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computer in an area of the home where mom and dad are walking through and can be aware of computer activity may seem outdated since we now deal with smart phones, tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops.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.