Watch your mouth!

Last week my husband sent me a text message with this photo attached and these four, simple, upending words: "And so it begins."


Apparently, in this picture, my 9-year-old had been on an afternoon phone call for twenty minutes talking to one of her third grade classmates. They covered the topics typical for any preteen and, by all accounts, didn't say anything mean or talk about anything inappropriate for their age. That's the good news.

The bad news is that she is now constantly jonesing to be on the phone. In short, she's discovered that she can convey a lot more information and use more words on the phone than on her (monitored) email account. If communication were a bicycle, she just took her training wheels off.

My gut is that this trend is here to stay.

I realize that this movement to near constant communication with her friends is the way that life unfolds (and especially the life of a young girl). So why does this make me a smidge nervous? Mostly because I don't fully trust the tongue (and the words that proceed from it). To be clear, I don't specifically distrust her tongue or words these days, but I also know that any conversation she engages in will involve a lot of words from a variety of people! I believe the ancient proverb that says "whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble." The more words that fly, the closer trouble lurks.

I don't have to look beyond my own nose to recall what I did on my phone calls growing up. (Yes, we did have phones during my childhood and they didn't involve turning a crank on the side or asking the local operator to connect me). I have an extensive list of stories I could tell about how my mouth got me into trouble on my marathon chat with buddies. Most of it originated in the form of :

  • gossip
  • flirting with boys
  • cheating on homework
  • manipulating friends
  • bending the truth or facts
  • puffing myself up...or tearing others down
  • stating the case for my own affirmation and pride
  • picking fights or continuing arguments

...and I'm barely getting started!

Yeah, yeah. I know. All of my phone time (and word use) wasn't a journey on the precipice of disaster. There were lots of laughs and plenty of good chats with my friends, too. We talked, listened to music, and dreamed together. But, looking back, I am struck about how little control I maintained over what I said and to whom I said it.

Of course, words don't exclusively travel the phone lines any more. These days, there are plenty of additional outlets for the mouth to get one into trouble: Facebook, texting, email, Twitter, comments, statuses, fax... (ok, maybe not fax). Today's social media is just as fraught with pitfalls as the old-school bus ride or lunch room conversation, if not more. If I allow myself to go too long down this path of thought, I could easily become discouraged or frightened for my daughter.

But then I remember that my job isn't to worry about my kids. I don't think we need to become Amish and bow out of the electronic age to stay out of trouble (no offense, Jebidiah). Instead of fretting about how to protect my kids from things they might say or things they might hear, my time would be better spent preparing them for how to watch their mouth...and filter through their ears.

I want to teach them to walk away when the mouth goes south.

I want them to understand the power of an encouraging word and the destruction caused by a negative one. It is my job to help them grasp the value in every word that they say, the discretion in whose words they let define them, and the proper mediums to use them all.

When I think about teaching my kids how to stay out of trouble, I need to start by setting standards for what they should say. This requires that I take a tough look in the mirror and my own habits.

They will, after all, learn this lesson at home first.