Lighthouse Network’s Dr. Karl Benzio Says Dads Must Decide Who Is Influencing Their Kids, Then Act on That Decision
Philadelphia, PA—A horror story came out of Wisconsin last week, when news emerged of two 12-year-old girls who lured their friend into the woods, then stabbed her 19 times, nearly ending her life. The suspects said they were aiming to please the fictional Internet character “Slenderman,” a tall, ghoulish figure that posts mainly about evil.
On June 6, for example, the Slenderman Facebook page, with more than 1 million likes, posted a photo of a white t-shirt resisting a soda stain, captioned by the words, “Hydrophobic Clothing / Perfect for murdering people,” as well as a coloring page with Sesame Street characters where a pentagram was added in the middle of the puppets along with the drawing of a devilish face.
The story of the Wisconsin girls was a frightening wake-up call for parents everywhere, as they think twice about who is influencing their kids—dedicated parents or an evil, fictional character like Slenderman.
“Kids in our society are confused and hurting, and they’re looking externally for sources of influence, whether they find it at home or somewhere else,” said Dr. Karl Benzio, founder, executive director and a psychiatrist at the Lighthouse Network
(www.lighthousenetwork.org), an addiction and mental health counseling helpline. “They are getting spiritual and psychological lessons from many different schools of thought and philosophies—often the wrong ones. Many times, parents can be in denial that their kids are listening to these negative influences, holding a ‘not-my-child’ attitude.
“Dads especially can sometimes, unintentionally, take a hands-off approach,” Benzio added. “As fathers, we always feel as if we’ll have a chance tomorrow, when work slows down, when our money situation is better, when the kids get older. But as we can see, 12-year-olds are making very dangerous adult decisions. We need to continually ask ourselves, ‘Who is influencing my child? Me or someone else?’ We’ve got to stay connected and involved with our kids.”
As Father’s Day approaches, Benzio shares “5 Successful Fathering Tips” with all dads:
It’s not just quality time but, more significantly, quantity time that really counts. “Increasing the quantity of time you spend with your child increases the probability that you will have quality time as well. By doing so, we increase the odds of having more time with our kids as well as create a more open relationship that makes it easier to log that important quality time,” Benzio says.
Make a significant effort to have dinner together as a family every day, with no distractions such as newspapers, television, phones, computers or any other screens.
Help your child learn to tolerate and embrace his or her negative feelings as the warning system God gave them, teaching them that this warning system alerts us to potential problems. “If your child comes to you and states, ‘Daddy, I’m really angry!’ your reply should be, ‘I’m glad your warning system is working well by letting you know that there’s a problem somewhere. I’m glad you trust me enough to share your feelings with me and let me help you find and solve the problem you’re being warned about. Let’s put our heads together like teammates and figure it out.’”
Think out loud. We all want our children to grow up to be good decision-makers, but they will never get a decision-making class in school, and, unfortunately, there are not always accurate decision-making lessons at home either. “Kids use what they observe from their parents, other family members, their peers and media. But they don’t get to see or hear the inner workings of our minds. They usually see the situation and our response, but the steps in between are not always clear.”
Be a good role model. “Your children observe you very sharply. If you say one way is right, but they see you doing the opposite, it will incredibly undermine any voice you want to have in their life.”
Benzio added that adolescents can also experience mental health issues, which can be demonstrated with violent and risky behavior and can stem from a lack of healthy decision-making and coping skills.
According to Mental Health America, warning signs of mental health issues in children and adolescents may include:
Changes in school performance
Poor grades despite strong efforts
Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
Persistent disobedience or aggression
Frequent temper tantrums