I could not believe it! I simply could not believe it!
I was shocked and disappointed as I hung up the phone.
Larry McMillian, principal of North Union Middle School, had just called to inform me that my twelve year old son Patrick was in trouble at school.
Apparently, from what Mr. McMillan told me over the phone, Patrick had hacked into another student's computer. He went even further to pose as the student and used her facebook and email to communicate with other students creating a very embarrassing situation for the girl.
When my husband James and I had allowed our children to have computer access, we did all the things that any responsible parents would do. We talked to them about computer safety. We restricted their computer access to certain times of the day, and we utilized the parental controls to block web sites that they were not allowed to visit. Yet, despite our efforts, this problem had originated right under our noses from the computer in Patrick's room.
My twelve year old son? Hacking? Posing as another student and making the embarrassing comments that Mr. McMillan had read to me over the phone?
It was time to have a conversation with Patrick about how to appropriately use forms of cyber communication.
After dinner that evening, James and I asked Patrick if he had anything that he would like to talk to us about.
"Nope," he said. "Hey Mom, I did want to ask you if I can download a new computer game tonight though."
"Great," I thought, glancing over at James. Not only is our child a brilliant computer mind, he is also an expert at attempting to change the subject.
"Son," said James. "I'm going to get straight to the point. Your mother received a call from Mr. McMillian today."
"Really," Patrick said, looking straight at us and smiling. "What about? What's up?"
James remained calm as usual and I even detected that he was hiding a smile, but I was ready to wring my child's neck! The first thought that popped into my mind was… I brought you into this world, and I can take you out. Luckily, I remained in control enough to refrain from saying it out loud.
Over the next half hour, James and I explained the advantages and disadvantages of communicating across electronic channels. We especially wanted to make sure that Patrick understood the damage that he could do to his reputation and the fact that he could ruin his credibility with others at the click of a mouse.
At the end of the conversation, I asked Patrick what steps that he felt that he could take in order to correct the situation and take responsibility for his actions.
"Well… I've already apologized to Mindy."
"Good, good," I said. "That was definitely a step in the right direction."
"I can also write a letter of apology to Mr. McMillian."
"Yes, a very good idea," I beamed.
"I think that I would like to get started on that letter now if that's okay Mom."
I smiled at James as our son headed up the stairs to his room.
"I believe that we actually got through to him, don't you?"
James looked up and nodded then went back to reading his newspaper.
I settled into my chair, preparing to pick up my latest knitting project, when my cell phone which was lying on the table beside me buzzed. I picked it up to see who had sent me a text and almost fell out of my chair laughing.
It read, "Dear Jeannie, please take it easy on Patrick tonight. He is very sorry for all the trouble that he has caused and he has learned a valuable lesson. Love, God."
I clicked the reply button.
"Dear'God', I will always love Patrick regardless of the mistakes that he makes in life. I am proud of him for taking responsibility for his actions and I consider this matter closed with the exception of the fact that he is grounded with no computer access for two weeks. Now… if you don't mind 'God', will you please tell Patrick to take a shower and get ready for bed.
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