Our current news cycle is full of stories about Tik Tok. Government officials are threatening to ban the site because of foreign influence and its negative effects on children. In reading the comments on articles about this issue, many mothers and fathers express how damaging and addictive Tik Tok has been for their children. Many seem eager for the state to step in. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Without the family, we are helpless before the state.” But the comments coming from these families instead show they feel helpless without the state. But do we really need the government to ban Tik Tok?
I am not an expert on these matters but it seems like it’s in society’s best interest to get rid of Tik Tok. Nonetheless, banning it seems like an exercise in futility. When the underlying culture has a desire for such content, another Tik Tok will soon emerge. Sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can be equally destructive. Supply will always meet demand.
So what are we to do considering the ready supply of damaging technology, the insatiable appetite of addicted youth, and the mountain of evidence showing us that these platforms damage our kid’s minds, destroy their self-confidence, and undercut the values taught in our homes? (If you feel these concerns are exaggerated or just the age-old fear of change – go on TikTok, do some simple searches, and see what sort of narcissistic, immoral, and demeaning content is readily available to young children.)
To seek solutions, I turn to a topic to which many busy moms can relate. Due to a variety of reasons: stress, poor willpower, and convenience foods, it seems like every other week I am starting a new diet – seeking to undo the damage accrued over the last week. On those rare occasions when my diet is successful, the key to success lies in two things: ensuring that I control both my demand for junk food and my supply of it. I have to psychologically prepare before a new diet – I have to be motivated to actually stop eating junk. But I also have to actually get rid of the supply. If chocolate chips are accessible, then when the stress descends, I grab a handful. But if they aren’t there, I’m unlikely to drive to the store to get some.
I believe in order to overcome Tik Tok, and all the other destructive pulls upon our children, we would be wise to remember what a “family” can really be – what it is meant to be. As Chesterton explains,
“The “state” is made up of a number of small kingdoms, of which a man and a woman become the king and queen, and on which they exercise a reasonable authority, subject to the common sense of commonwealth, until those under their care, grow up to found similar kingdoms and exercise similar authority. This is the social structure of mankind, far older than all its records, and more universal than any of its religions, and all attempts to alter it are mere talk and tomfoolery.” GK Chesterton
We as mothers control supply and demand in our little kingdoms – our homes. We are the queens of our castles. Inside this kingdom, we set up rules and traditions. When I was a child, our family-kingdom had different traditions than the neighboring ones. We shuddered when we heard other kids say “shut up” because it wasn’t allowed in our home. They surely thought we were strange. Every Saturday night we all gathered around and cheered our brothers while they had boxing matches in our living room. Each kingdom is strange because each kingdom is as unique as its king and queen. This is part of the joy and diversity of life, observing the strangeness of other families while we ourselves belong to a strange family.
The family is the test of freedom; because the family is the only thing that the free man makes for himself and by himself.G. K. Chesterton
Children accept the reality they are given. Those of us older than 35 never yearned for a cell phone when we were kids. We didn’t whine for a Tik Tok account. Of course we didn’t – these things didn’t exist. We can make them not exist in our kingdom. We are allowed to have family rules and traditions. It is not “controlling” to set up a family environment the way you want to. We are not a tyrant if as “Queen” we have a plan for our kingdom. It is called parenting. Our method of rule is particularly important when our children are young. These are the years they are developing their morals, their sense of self, their ability to have self-control, and their psychological and emotional depth. Often as mothers, we feel we are always saying no, particularly in our immoral culture. But the wonderful thing about setting up your family culture is that you aren’t saying “no” – you are saying “yes!” You aren’t ruled by worldly culture – you are your own ruler. You are replacing those chocolate chips with colorful fruits. You are developing a home full of adventures and traditions. My husband grew up playing soccer – he has coached all our kids and after work he plays soccer with them on the lawn. We are a soccer family. I grew up traveling – our kids have developed a love for it as well and we take them on foreign adventures.
If our children display an interest in something, we encourage them to pursue it and include it in our family traditions. If we fill the space with wholesome activities and interests, then our children are less likely to feel a lack from not having Tik Tok.
Another way of controlling “demand” is to educate our children about the dangers of Tik Tok and other technologies and the harmful messages found therein. Children are capable of grasping truth and the more we teach them, the more they understand. We can help them recognize the consequences of bad habits by pointing out everyday examples- from my own inability to resist chocolate chips to their little brother’s habit of biting his fingernails to their friends’ obsession with Fortnite. We can teach them the importance of using time wisely and the necessity of hard work. The Truth is powerful, even to children.
