Teaching discernment in the digital age

It seems like yesterday when the Lord blessed my husband and me with our three sons, and we began the journey of parenthood in the digital age.

When our oldest was born in 1995, the Internet was brand new to everyone. Being a bit geeky, my husband and I explored tools and techniques for creating websites, which led us to bridging the miles between us and our family and friends, sharing each of our boys’ first-year baby milestones and photos via a website that we updated monthly.

Over time, as the boys grew, we continued to share monthly family news and photos using a “cutting-edge” blog platform to house our family website. Together with our sons, we’ve used the Internet to listen to family-friendly podcasts and free audio books, find geocaches and BreakoutEDU solutions, take care of our Webkinz pets, e-mail our favorite authors, learn to program, play games, create videos, design 3-D models, and so much more.

Now our boys are reaching adulthood, and we are fast approaching the empty-nest stage. As I reflect on the years of their childhood, I remember joys and challenges we encountered along the way in relation to technology. In this sinful world, it is impossible to keep our children 100 percent safe from the dangers the Internet invites into our homes. Here are some of the steps we took to guard their safety:

  • Engage with them—Before allowing our boys to visit a website, we tried it out ourselves or sought the opinions of others regarding it. (A great site for reviews of all types of children’s media is commonsensemedia.org.) As they used websites, we used them, too, guiding them along the way and explaining any areas of concern if they came up.
  • Help them create—We used the tools available on the Internet to excite our sons to use it for good and noble purposes. As they learned how to code video games, we encouraged them to expand the program’s capabilities. When their interest was piqued by podcasts, we started a weekly family podcast. Over the years we used our family blog to share the boys’ creative writing, stop-motion Lego movies, and Haiku poetry.
  • Block inappropriate content—Many software solutions for filtering inappropriate Internet content in the home are available. Something we’ve used for many years is OpenDNS, opendns.com/home-internet-security. The free Family Shield and Home plans include parental controls that protect every device in the home.

My husband and I did all of these things with an end goal in mind—giving our sons discerning hearts.

All too quickly our sons have grown up and ventured out into the world alone. Now they must rely on their own judgement regarding the appropriateness of Internet content, and now our prayer is that the lessons learned in their early years will stay with them.

For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit https://forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.

Sallie Draper and her husband, Kevin, have three sons and live in New Ulm, Minn.

Guiding children as they use the Internet

How many parents would take their two-year-olds to the pool for the first time and allow them to jump into the deep end? None, I hope! Being able to swim in the deep end is a process that requires lessons, practice, and experience, all guided by loving parents who want their children to enjoy swimming safely.

Staying safe on the Internet is not much different. If we want our teens to know how to enjoy using it safely, we must start the process much earlier. This can be done in the light of God’s Word and his commands.

Internet safety is a wide net, but most parents identify several areas in which they wish to keep their children safe online.

  • They are concerned with the addictive potential of games.
  • They share concern over the stumbling upon of offensive sites, such as pornography, as the kids discover what’s out there. This is often connected with the idea of sexting, which occurs as early as middle school.
  • Finally, parents fear the online social sites that encourage kids to talk with others, whether on gaming sites or social media sites that encourage kids to follow and be followed by others. These sites raise the concern of meeting strangers online who may not be who they portray and the opportunity for online bullying.

Unfortunately, many of us ignore these things until a problem arises. Being proactive in approaching these subjects really helps. Start early.

As parents, if we treat technology as a gift of God while training children to be aware of the dark side on the Internet, we can pray that they develop their Christian faith to assist them in making good and responsible choices. One way we can do that is by talking freely about the evil that is in the world that is now manifested online and can be found one click away. We can discuss this during devotions and in conversations with our children from the time they are in grade school and beyond.

The old model of keeping the desktop computer in an area of the home where mom and dad are walking through and can be aware of computer activity may seem outdated since we now deal with smart phones, tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops. I think it is still reasonable to expect grade school and middle school kids to use their technology in a common area of the home. It is legitimate for a parent to be made aware of musical playlists so that when headphones are used, parents know what is being consumed. As kids grow and schoolwork requires technology, a quiet place may be desirable, but it should still be understood that when homework is done on the computer, that is all that is happening, and parents may come by to see how it is going. Parents need to be vigilant.

