October, 2019 Monthly Reflection

The Dangerous World of Electronic “Babysitters”

By Sister Margaret Louise Brown, D.C.

With the advent of personal electronic devices, we are becoming an imploded society. They are everywhere and used by younger and younger children. I heard recently about a mother who had to put controls on a cell phone being used by her four-year old! I may be showing my age, but what in the world does a four-year-old need with a cell phone? I was informed that it was given to her as a “babysitter” much like I was plopped in front of our tv in the ‘50s, when my mom was busy and needed a moment without distraction. BUT, the child—even at four—was able to push buttons to the point where she had accessed internet streams her mother determined weren’t appropriate. Amazing and frightening!

The many challenges to childrearing these days include an increased danger of children being lured into things from which they find themselves unable to escape. The “babysitting” media of today is no longer Howdy Doody, Mister Rogers, Captain Kangaroo or Miss Nancy from Romper Room! Sure, during my childhood I was warned not to talk to strangers, not to get into a person’s car I didn’t know, etc. In today’s world, a parent’s concern for their child’s safety is on warp speed—or it should be. Our personal communication devices have taken over. The vast majority of children and adults are moving through life with their attention focused on their online device—not the people around them. We are becoming more and more an isolated society turning in on itself. Software developers and communications platforms offer security and child protection options, but it takes constant vigilance on the part of adults to monitor and control access to and from a device used by any vulnerable individual—regardless of age.

But what if that doesn’t happen?

I got a text the other day from a grandmother who takes the time to monitor and surf the electronic world of her granddaughter—as much as she can from a distance. The screen shot she shared was a message on an open international platform with her granddaughter’s name and phone number showing, and a message written in a foreign language which the child doesn’t speak. The grandmother’s anxiety was heightened because she knows her granddaughter’s living environment—one of isolation with limited parental engagement.

In today’s world one must find very creative ways to stay engaged. No child should be left without some sense of a lifeline, that someone loves them and cares if they disappeared. But all too often, out of respect for the primary caregiver, too much space is given, and the child ends up easily attracted to something that confuses and distracts them from what is safe. Some, without intent, are led into the black hole of abduction, human trafficking, and even death.

In so many ways, the four-year-old, with a loving, caring mother, already has one foot toward isolation and the ability to be tricked into a dangerous vortex. That child has learned early on that there is so much out there with attractive shiny colors and exciting animation. Isolation can happen to a child of any age in any home. But which brave friend or relative is going to tell that suburban mom or the challenged, single mom, to stop using an internet-capable device to babysit? Life is hard with individuals carrying pain and brokenness across generations. Many in today’s society are worried about “crossing a line” that could cause harm to their relationship with the other, especially an already fragile one, for fear of losing contact altogether with those they love.

It truly does take a village and a resolve. I believe we are all called to notice what is happening around us, notice when a person is isolated, notice when they start to hide in their clothes and hair. When they are moody and withdrawn. We can’t expect caregivers and school officials to take all the responsibility. We are community, a society. We have the Christian responsibility to touch others, to see others, to engage others.

I call on everyone to put their devices aside when in the presence of others. Look up and see those in front of you in your everyday walk of life, young and old. Smile, nod, engage, say hello, ask how the other is doing… and listen.

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