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Another school shooting today, this time in Maryland. This time the “bad guy with a gun” was killed by a “good guy with a gun.” But, the bad guy was 17 years old, so even though there was someone there to put an end to it, I have to ask… Where are the parents?

No matter what side of the gun debate you fall on, the bottom-line here is not that the guy went out, used a gun, and shot a bunch of people. The issue is that this young man thought the solution to his problem was to go out and kill people.

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HappyIsPerfectGrayThey say “nobody’s perfect,” and they’re right. Perfection is a myth.

Really.

The problem is, that if we look at Instagram, Facebook, or other social media postings, it might appear that a lot of people have really perfect lives.

What does that say to our kids? The digital natives who will follow in our footsteps as long as their GPS supports the direction we’re going. Will they feel badly about their “imperfection,” and with whom will they share those feelings?

I’m usually pretty comfortable with social media. I don’t really see it as a threat to people who understand how to interact face to face. More and more however, our youngsters are killing themselves because they can’t live up to the perfection that their propagandizing friends project.

Hopefully, your kid isn’t “different.” According to the Megan Meier Foundation (An organization whose mission is to promote awareness, education, and positive change in response to the issues surrounding bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide), “Among overweight adolescents, 61% have received mean or embarrassing posts online and 59% have received mean texts, e-mails or instant messages.” But, that’s not really a problem, ’cause there’s an app for that!

By downloading the app “Facetune” by APK we can slim ourselves down to meet that perfection standard without a problem. That’s right — why deal with reality, when we can show our friends something completely different?

Got a skin problem? No problem, there’s an app for that too! Use Facetune again, or go buy “Acne” by Modiface, both will clean up your skin as quickly as you can say microdermabrasion. Did you always wish you had blue eyes? No problem, you can change those in your photos too — no need to wear those troublesome contact lenses.

Today, it’s as much as an augmented free world, as it is a brave new one.

We’d all like to live in an ideal world, but that’s just not what life is about. So how can we condition our children for reality and keep their feet on the ground?

Give Them a Sense of Self

We can teach them that they are “good” by setting boundaries for them. Starting at an early age, it’s important to teach kids that following the rules (or living up to parental expectations) makes them “good” children. It’s often as easy as praising them (honestly) when they are behaving properly, or ambushing them with compliments like “I think you’re a good person,” or “I appreciate it when you neaten your room.” These doses of appreciation give kids an inner sense of “goodness” that strengthens them against the surface truths of social media.

When they get their first phone or online account, have an honest conversation with them about the pitfalls of social media, and teach them to be skeptical. By giving them some objectivity, we can teach them to question the images they see in their social sphere and gain a perspective from it. Make a confidentiality agreement and encourage them to discuss their observations with you. Understand the etiquette of social media and discuss boundaries with them. I was surprised to learn that it was bad when I “liked” something on the page of one of their “friends.”

Teach Them to Be Truthful

I was always uncomfortable keeping secrets. I would worry about being found out and getting in trouble. My parents gave me an out by saying, “If you ever do anything that you think might get you in trouble, and you come talk to us about it before we discover it on our own, we will not punish you.” That made sense, and it always resulted in an honest conversation about how to avoid doing it again. My parents called that an Armistice, and at its most basic, gave me, and my kids, the ability to believe in justice, and gave us hope that “cheaters never prosper.”

Give Them a Perspective About Others

I don’t know how many times my wife and I have had to say to our kids, “The only person whose behavior you can control is you !!”

There are many disappointments in life, and young people don’t make that any easier when they attack each other’s weak spots. When someone posts false information, or says something that causes a child to be humiliated, it’s important to help our children understand how to control the way they react to those feelings. The best thing to do is to teach our child to control their reaction, because the behavior of insensitive people is usually more their problem than ours. Why give the bully the satisfaction of knowing they’ve gotten to you?

Reaffirm your child’s goodness: “You are an intelligent, loyal, and friendly person. You tell the truth, you care about your family. That person has a real problem if they’re being mean to you!” Either your child will agree (as they cry in your arms), or they will confess as to why it is the other kid was really being mean. Either way, it’s a win-win.” In this way we script our children with a self-affirming pep talk that they can use to protect themselves from those who attack their imperfections at any time.

Be Honest and Loving at Home

Nobody’s perfect. Nobody lives perfectly, and, certainly, nobody parents perfectly.
As I believe my cab driver should know where he or she is going, so I believe our children should know that we are confident in our roles as their parents. Confident parents are able to listen to and value the opinions of their children. With teenagers, “My way or the highway.” is not a successful tactic. A child on social media is forming an identity — often right before our eyes. They are sensitive to the opinions of others, and, whether they like it or not, their parent’s opinions still matter. By being loving, fair, and firm, we create a home for our children that is safe and reliable. This place where they are valued and respected by parents who listen, and explain, gives them very solid footing out in the world.

