When our three oldest boys were little, they did what young kids do best—they explored. Behind our house they made huts in the weeds, dug holes, and corralled bugs. After backyard exploration lost its luster, the wider neighborhood seemed appealing, including the road. The idea of our babies running headlong in front of a car scared us to death. It was time for a fence!
Imagine the bliss! Our busy little guys safely tucked behind impenetrable, gorgeously stained slats of cedar, with their serene parents sipping lemonade while watching them play. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Things started out in promising fashion. My husband, Dave, labored over that 6-foot beauty for an entire summer, measuring, sawing, fastening. And after having intercepted those little bodies far too often as they dashed toward the road, Dave’s placement of the final screw in that lovely barrier was met with relief and celebration. Finally, the boys would be safe and contained.
J.R.R. Tolkien famously penned, “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” And so it was with our adventuring boys. Within days, I looked out the kitchen window and gasped: they had dug a hole under that freshly built fence, with Dave’s golf clubs no less!
To laugh or to cry? I did a bit of both. With that experience came a profound lesson: fences, while most assuredly necessary in the parenting world, are not the end-all solution that we long for. The beautiful, organic nature of thriving childhood requires something better. A fence can certainly prevent some incidental exposure to dangerous things, but along with our building of the fence, we must also teach them about the road.
Parental fences come in many forms: helmets, window well covers, hand-holding across streets, seatbelts, bedtime, sunscreen, bug spray, time outs, and even parental threats. They’re all fences; guardrails to protect against accidental exposure to bad things. The “Age of Screens” has brought with it new kinds of fences, including digital filters and monitoring software to watch what kids are doing online. It’s a jungle out there, and digital fences offer us a bit of comfort.
We find that parents who are seeking to guide their teens in the realm of technology are smart and proactive. They are painfully aware of the disaster that is the current teenage digital landscape. They know they need to set up a “digital fence.” But, deep down, they also know that the proverbial golf clubs are in the closet and that something more needs to be done to raise happy and balanced kids in a world saturated with tech.
The reality is that the most powerful filter available for the protection of that precious young person is the one that resides in their own heart: The internal filter.
The All-Powerful Internal Filter
This internal filter, the one settled in the fleshy tables of a child’s heart, is composed of personal beliefs, practiced habits, and their dreams for their own future life. In a nutshell, a child with a robust internal filter chooses, of their own free will, to be wise with tech. It really is their only source of protection when they walk out the door away from parental monitoring and digital filters. But how do we help them build this internal filter when the online assault by evil is constant, and the enemy’s resources seem to dwarf our own?
It just so happens that in ancient times, a certain Captain Moroni also lived during a deeply troubled time when those that he loved were under almost constant attack by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. Defeat seemed certain. But Moroni was just the man for those dark times, and he was a master at building defenses to protect his people. His strategies provide a powerful parable for the many ways in which parents can encourage the construction of an impenetrable internal filter within their children. Here are just three.
1. Places of Resort, Walls of Stone
The account in Alma explains that Moroni “had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort, throwing up banks of earth…and also building walls of stone… yea, all round about the land" (Alma 48:8).
“Places of resort.” Places to run to when things got ugly. Places to find protection. In Alma’s day, these were physical barriers, but what if we apply this idea to building of the internal filter?
As our children meet the challenges of technology, have they built “places of resort” to go to when the darker sides of technology beckon? When they feel the pull of pornography, when the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of social media deepens, where can they go for safety?
We know a young man whose “place of resort” is an easel. When he feels the temptations of tech closing in, he finds peace in creating amazing pencil sketches. We know a young woman who shoots hoops in her backyard, and another who loves to read. We also know a guy who hits the pavement with his running shoes when temptation beckons. Parents can provide a glorious place of resort with a non-judgmental and sympathetic listening ear. Some places of resort are particularly protective, like the one on their knees. We can show our children how to “build” these places of resort and how to go to them when they recognize that they are “under attack.”
We love the power of these places of resort, and the enemy’s reaction to them in Moroni’s day. The Lamanites, full of confidence, “supposed they should easily… slay and massacre [the Nephites] according to their pleasure. But behold…to their utmost astonishment, [the Nephites] were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi” (Alma 49:8). In this case, the enemy turned tail and ran. As in Moroni’s day, the strength of a young person’s “preparations” for battle are immensely powerful, at times even powerful enough to prevent an attack entirely.
2. Strengthen the Weak Areas
Moroni knew that there were weak places in his fortifications—there always are. He also knew that the enemy always goes for the weak places. Always. (Alma 49:14-15).
So what did Moroni do? “…in their weakest fortifications, he did place the greater number of men” (Alma 48:9). Moroni beefed up the weakest places with more warriors.
We can teach our children to identify their “weak places” and find ways to strengthen them. When, or where, are they most vulnerable to the darker sides of technology? Is it when they are bored? Stressed? Angry? Alone? With certain friends? Are they vulnerable late at night? When they are tired, or sad? We know one remarkable young woman who felt vulnerable to depression when she spent time on social media. She identified this as a “weak place” and elected to remove the social media apps from her phone.
Blogger Greg Trimble wrote about a young man who selected a picture of the Savior as the wallpaper for his phone. He was shoring up what could have been a “weak place,” choosing Christ as “the face of his technological endeavors” (Trimble, Greg. “The Rise or Fall of the Young Men of the Church"). The Holy Ghost can help parents and young people identify their weak places, and inspire them as to how to strengthen those areas.
3. Nurturing the Heart and Mind
Captain Moroni knew that it would take more than walls and fortifications to protect his people. He also nurtured the state of their minds and hearts: their love of God, their habits, and their hopes for the future. He “had been preparing the minds of the people…” (Alma 48:7).
Why is this strategy necessary? Why not just build the external protective walls and call it good? Because Moroni understood the power of a people whose hearts are convinced. External walls can be breached… but a person who has paid the price to learn and own wisdom fights smarter, fights harder, and is eventually victorious. And in the battle against the darker sides of technology, the internal filter (deeply held hopes and beliefs) is the most powerful protection.
Captain Moroni approached the battle of his day with remarkable fearlessness. He did not buckle in the face of an overwhelming enemy. He was deliberate. He was measured. He had a plan. Parents today can mirror the same unfaltering stance, with many of the same powerful strategies that preserved a battle-plagued people in ancient times.