We are the gatekeepers to what our children consume. We can’t blame the world, the government, or greedy amoral corporations. If our kids are consuming junk – get it out of the house. There are times when we need to clear out the supply of chocolate chips or technology. We need a fresh start to give us room to improve our desires. If I go two weeks without chocolate chips, I stop needing them. Change the passwords and throw the video game console off the balcony if you need to – do what needs to be done in your kingdom. (It’s far better to be aware enough to not let things get to the point of having to throw it off the balcony – but it is still often better to do that than to give up and yield your influence right when your children most need it). Our children will adapt to changes in supply.
When we send our children to public schools, they will see the other “strange” ways of living life. Their friends will have Tik Tok. If they go to friends’ houses, they may see strange traditions – like spending hours playing video games. Hold strong to your traditions, and your kingdom. When I am on a diet, I don’t hang out in bakeries. If our children have influences that we feel are pulling them away from what we believe to be best and true, then we should pull back from those influences.
“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained. “Winston Churchill
There are times when even with our best efforts to encourage our children to develop good habits and desires – the call of Tik Tok and technology remains. My grandmother was the healthiest woman west of the Mississippi. She grew all their family’s food, owned a health food store, and was never a hypocrite because neither chocolate nor sugar ever passed her lips. But when my mom was a child, she would save any coins she could find and go to the corner market to buy candy. This is the nature of life – our children make their own choices and they need to live and learn. However, my mother retained the wisdom of her mother and despite her earlier rebellion, she returned to the wisdom of her youth and continued the tradition of healthy eating.
Always in my mind as a mother is a question – “Am I being controlling?” When we control something, we force it against its own nature. Controlling children against their nature can be harmful. But as mothers, we are there beside our children as they develop their natures – their interests, habits, and personalities. We do have to exert a bit of control in our children’s lives or they would run into the street and eat bags of sugar. But as we walk with them and teach them virtue by example, the need for control diminishes. They have their own knowledge and their own desire for virtue. As our kids become teenagers, we slowly step back and give them more autonomy. They will sneak candy sometimes. They may throw a fit about not having Tik Tok. We don’t “freak out” or condemn them – we aren’t tyrants. We trust in the lessons we taught them, we encourage them, but we still maintain the traditions of our home. When they leave the house they can keep our traditions or drop them. My sons don’t box in our living room. But having traditions is not controlling, they provide stability and unity in a chaotic world.
Our culture assumes all traditions are stifling and nonsensical and we see the depressing consequences of such a belief. (A great essay by Chesterton on the subject) Traditions are the wisdom of the ages, or as G.K. Chesterton says, “Tradition is democracy extended through time.” If I were to embrace my grandmother’s tradition of healthy eating, I could prevent my endless dieting; and if my children follow my wisdom, they can prevent the time-wasting and self-consumption of Tiktok. Good traditions are timeless – they are wisdom shared with beloved descendants.
“Those who leave the tradition of truth do not escape into something which we call Freedom. They only escape into something else, which we call Fashion.”G. K. Chesterton
Be a Confident Queen
Many children with Tik Tok and other destructive technologies likely got them in a similar way – they wore their parents down with complaints until they gave in. Their dads got sick of being the bad guy or their moms didn’t want the fight. They allowed their small kingdom to be invaded by a kingdom of debauchery. This is lazy parenting. I know the temptation. Parenting is incessant and difficult, but if we give in to our children’s demands when we know the consequences, we will regret it.
If we don’t know the destructive nature of these new technologies, we need to become informed so we are armed for the battle of wills. (resources supplied at the end of the article) There are many “nice” moms who are worn out and stifled by motherhood because they don’t have the courage to create the kingdom for themselves and their families that they want. They are too concerned with being “liked” and not concerned enough about being right. They allowed their small kingdom to be invaded by a larger, corrupt empire.
Ruling our own kingdom and setting up traditions contrary to our culture is difficult. It requires a lot of self-discipline and rejection of the easy path. But we mothers don’t want easy. We want results. We want our children to be happy, well-rounded, and virtuous. We are happy to put in more effort if it means we get to have a good relationship with our kids and give them a good start. If, instead, we abdicate the responsibility of raising our children to the culture – to TikTok – we will end up with children who feel like foreigners in their own kingdom.
“The family is the nucleus of civilization.” Will Durant
As we wait and see what the government does about Tik Tok, we realize that ultimately what they do doesn’t matter – it is what we do that matters. Society is only as good as its families, as good as its mothers and fathers. The government is not virtuous; the government doesn’t know or care about our children. But we can be virtuous; we can care about our children. Ban Tik Tok or not, but it is us parents who decide what our kingdom will allow.
“Only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticize the State. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city.”G.K. Chesterton
A great resource with a lot of data from a previous denier who has accepted the dangers of Tik Tok and other social media.
Tik Tok Damages Brains: https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/34138/20211025/tiktok-bad-brain-constant-social-media-streaming-narrows-collective-attention.htm
Raising Rebels https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/raising-rebels/