Ultimately, making our children comfortable with themselves (and their reality) is the best way to protect them from the feelings of inadequacy that the “perfection” of others can cause.  Despite the perceptions that they may be getting from social media, it’s critical that we teach them that life is full of imperfection.  Showing them how we deal with it, keeps them from being threatened by the propaganda of others.

After all, happy is truly as perfect as any of us will ever get.

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

My name is Richard, and I am an addict.

Legend-of-Zelda-logoWhen my children were young and asleep I used to sneak into our family room, power up our Nintendo, and quietly play the now-ancient video game with infectious music called “The Legend of Zelda” into the wee we hours,.  Night after night after night – not too different than gamers today who play “Call of Duty” or “Candy Crush Saga”.

“Just one more game,” I’d say to myself around midnight.  The next thing I knew it was two am.

I’ve been doing a lot of radio recently, and when listeners call in, the topic of video game addiction often comes up. This is obviously a worrisome subject for many parents.

Like many other forms of addiction, video games can offer escape and distraction from what’s really going on in the world. If you’re a kid and you think life sucks,  diving into a video game is an attractive way to escape.

The problem is that sometimes a kid’s life does appear to “suck.”  If a kid can kill bad guys, or can win a treasure, or can outwit the machine, then he or she gets to feel like a winner, and winning is wonderful – especially in a home where criticism is the norm and praise might be hard to come by. So it’s up to us, as parents, to give our children choices outside the seductions of the video world.

FamilyAtDinnerAs always, this should start at home.  No phones or TV during dinner – which goes for both adults and children.  Set a parental example of activity: go outside, take walks, ride a bike.  Whether your kids join you or not, you are modeling a value for them about physical fitness and use of time.  One of the benefits of having grown kids is thatI have found that they record these behaviors (even if only subconsciously) and often adopt them in their own lives as they get older.

Meanwhile, keep an open mind.  Resist the temptation to automatically disapprove of the things your children enjoy – whether it’s video games, social networks, or “that damned music.”  If we close our minds to those activities, we eliminate opportunities for contact with our children and our relationship with them begins to narrow.  This doesn’t mean we have to like what they’re doing, but we should respect their interest, consider the merit of their choice, and then share an honest opinion.  That’s part of our job.

Aces-High-imageCropBy the way, many video games help children develop manual dexterity and strategic comprehension.  As they succeed in the game, there can be genuine emotional gratification.  Our son Coby was about fifteen when he discovered an online game called “Aces High.” Teams, or “squadrons,” of players flew WWII aircraft on missions that replicated air and ground combat situations.  We initially learned about the game because it cost ten bucks monthly and required credit card payment.  When he needed credit card info I asked Coby to show me how the game worked, and he did.  His passion was evident.

aces_high_cockpitI entered payment information and left Coby to take off.  He joined a squadron, declared his rookie status, and set up his plane.  He wore a headset and communicated verbally with other members of his squadron, many of whom were retired Air Force or commercial pilots.  He was the youngest player on the team, and the other pilots — at their computers across the nation — were warm, instructive, and encouraging.  Sometimes Coby would enter the house and explain that he had a mission in fifteen minutes.  He was dedicated to the game and to his new friends.

Coby had perspective.  He knew the game was nerdy and he knew his fellow pilots (some of whom were married couples, grandparents, or educators) were not his regular set of friends.  But he enjoyed the interchange and we enjoyed watching him competently navigate in a world separate from ours.  We encouraged him to tell us more about his fellow pilots, and we often gave him suggestions for dealing with this wide range of personalities.

Coby’s experience with “Aces High” was a massive, positive learning experience on multiple levels.  The game taught eye-hand coordination, aeronautics (go into a steep dive and you’d black out), teamwork, cooperation.  This was a good video game experience.

GrandTheftViceCitySome video games, however, are like bad neighborhoods. You don’t want your kids going into them, and this is when being a parent is far more important than being a friend. If you find your child absorbed in a computer screen, ask what it is that’s so worthy of their attention.  If you don’t get a clear answer, pry a little…and keep at it.  If you notice anger, frustration, or reclusive behavior beyond the teenage norm, offer some alternatives to the virtual world. If you hear a response like, “This is none of your business” make it clear that whatever happens in your house is your business.

Ultimately, video games are just that – games.  By communicating with our children and demonstrating for them that the social interactions of everyday life, like trips to the market, sporting events, guitar lessons, or karate classes are equally as engaging as the fantasy of their game, I believe we can give them the perspective they need to step away from their controllers when necessary.

If only I could get that dumb music from Zelda out of my head.