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Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

What was given to me at the airport -- comfort, assurance, security, and validation -- should be given to all children, and the time is now.
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It was almost one o'clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new "home," a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I had just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. "Could the driver please come to me instead?" I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn't know what to do.

"I see you are troubled. Can I help you?" a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what had happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, "Don't worry, I will help you."

In a firm but respectful tone, my new friend repeatedly told the driver he needed to come inside and retrieve me. Within a few minutes, the man showed up. I did not leave without asking my friend his name, shaking his hand, and requesting his business card so I could use his company for all future transportation needs. I could not leave without telling Emmanuel he was my angel. He had provided light in my time of darkness.

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I am not sure I would have thought about that troubling experience had it not been for a recent trip to Indiana for a speaking event. Just like last time, my flight landed after midnight. The event hosts had kindly arranged my ride home. But this time, a familiar face was waiting for me when I got off the escalator. Out of all the drivers who worked for this transportation company, my friend, Emmanuel, happened to be the one driving me home.

It wasn't until we got in the car that I felt brave enough to speak up. "I don't know if you remember me, but a year ago you helped me when I was very much alone and confused. You were my angel."

"Miss Rachel?" he exclaimed, his beautiful face breaking into an oversized grin. "Yes! Yes! I remember! But I just did what anyone would do."

Emmanuel and I spent the rest of the drive talking about our families, the joys and challenges of technology, his family back in Ghana, and how providential it felt to be brought back together that night.

Although I was exhausted by the time I got into my bed, I lay there for an hour unable to sleep. While the unexpected reunion with Emmanuel had restored my faith in humanity and given me hope, I felt sad.

Heavy on my heart were the children who didn't leave the airport that night with someone who had their best interests in mind -- including the ones used for unspeakable acts right there at the airport.

Heavy on my heart was the 13-year-old girl who climbed out her window to meet someone she met online, never to return home again.

Heavy on my heart was the child who feels like less and less each time she is snubbed, ostracized, and belittled online and in real life by her peers.

Heavy on my heart was the child who cannot stop looking at disturbing images online that make him feel ashamed, dirty, and worthless.

Heavy on my heart was the one who peers into the darkness debating whether she should go alone -- the one believing there is no one to ask for help in her time of need.

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What was given to me at the airport -- comfort, assurance, security, and validation -- should be given to all children, and the time is now. Exposure to life-altering people and life-altering content is held in their pocket, merely one click away. And although you will hear me advocate for Internet accountability/filtering software and active involvement in a child's online activities, it is not enough. There must be pieces of internal protection given to our children again and again and again.

Three years ago, I gave my daughter a piece of internal protection. It was during a rash of cyber bully suicides and sexual violations of young women recorded on cell phones by classmates. I remember desperately wanting to protect my child from the dangers she faced when she stepped outside or into the online world. Because I knew that was not possible, I vowed to equip her with internal protection. The following letter was the beginning of an ongoing conversation I have with my daughter -- a tangible piece of proof she will never be alone in her darkest hour.

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A 21st Century Lifeline to my dear child:

Technology has become an integral part of your life now that you need it to complete your schoolwork. Eventually you will start communicating with others online. Before that day comes, it is very important for me to tell you a few things. You will hear these words a lot from me -- you might even get sick of them. But these reminders are important. When the time comes, you will know how important they are. When the time comes, these words will make all the difference. Here are my reminders to you...

Tomorrow holds promise.

When you have been teased, hurt, or humiliated, that day will seem horrible and unbearable. Just know that when you make it through the day, tomorrow you will see a new light. Tomorrow holds possibilities that you cannot see today. I will help you see the promises in tomorrow when you can't.

My love for you cannot be changed.

With me, you don't have to be strong. You can cry, scream, and let out your true feelings. My love for you cannot be changed by revealing the feelings going on inside you -- no matter how hard they are to say out loud.

You are worthy of love.

You are worthy of love and respect and kindness. If people mistreat you, together we'll figure out a way to help you work through those problems, move on, or distance yourself from them if needed.

I encourage you to find that one loyal and kind friend with which you can go through the school year. Don't let societal standards fool you into believing this friend must be popular, good-looking, or cool; at the end of the day, kindness is the most important quality to have in a friend and be in a friend.

You possess courage and strength.

If you have been humiliated or teased, facing certain people may seem impossible. But you have the courage and strength within you to show others they cannot hold you back from living your life.

It is about them, not you.

No matter how personal the attack, it is about them -- their insecurities and their issues -- not about you.

No one can change the way I see you.

No matter how humiliated you are and no matter how embarrassing it is to tell me what happened, when I look at you, I see my beautiful and amazing child. No one can change the way I see you.

Nothing is too bad to tell me.

You can come to me with anything -- even if you made a mistake, even if you used bad judgment. There is nothing that is "too bad" to tell me. Believe me, I have made plenty of mistakes, and even though it was hard to let someone else in, I was so relieved not to carry the burden alone.

Let an adult know.

If your gut tells you what someone is doing to someone else is wrong, it probably is. Letting an adult know about someone who is being harmed or mistreated does not make you a coward -- it makes you courageous and compassionate; it makes you a good friend who can look back on this later in life and proudly say, "I didn't turn the other cheek. I tried to help."

If you are the one being hurt, mistreated, or violated, tell an adult; do not suffer alone. Even if it is embarrassing... or unbelievable... or risky to tell someone; do not remain silent. Come to me or someone you trust immediately.

You are never alone.

I cannot make your problems and pain go away, but I can listen. And together we can come up with a solution. There is nothing we can't get through together. You are never, never alone.

I love you forever and always.

Mom

[From my book, Hands Free Life]

My friends, would you consider giving the child in your life a piece of internal protection today? In my second book, I refer to this type of message as a 21st Century Lifeline, and this is why:

A lifeline is something that can pull you back when you get too far away.

A lifeline is something you can hold on to when peer pressure is demanding you go the wrong way.

A lifeline is something that helps you be brave and say, "Something terrible happened to me."

A lifeline is proof that somebody loves you and accepts you no matter what the world says.

A lifeline is something that keeps your head above water when it feels like it might be easier to let it pull you under.

The 21st Century Lifeline contained in this post is for you to use as your own. My greatest hope is that my words will be given to a child. Feel free to use every single one of them. Feel free to use only the words that feel right to you. But please do not remain silent. Do not mistakenly assume the people you love know these things already. Do not mistakenly believe the people you love won't find themselves in a troubling situation.

It is quite likely they will.

And when they find themselves standing there all alone, terrified to walk into the darkness, I pray it is your voice they hear.

"Don't worry, I will help you," they will remember you saying, and it will never mean more to them than it does right then.

In one instant, the worst moment in their life will not be the end.

In one instant, the worst moment in their life will be your chance to help them find their way home.

And you'll be so thankful to be the one holding their hand as you walk toward the light.

This post originally appeared on www.handsfreemama.com. The 21st Century Lifeline contained in this post came from Rachel Macy Stafford's bestselling book, HANDS FREE LIFE, which outlines other forms of internal protections we can provide our loved ones. The book also reveals nine daily habits to create strong, loving, and communicative relationships despite our culture of distraction, perfection, and busyness.

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