At a time determined by parents, all mobile technology can be unplugged and kept in a specified spot. For example, maybe all family devices get plugged in at a common location for the night. Enforce the rules as you talk about why they are good for the family.

Parents can also make rules regarding time limits for game playing and can talk openly about gaming choices and their possible effects on those who play them. Conversations about learning to discern should be ongoing. Social gaming sites, perhaps, should not be allowed until an age that a parent feels the child can make competent choices in this regard. Parents will need to model good online behavior and set the tone for what is acceptable in the home. It should be a family effort.

The creation of the Internet brings many good things to us, but the reality is that it has created a whole other level of parenting. Parents must include applications regarding the misuse of the Internet as they teach their children to discern right from wrong in all facets of life. For example, what is learned in the home as far as how to treat one another in God-pleasing ways can help children be aware of the inappropriateness of bullying online, as an extension of bullying face to face. The idea of sexting as a practice can be addressed as veering outside of what God has commanded us regarding how to keep our bodies chaste. This is an extension of pre-Internet conversations with children that now need to be brought into the scope of what sins are possible through technology. We ask God to keep us from temptation in all we do, including our use of technology.

Parents have always taught their children about “stranger danger.” This same conversation now must be expanded to teach children about the very real dangers of social media sites with followers. Talking on those sites, or in online chat areas, should be discouraged. Stories of online predators and the attempt to catch them are heard often on the news, and you can discuss these news items at family gathering times to drive this point home.

We are blessed to have God’s Word as our handbook for parenting, and it is up to us as parents to continue to nurture our children in that Word as we make applications from the technology that is so ubiquitous in our culture today. May he bless our prayful efforts!

For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit https://forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.

Gail Potratz and her husband, Phil, have three adult children and eight grandchildren. Gail has served as a teacher and technology coordinator for more than 30 years.

Online safety resources

Safety Sites
Google
Google has a great collection of informational tips for individuals, students, teachers, and families for keeping people safe while online. Access by clicking the Digital Citizen button.
http://www.google.com/edu/tools-and-solutions/index.html#
https://www.google.com/safetycenter/ (Good one on this site – Protecting your family online)

Common Sense Media
You will need to create an account as a parent and/or teacher to be able to use the Digital Citizenship material in downloaded or e-book form. It is thorough and complete age appropriate Internet safety information. High quality material. As a teacher you can download an entire curriculum on Digital Citizenship. The individual lesson plans are excellent and full of constructivist ideas for teaching the topic.
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Specific to Internet Safety https://www.commonsensemedia.org/privacy-and-internet-safety

PTO today
This group produces material to help schools hold an Internet Safety Night at a PTO type setting. You must register your school to get the free kit, but it is free and the materials are very well done. Includes PR pieces, parent handouts, and many topics in the area of Internet Safety. Easy to download the free materials.
http://www.ptotoday.com/pen/

Pause Then Reflect
A blog that gives a great overview of the main ideas to remember to protect yourself online. Good basic information.

http://pausethenreflect.blogspot.com/2012/08/everyday-best-practices-to-stay-safe.html

GetNetWise
This website will be helpful to parents and families with the goal of internet safety for their families.
http://kids.getnetwise.org/

Homeland Security
Homeland Security has a program by which they provide resources to help families, teachers, and students stay safe. Their initiative is called Stop, Think, Connect, and it links to some downloadable resources to help educate parents at home, through a school group, etc.
http://www.dhs.gov/publication/stopthinkconnect-parent-and-educator-resources

Cyber Bullying Virus
This is a very creative video that portrays the evils of cyber bullying and its spread. Compares it to the spread of a physical virus.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5PZ_Bh-M6o

Welcome to the Web
An internet site with six areas to explore with students. Contains basic navigation information as well as internet safety practices. Good unit to to use in grades 4-6. It is written as a clue gathering game.
http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/welcome/start.htm

Langwitches Top Ten List for Educational Videos
Even though this is from 2007, the videos on internet protection/bullying themes are excellent. One seeks to point out the significance of your digital footprint and the danger when you post without thinking. Another illustrates how the internet allows people to say things to others that they would never think about saying face to face.
http://langwitches.org/blog/2007/12/26/top-ten-list-for-educational-video-clips/

