The nightmare woke me up with a pounding heart. The clock said it was 3 a.m., but I could still picture the scene my brain created in the deep recesses of my mind.
My family of four stood in our kitchen. I looked through the window and saw a lion prowling in our back yard. The lion lunged through the glass and gripped my teenage son by the throat. My husband shielded our daughter while I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find — a pie server — and stabbed the lion in the throat.
Yeah, a pie server probably wasn’t the best choice. But as a mother, my options for protecting my teenager seem limited. Danger lurks around every corner, especially on social media.
The week before I had my nightmare, a gun-violence threat was made against my son’s middle school on Snapchat. The police and school district dealt with it promptly. A few days later, there was another potential threat that popped up on Instagram. Two threats in two weeks. Really, America?
The scariest thing I ever dealt with in eighth grade was girl drama. What has happened to our country that’s brought us to this dark place?
Then there are chemical substances to worry about. Every time I hear about middle schoolers vaping, I try to figure out where they’re getting the paraphernalia. Did you know that if you give a teenager a prepaid bank card, they can use it to buy anything off of eBay they want, including vape pens?
There are other things facing teenagers, too, that are hard to comprehend — viral memes about drinking bleach and sick jokes about eating Tide pods. Parents thought that they only had to safety-proof their homes for the infant and toddler years, but that’s not necessarily true anymore.
When I think back to my friends in high school who dealt with depression, I wonder if they would be alive today if their still-developing brains had been exposed to a constant bombardment of suicide jokes on social media. So, no, maybe a poisonous substance shouldn’t be sitting, fully visible, on our kitchen counters at all times if we have toddlers — or teenagers in the home.
My son is sweet, funny, empathetic and smart. He gets good grades and spends nine hours a week playing sports. I wish I could shelter him from every possible bad influence he’ll encounter in the outside world, but I can’t. All I can do is teach him to make good decisions and evaluate the poor life choices he sees other kids make.
My son’s keen intelligence is my secret weapon, not a pie server. The lion is always there, prowling at the perimeter. But if this is a match between mama bear and a lion, then I intend to put up a good fight.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.