross over to downright dangerous? What if one of these "tip videos" had (even jokingly, which he might miss) told my child to jump out of a window, or do something else that bordered on unsafe?

The first lesson is, of course, to know what my child is watching, or not allow him to watch at all. True. But I can't always be there. Already he has the opportunity to Google sometimes at school. I can't always see what he's taking in.

So, as with all kids but even more so, we have to give him the tools to distinguish between fantasy and reality; to use his judgment; to not take things at face value; to go to his parents or another trusted adult and ask before just believing.

These issues have come up in other ways already. Recently he started quoting some fact that I knew was inaccurate. I asked who told him that and he said a kid in his class. When I told him the boy was wrong, he insisted that was impossible, because this person had told him, and he'd found it online.

Ethan thinks Google is a person. He's not yet completely convinced that the internet is run by people -- people with all kinds of different biases and motives. He sees it as almost an all-knowing God-figure. "Just ask Google," he'll say, not wanting to believe that it's actual people feeding the information TO Google.

Later that day I caught Ethan closing his eyes really tight and saying something. He got embarrassed when he saw me and acknowledged, yes, it was something about being able to fly.

"I'm sorry, Ethan. You can't fly..." I really do feel for him.

"But they said...they promised they weren't lying!"

"I'm sorry, buddy. They were."

I hate that he has to learn this, yet I'm desperate for him to learn this. Such is the world we live in.

To cheer Ethan up about the flying thing, we are seriously looking into indoor skydiving. I told him that IS a way he can fly. Who knows? This could be next year's birthday surprise.

But I'm not naïve enough to think this isn't going to come up again. I just pray, in time, he has the tools, the discernment, to navigate these murky waters.

Monday, December 12, 2016

That Pesky English Language Strikes Again

I love when kids try out words.

Chloe, lately, is trying to figure out time (not how to tell it, but rather what the different time terms mean). And so she'll randomly throw out things like, "When I was at Grammy's house, five years ago..." which is rather funny, since she's not yet three. Or: "When Anna comes home at 46." Forty-six is definitely her favorite number. And no, it's not because I or her dad are 46 (but that number is starting to look closer and closer).

Ethan tries out words, too, with a few slip-ups along the way. His speech is fantastic. He has come a LONG way from the days when he was delayed at age 2 and 3. His pragmatic language (using speech in the correct context) is really quite good as well, but he has his moments. He tends to use the more formal term for certain things, sometimes. So instead of being hurt, he might say, "I'm injured!" Sometimes I wonder if he gets this from football, They have the injury report, after all, and are always talking about having "an injured player on the field." Thanks to Master Chef he likes to say things like, "Yay, it's time for our entrees!" when we're at a restaurant. These type of things make me smile and Anna cringe. It's so hard to explain to Ethan that the words he's using aren't technically wrong. They're just not typically used -- especially by a nine-year-old.

The other day he asked me what "e.g." meant. He'd seen it in a book. I told him it was like saying, "for example." Honestly, I don't know what e.g. really means. Does it stand for something Latin? Yeah, I was an English major but I don't know.

So the next day in conversation he said something like, "So, if we're going to do something active, e.g., basketball or football..."

"Ethan?" I asked. "Did you just say e.g.?"


"Um." I tried to think of how to phrase this. "I know it means for example, but it's not something people use in conversation. Usually it's just written in books."


"Why?" I repeated. Darned. Stumped again. "I don't know why," I admitted. "It just sounds weird."

"But what about a.k.a.? People say that? And for example? Isn't it all the same thing?"

Acck. The kid is too smart. "Well, yes...." I conceded. Why? I asked inwardly, shaking my fist at the English language. Why is aka alright but eg is not?

"I love e.g. It's my new favorite word," he said happily. Since then he has started using it all of the time. Well, in context. But I swear he's looking for examples of times he can say for example, via e.g.

"Do you say that at school, to other kids?" I asked him, wondering if they would know what he's talking about.

"No," he said, but he wouldn't say why. That made me wonder if maybe he's making a mental note of the "right" way to say things, if there really is such a thing. But he feels comfortable to say them however he pleases at home.

And that's the way it should be. Family, e.g., the place where you can be yourself. And say the words that sound silly. Even if none of us really know why.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Boss of the World

So Ethan has this new interest in people in charge and "authority."

In some ways it's distain (he came out of Sunday school a few weeks ago after a lesson on the authority figures in his life and declared "I HATE your authority").

I get this. Sometimes for a kid it feels like life is all about many, many different people telling you what to do.

And of course this interest in bosses and being the one in charge has everything to do with power -- which is really appealing to a just-turned nine-year-old boy. Those who wield the most power (aside from parents, who are asking him to do things he doesn't want to do) are to be admired.

Gaining an understanding about authority happens when you begin to see that there is a structure and reporting system or chain of command in all of the entities in this life that either directly or indirectly affect him -- school, government, even church.

This may have begun when we were talking about the superintendent of schools and how he visited Ethan's school one day. I remember our superintendent when I was in elementary school. A stern man with a big balding head, he terrified me.

"Do you know Craig Cooke is in charge of all of your teachers?" I asked him.

"I thought the principal was in charge," he replied.

"Well yes, but Craig Cooke is HER boss," I said. This gave him pause. "Who is Craig Cooke's boss, then?" he asked.

As often happens in these situations, I didn't quite know, which had me tossing around answers without really knowing what I was talking about. This seems to happen often, as a parent. "Umm, the state education commissioner?" I pondered.

"No, the Board of Education!" Ethan replied, as I wondered where he gotten that from (some book, apparently). I wondered: was he right? and then lamented I didn't pay attention more in that State & Local Government course in college.

Despite not receiving true resolution on Craig Cooke's boss, Ethan felt confident enough about the matter to discuss the whole thing with his principal a few days later. Apparently the principal filled in one afternoon for whoever takes the students who walk home from school over to the crossing guard. She and Ethan got to chatting, and, Ethan announced proudly, "I told her Craig Cooke was her boss. But not the crossing guards' boss." (We'd talked about that, too).

I don't know how many times Ethan has asked me who's in charge of the police; the firefighters; the people in a hospital.

Of course when the election came around there were ample opportunities to talk about the way government works (or doesn't) and who reports to whom. Once again he stymied me as we talked about our town's mayor and town's manager. Wait a minute? What's the difference? I'm still wondering, and realizing even now how incredibly dumb and uniformed children's questions can make you feel.

Trying to explain "checks and balances" and the three major branches of government is a bit much for a third grader (and my somewhat lacking store of knowledge). But I've made an attempt, several times.

One day he asked me about the Supreme Court. He loved to hear that it was "the highest court in the land." Even better -- that the president even could not overrule something the Supreme Court decided. "The Supreme Court," I heard him saying to himself, smiling. Oh, the power!

Another time recently he asked, "Is the United Nations the boss of the president?"

"No!" I answered, probably too vehemently (shudder). "The U.N. is not the boss of our president."

"Well, who is?"

"No one, really."

"The Supreme Court is."

"Well, not really. They don't tell the president what to do." I felt another discussion of the three branches of government coming on.

"Wait, I know who the president's boss is!"



And well, that was that. He has a point. Even when it doesn't feel like it.

It's great when kids make you think, and when kids make you learn, and when they help you remember things that were once more difficult, and yet easier to understand.

"In the Lord's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him." - Proverbs 21:1