Think B4U Respond
Google lesson on being safe while communicating online.
15 Resources for A Safer Internet Day: collection of great resources to teach about working together to make everyone safer online from Richard Bryne
http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/02/thinkb4u-web-safety-tutorials-from.html#.U6nI0_ldXTp

Facebook 101 for Schools
Cool Cat blogger, Vivki Davis, builds a terrific resource to use with kids and parents, as well as teachers, to promote safer use of Facebook by understanding with whom you are really sharing. Very well done.
http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/facebook-friending-101-for-schools.html?m=0

SafeMood
You Tube videos to follow-up the above post to help kids understand friending on Facebook and how to stay as safe as possible: Little Red Riding Mood – when you friend someone on Facebook, you invite them into your life, and other internet related issues – cartoon and fun version for middle school.
http://safemoods.com/

Fun hangman quiz
For follow up with young students talking about internet safety.
http://www.quia.com/hm/40647.html?AP_rand=115772178&playHTML=1

Digital Citizenship
Using Technology Appropriately
The nine elements of digital citizenship
http://digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html

Be a Digital Citizen
This is a great video that shows the wide range of areas involved in our technological world and why digital citizenship is important to practice. It demonstrates the far reaching nature of one’s digital footprint in less than 3 minutes.
http://youtu.be/FdEXijFXfD8

Teachthoughts
Definition of Digital Citizenship components – nice job of breaking down the categories and further defining them
http://www.teachthought.com/technology/the-definition-of-digital-citzenship/

Privacy Intro
It is a great video for students on what the digital footprint means and how they may already have one.
http://youtu.be/DinW62zlWcc

Digital footprints – Your New First Impression
This video shows how the digital footprint is being used in the workplace and by employers.
http://youtu.be/eZjmrJvL_eg

Digital citizenship guide from Edmodo
Join this group and get a nice little lesson on the topic with a descriptive and useful poster.
http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/09/a-digital-citizenship-guide-from-edmodo.html#.U6rNG_ldXTq

You and Your Property Online
Six Steps to Keeping Your Data Safe
The Geek Squad lists 6 basic steps which you will want to know as starting points and research further.
http://www.geeksquad.com/do-it-yourself/tech-tip/six-steps-to-keeping-your-data-safe.aspx

Ten Ways to Keep your Personal Data Safe from Online Snoopers
The term “web” for the internet is not so far off when we think of webs that are commonly used for catching prey. Beware of online predators looking for your information.
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/16/10-ways-keep-personal-data-safe

Google – Prevent Identity Theft
Keep your name safe online.
http://www.google.com/intl/us-en/goodtoknow/online-safety/identity-theft/

20 Ways to Keep your Identity Safe from Hackers
The Guardian gives some practical ways to guard our online presence.
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/may/12/20-ways-keep-internet-identity-safe

Creative Commons Licensing
How do you protect your created work online, whether images, photos, written work? Creative Commons (CC) is a way to help creators protect their property, but also allow usage to others in levels or to selected groups. Anyone can license their work this way, and it is free.
http://creativecommons.org/

Creative Commons Search Resource
To help find material free to use and reuse online
http://search.creativecommons.org/

Faith and Technology – Practically Speaking; Honoring on Another’s Work
This article by Rob Jacklin gives our rationale for wanting to be aware of copyright law and licensing and model the faithful use of this in our own personal and educational lives. He goes on to give practical information regarding the topic.
http://www.mtmproject.org/archives/210

Overview: Teaching Copyright
Unit all laid out on how to approach this in a classroom.
http://www.teachingcopyright.org/curriculum/hs

10 Resources for Teaching and Learning About Copyright & Fair Use by Dr. Bernard Bull
This blog post is rich in information that will assist in learning more and teaching more about the subject of copyright. What is fair use anyway? Find out.
http://etale.org/main/2014/03/17/10-resources-for-teaching-and-learning-about-copyright-fair-use/

Fair Use and How it Works for Images
Covers ground all teachers and professionals should be aware of to help them be honest in their use of images online.
http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

These resources were compiled by Gail Potratz.