Tom's dad was a preacher. He remembers when his father used to get anonymous hate mail from parishioners who didn't like something he said or did. Having a minister who was direct and decisive did not sit well with them.
As a kid, Tom couldn't make sense of it. How could people who professed to be Christians send nasty letters to the preacher?
Many years later, Tom understands why his father never bothered to acknowledge those people or respond in kind.
But young Tom wanted to fight back. He started writing a fiery letter in return and was going to send it to someone until his mother found it and reminded him, "That's not what we do."
Our basest instincts
Social media is a new conduit for anti-social behavior. While we acknowledge that many people use their handheld computers for good, social media, at the fingertips of angry and disenfranchised people, can create fake news, bully, terrorize, spread gossip — it can do all of these things anonymously.
That may be the most sinister aspect of all. With an email address, a person can simply create a new account under a different name and spew hatred.
These devices enable us to wield power from afar. We can lambaste anyone we want and do it behind the wall of anonymity. We can push your buttons simply by pressing a few of ours. We can rock your world while sitting on our sofa. And we don't even have to know you.
Dad and Mom, who's monitoring what your sons and daughters are clicking in cyberspace? We carry our cellphone like a gun in a holster — we can pull it out and injure someone in 140 characters. Each of us has the power to create conflict or ruin a reputation, sometimes just for the fun of it. We say things to people with a few clicks that we would never tell them to their face.
How ironic that we utilize such a technological marvel to hurt others. As advanced as we have become in communications, we humans just can't help but resort to our basest inclinations.
Help your kids like who they are
Research tells us there are many reasons why too many of us — young and old — choose to go for our holster and shoot from the lip without opening our mouth. People feel ignored, unimportant, passed over. Many feel powerless and fearful. When the fuse burns to the end, they lash out with their words, fists, cars, guns and their miraculous, harmless-looking cellphones.
Years ago, Tom remembers his mother describing those messengers of hate in simpler terms: "They just may not like themselves very much."
Dad and Mom, do all that you can to keep your kids from feeling ignored, unimportant and passed over. Empower them by being models of purpose and courage. Help them be proud of who they are.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.