A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker



So I'm sitting on my balcony, enjoying the circus being performed in the courtyard below. Never mind that we don't have a balcony, much less a courtyard. And we almost never have a circus in the yard (at least, not since the last time Anita's brother brought his kids over). This was MY dream. I can have a balcony, a courtyard and the entire Ringling family in the yard if I want to.

For some reason, my 8-year-old son, Jon, wasn't sitting on the balcony with the rest of us. He was down in the courtyard, along with the crocodiles (no, we don't generally have crocodiles around, either-but then, it is an election year). Now, I don't know why I wasn't too disturbed at seeing him frolicking with crocodiles. He seemed to be having fun, and besides, there were only a couple of them. Everything appeared to be under control, so I went back to watching the circus.

The next time I looked down there, however, the courtyard was crawling with crocodiles. Huge ones, swarming all over the place. And I couldn't see Jon. So of course, I freaked. I started running all over the place, screaming out his name, asking everyone if they had seen him. No one had. And they were all surprised that I had allowed him to play with the crocs.

"They seemed harmless!" I explained.

"They're crocodiles," they said. "What did you expect?"

Needless to say, I was relieved to awaken from the dream. I hustled upstairs to make sure Jon was safe-without a crocodile in sight. I chuckled as I padded back down the stairs. "Crocodiles!" I laughed as I crawled back into bed. "Like I'm really going to turn away from Jon while he's playing with . . . "

Suddenly, I remembered a conversation with my son that had taken place just a few hours earlier. I was concentrating on a basketball game at the time, so I may be fuzzy on some of the details. But I think it went something like this:

Jon: "Dad, can I play on the internet for a while?"

Me: "Uh-huh."

Sure, I'm aware of how scary the internet can be. That's why I looked in on him to see how he was doing. He seemed to be having fun, and besides, he was on a pretty safe Web site. Everything appeared to be under control, so I went back to watching the game.

Sound familiar?

It did to me, too. I shuddered as I considered the number of seemingly harmless "crocodiles" I've allowed Jon to play with, largely unsupervised. Video games. TV. Even the radio-tape-CD player we got him for Christmas. Usually he makes good choices. But what happens when he makes a bad choice, or stumbles onto something that he's not prepared to handle? How do I help him interpret that inappropriate message or avoid that disturbing image if I'm up on the balcony watching the circus -- or the ball game-while he's downstairs frolicking with crocs?

I can't. But here's what I can do. From now on, we're going to try to keep those crocodiles at bay. I know I can't control everything that's going on in the world around him, but I can control what's happening within the walls of my own home. We can limit his access, monitor his viewing and occasionally say "no." Hopefully, this will allow us to take advantage of modern technology's positive possibilities while avoiding its long, sharp teeth.

Which, it turns out, can be a real nightmare.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and