Pornography. Facebook. Gaming. The Internet is full of pleasures, diversions, and vices. What can parents do to overcome the learning curve?
David Clark has made the job a little easier with his book, You, Your Family and the Internet: What every Christian in the digital age out to know. David is not only a Christian husband, father, and grandfather, he also a man who knows technology.
I had a chance to ask David about his biblical principles for parents of the online generation.
1. What prompted you to write this book?
I believe that there are key principles that can be applied to our interactions with the Internet. These principles are grounded in our Christian heritage and in the Bible, and they apply to all of us. These principles include self-control, accountability, and so on. I could not find any books that dealt with these in the context of the Internet. While there are many books on the Internet, they tend to either major on the dangers or just expound the benefits, usually related to a specific topic.
I wanted a book that was sensitive to the benefits while being realistic of the dangers of the Internet. I also wanted a book that was short enough that it would not put people off reading it, but long enough to provide some real insights. Having spent 35 years in the computer field, I believe that I understand it and hope that the book reflects this. I am also a parent and have worked through Internet related issues as my children grew up.
2. Parents might have trouble connecting the dots between the Internet and the Bible. Can you give us an example of how your book helps parents apply biblical principles in the modern age?
I think that one example relates to what Covenant Eyes is doing. At the end of Chapter 6, dealing with the evil of pornography, I have put the following question:
“Please read Galatians 6:2 and Romans 14:1–13. Why is mutual accountability not spoken of more today? What are the characteristics that you might look for in someone to whom you might be willing to be accountable?”
With accountability being a Christian principle, we need to put it into practice, both for ourselves and our families. For example, I have heard of one set of parents that have explained to their children that they have installed Covenant Eyes on the children’s devices (computer, smartphone, etc.) and will receive a list of which websites they visit. This is accountability in practice! But parents also need to willingly make themselves accountable to others.
Other Biblical principles include self-control. This can mean avoiding certain websites, and even for a few, avoiding the computer altogether. But for most of us, it may mean limiting our time on the computer (if this is an issue), or having a family policy of “phones on the fridge” during meals. (This applies to dad as well as little Johnny, by the way.)
The book deals with other principles, and the questions at the end of each chapter are focused on first looking up Scripture in the Bible and then drawing practical conclusions from these. It may also be helpful to use the book for discussions in church and Bible classes.
3. Does your book flesh out some ideas for children at different age groups?
The book touches upon this, but because it is not a how-to book, it focuses on guiding parents to think through how best to deal with children at different ages. I am adverse to books that tell people exactly how to bring up their children. They never had my children—not that mine were particularly bad, but each child is different. The Bible recognizes that children change as they grow up (see 1 Corinthians 13:11).
I try to deal with this a little in Chapter 11, when considering key principles. Here is an extract:
“Children in particular go through various stages during their development. One of the greatest challenges of parenting is to adapt to those changes. As parents, we need to be ever aware that we generally have under twenty years to prepare our children for independent living. It is therefore critical that we understand that during this short time our children will change, and so, as they grow in maturity, we must also change the way we interact with them, as well as the way we allow them to use the Internet.”
Fundamentally, however, the key is for parents to maintain a relationship with their children as they grow up. This is why communication is always so important. We personally achieved this through the family meal as well as individual time with our children. This is the basis from which we will be able to develop rules (at a young age) that then migrate into boundaries (as the child matures) that can be gradually relaxed over age, so that when the child leaves home, the boundaries will be realistic, reasonable and able to be maintained by the young adult.
This is difficult, particularly as it relates to the kinds of temptations that the Internet provides, but who said bringing up children was easy? It’s a full-on, 24/7 job. But it is definitely worth it. Once again, a local Christian community can also be of great help, both for children and parents.
4. What would you say are the top 2 or 3 most prevalent attitudes in parents today that make them ineffective when it comes to disciplined Internet use for their kids?
I would suggest the following are bad attitudes:
Hands-Off Approach: “I don’t understand what they are doing so I can’t get involved…”
This is one of the reasons I wrote the book—to help inform and to provide realistic and practical approaches to the Internet. Parents should and must take the time to learn about the Internet. It may be confusing at first, but they will be better parents at the end of it.
Smothering Approach: “I better check what my teenager is doing and install a website filter to stop them accessing anything bad…”
While I really appreciate the sentiment, the chances are that the children can access “bad” sites on many other devices, or at a friend’s houses. If we wait until the children are teenagers before we start working with them on these issues, it will probably be too late. Children need boundaries also they also need to be able to see that their parents are sticking to these also!
Teenagers are complicated. They will push as hard as they can against the boundaries but also want to know that they are there. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but we are dealing with teenagers, so let’s make sure that we have an open and realistic conversation with our children from an early age. Personally, I prefer an open approach such as all members of a family using Covenant Eyes—not just the kids. That will instill into the children the need to maintain boundaries, and the dangers that are out there, for both parents and children. It won’t guarantee that they won’t try to push against the boundaries (perhaps at a friend’s house), but by applying the same boundaries to everyone in the family, they will know that these things are really important.
The Villainizing Approach: “The Internet is bad and is responsible for all kinds of evils…”
The Internet is neutral, much like a book. It’s just a communications medium. The key lies in how we use it and what steps we take to avoid the negative impacts. We can’t blame someone or something else for evil. Evil is there, it comes from within and is found all around us. We need to be responsible and take steps to apply Biblical (and common sense) principles to all that we do—including our use of the Internet.
These is so much good also that can be achieved with the Internet. I would urge you to read the book and find out more.