As I was working today, an e-mail with the subject line, “Put some fun under the tree!” popped into my inbox. It was, of course, from a large consumer electronics company advertising their latest and greatest electronic device.
We’ve put new devices under the tree too, and the response from our children was great glee. They’ve thoroughly enjoyed themselves and all the creative, fun apps these devices have offered them. But it’s not all fun and games.
Why It’s Easy to Leave Our Kids Unsupervised on the Internet
Anytime a device, whether a Kindle, an X-box, an iPhone, or any other device, links to the Internet, there are legitimate dangers lurking. The predators and trolls in cyberspace are just as dangerous as the drug dealers on the street corners and the teen pressuring yours to have unprotected sex. When we give our children unfettered access to the Internet, it’s like we send them to the downtown city park by themselves when they are three years old.
If we would never do that, why would we let them play on the Internet’s playground with no supervision?
But the truth is, we do it all the time. Why? Here are three possible reasons:
1. We think it requires intentionality to visit dangerous places on the Internet. However, 80% of children are exposed to pornography unintentionally while searching the Internet. My daughter was doing a research project for school on dance and movement therapy. She was on a school computer under the district-restricted WIFI. She went to a state government site she found on Google, read the preview paragraph before clicking the link, and was subjected to multiple pop-ups of pornographic images. The site had been hacked. Even though she did everything right beforehand, she still exposed herself, unintentionally, to pornography.
2. The Internet and technology world is hugely overwhelming. Quite simply, there are so many websites and so many apps, it is nearly impossible to keep up with them all. There is a constant stream of new material, new videos, new channels, and new songs. It’s easy to think, “If I can’t control all of it, why even try to control some of it?” We feel inadequate and helpless, and we end up surrendering to the media monster.
3. Our children continually push against our desired limitations. I don’t know about yours, but my children can be tenacious when it comes to getting the access they want, especially when their friends have the “latest and greatest” social media apps. It’s hard to continue to say “no” and to resist the pressure to cave because you fear your kid might be ostracized or ridiculed for not having something “everybody” else has.
These are legit reasons. But they don’t excuse us from being diligent parents. What do we do before, during, and after we give them the new device?
4 Important Steps to Prepare Your Kids for New Devices
1. Research restrictions and set them up before you give them device. There are so many options with this, from minimal to pretty much complete lock-down. The point is you need to give your child boundaries and define where he and she can play. It’s similar to the playground idea or the neighborhood—before you send your child out the door, he or she needs to know the appropriate, safe places s/he is allowed to go. The restrictions you put in place should be based not only on your child’s age, but also his/her maturity, responsibility level, and his/her willingness to communicate with you in case s/he stumbles upon something inappropriate. Restrictions may change, getting stricter or more lenient, based on their response to your boundaries and their maturity. There are lots of articles about devices and apps to help you educate yourself and protect your kids, as well as accountability and filtering products you can buy (like Covenant Eyes).
Some of the things we’ve done? We have our girls’ phones set so that if they want to download an app (no matter the age rating), the App store sends us a notification, asking us to either approve or ignore their request. It gives us time to research the app and allows us to monitor what is on their phone. Unfortunately, there are apps that are easily hidden or deceiving upon first look, so if you haven’t read about them, you may not know what they’re hiding. I also have their Instagram accounts logged in on my phone. Thus, I can easily see not only what they are posting, but also who is commenting and messaging them.
2. Continually talk about all the bad stuff—porn, cyber-bullying, how-to videos, Photoshop, and more. For quite some time, I thought that if I never asked Craig about his porn addiction then maybe he’d forget to look at it. The last thing I wanted to do was plant an idea in his head. As you may have guessed, me not talking about it did nothing for his addiction or our relationship. Thankfully, I wised up about that and didn’t let it affect how I communicate with my kids.
The truth is, even if they don’t know about something yet, the last thing I want is for them to be first educated about serious topics by their peers. You may have all the restrictions in the world on your kids’ devices, but guess what—other parents don’t have the same restrictions on their kids’ devices. My younger daughter was doing a research project with a friend (again, at school, but on her friend’s personal computer). She accidentally clicked on the wrong tab and she saw a paused video of lesbian porn her friend had been watching outside of school. She came home, told me about it, and I e-mailed her friend’s mom to let her know what was going on.
Our kids need to know more than “_______ is bad for you. Stay away from it.” They need to know why, what the consequences might be, not only so they themselves can be educated, but so they can also speak truth to their friends, or at least alert their own parents that there is a problem.
3. Continually talk about all the good stuff. It’s important to teach kids what to stay away from in life, but they don’t know necessarily by default what kinds of things they should be putting or keeping in their lives. We see what happened with the Israelites and the gazillion rules they had—it didn’t bring them more joy or fulfillment or even closer to God. When Jesus came, He showed us what we could do in order to have fulfilling, meaningful lives. He showed us how we can have a powerful relationship with Him and His Father. Not only did He continually tell stories that pointed out how the things in this world give us short-term highs, while leaving us longing in the log term, but He also showed us through His actions and His words how His love fills us to overflowing.
What would happen with our kids if they knew how to develop this relationship now? What if we taught them to use the Internet and apps that would help them develop their relationship with Jesus? What if we showed them how social media doesn’t have to be a place for hate, but a place where they can be lights to a dark world? What if we filled their minds with specific things they can do and say and practice?
4. After you’ve done all you can do, trust God. You can do everything right and bad things may still happen. It’s the consequence of living in a fallen world. But this I know: there is nothing God cannot redeem and nothing that He cannot use for good. My husband found porn when he was a kid (before there were devices). He spent decades addicted, bringing it into our marriage. And yet, he is free now. Our marriage is stronger than ever, and God has used our experience to enable us to bring hope and encouragement to couples all over the world.
Worrying about what your kids are going to fall into never saved a single kid. But proactivity, prayer, and communication go a long way in the process of redemption.