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The Power of Words

LongIsland.com

In recent weeks the political campaign trail has really heated up. Unfortunately, instead of staying focused on campaign issues that deal with the serious social issues facing our nation, almost all the candidates on both ...

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In recent weeks the political campaign trail has really heated up. Unfortunately, instead of staying focused on campaign issues that deal with the serious social issues facing our nation, almost all the candidates on both sides of the political aisle have reduced themselves to the horrific practice of ad hominum attacks. Clearly blurring the real issues at hand, and at least for this writer, calling into question their own character and integrity.


Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, the election of 2008 is a critical one. We are a nation in trouble; and on multiple fronts - our domestic and foreign policies are in trouble. Our economy is in a downhill spiral. Healthcare insurance, or the lack thereof and serious issues around immigration continue to polarize our nation.


Hopefully in the months ahead, those running for president will review their campaign tactics and stay more focused on the issues that matter. Let each candidate stand on his or her own record of public service, and on he is or her own character and integrity.


It is a clear character flaw, if one has to stoop to name calling and verbal bullying. What kind of leader will someone be, if they use that kind of tactic as a leadership strategy?


Too often, we tend to minimize and dismiss the seriousness of character assassination and verbal bullying. Whether we want to believe it or not, these issues among teenagers are on the rise, especially with the unlimited access that teenagers have to "My Space," U Tube, instant messaging and cell phone technology.


As parents, we need to be more vigilant when it comes to these worldwide venues. As a parent, if your son or daughter has a "My Space" account, have you ever visited that space to see what is posted? If you haven't, you might get a disturbing education, if you make a visit.


There have been a growing number of tragic circumstances erupting around the country in this regard. Some terrible postings on "My Space" accounts and other public venues have been lethal triggers for a number of teenagers who are struggling with some very serious mental health issues.


Should parents have any say regarding these forms of self-expression? Response to that question would probably be very mixed. Most libertarians would say we have no right to interfere with or impair freedom of speech and expression as it relates to our children.


As a strong advocate of freedom of speech and expression, I firmly believe there are certain boundaries that young people under 21 should live within. If you live at home, your parents have the right to set reasonable boundaries. Parents should know what their teenage children are involved with. They should exercise some influence in what is acceptable teenage expression.


Peer pressure, self esteem, honest communication and relationships are issues of concern in all of our lives. Many of our children struggle with these issues on a day-to-day basis and need tremendous support. Unfortunately, a growing number of parents are blind to these critical issues. We need to do more to support parents and their children in strengthening their bond of open communication.


We need to work harder at educating parents on the potential dangers of the Internet, "My Space," U tube, instant messaging and cell phones. Although this technology has brought in the opportunity for all of us to increase our knowledge and awareness about the world around us, like any opportunity, if it is used poorly, it can be profoundly destructive.


TJ is 17 and the oldest of five children. He has a wonderful circle of friends and is well-liked by all. In school, he is a leader. He is a slightly above-average student, well-liked by his classmates and all of his teachers. On paper, he is a teacher and parents' delight! During his first 17 years, he was never a problem. His parents described him as easy-going and cooperative as a child moving through elementary and junior high school.


At the beginning of his senior year, TJ started to change. The changes were minimal, but nonetheless present. His group of friends started to change. They were students, who seemed very different from him. He didn't bring these new friends around very much, which caused his mother to become concerned.


When his mother conferred with a local counselor about her concerns, the counselor felt that she was overreacting and being too overprotective. So, Mom backed off. The subtle changes in TJ were becoming more pronounced. He was going out more, and asking to stay out later. He didn't seem to be his happy-go-lucky self. When he was questioned about this change in his disposition, he said everything was great, and that he was fine.


Up until senior year, TJ never really dated. However, in the middle of the year, he started to talk about girls he met online. He thought they were so cool. He enjoyed communicating with them. Initially, his parents thought it was just harmless e-mails back and forth. They never realized the way in which people could communicate using the Internet highway.


TJ's parents did not know that their son had a "My Space" account. Initially, they did not know what "My Space" was. When they asked one of their other children about it, they were totally shocked to learn what could be posted there and who had access to it. They decided to ask TJ about his "My Space" account. They were shocked with his response. He played down their concern and made it sound like every senior in high school had one. He said it was no big deal, that they should just relax and lighten up.


After that conversation, they did step back and give TJ space. However, they became even more troubled by his behavior. He seemed more and more depressed. His once strong demeanor seemed very weak and wounded. When his parents asked about what they had observed, he became very defensive. So again, they backed off.


Right before graduation, a friend of TJ's came to them with a note that he found which was filled with suicidal ideation. Needless to say, his parents panicked. They immediately called the school. They brought their son for an immediate psychiatric evaluation.


TJ confided in the doctor that he had been feeling depressed for a number of months, due to a number of social relationships that had blown up in his face. He felt totally ill-equipped to handle all of the emotions that were involved. He felt that his self-esteem was deeply impaired, and his sense of self-worth, destroyed. He talked about a number of horrible postings on "My Space," that hurt him deeply. He told the doctor that he'd gotten in over his head, was drowning and didn't have a way out. He was hovering on the line of feeling totally helpless and hopeless.


Only after their meeting with TJ's doctor, did TJ's parents realize the tremendous influence that "My Space" had on their son's life. He shared with his parents the content of some of the postings that hurt him deeply. In a nave way, he trusted all of his newfound friends, and discovered painfully how untrustworthy they really were. The deep sense of betrayal was devastating. If he had not left a note, his parents never would have found out and they might have lost a son needlessly.


Words are a tremendous tool. They can affirm or destroy a person. The decision is ours!