Kids and teens are “digital natives.” Parents are usually not. Children are growing up online. Digital media is the air they breathe. For example, 70% of America’s young people use the Internet daily. Teens spend an average of 31 hours a week online—that’s almost a full-time job. For many parents, the Internet is a thing of utility. For their kids, the Internet is a place for community.
These facts would not matter much to parents if using the Internet was not such a solitary activity. Nearly half of family members surveyed say they feel ignored because another member of their household spends too much time online. In addition, the Internet provides a cloak of secrecy for kids to see or seek out all kinds of inappropriate material. By age 18, at least 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen Internet porn, and for the vast majority of boys, these are not limited to brief encounters.
Teaching Internet safety and responsibility at home starts with removing this secrecy. Then establish new expectations and help your kids develop new habits. This is easier said than done. Today’s parents face two common obstacles to teaching their kids about Internet safety: (1) they don’t feel like they know enough about the subject, and (2) they’re not sure how to best communicate their concerns to their kids, so they remain silent.
To counter these two obstacles there are two solutions: (1) be informed, and (2) be brave.
Information equips us to take action. Many parents and kids alike are simply naïve about the dangers on the Internet. Technology alone will not fix all our problems. Technology does not and cannot replace good parenting.
Internet dangers can be categorized under three broad concerns:
- Inappropriate content
- Inappropriate communications
- Inappropriate customs
Inappropriate content includes all sorts of media: pornography, sensual music, provocative videos, violence, profanity, drug use, etc. All media, good or bad, carries messages, and the Internet is filled with media that sends harmful and unhealthy messages to kids and adults alike. Parents must be the guardians of their own minds and the minds of their children, helping their children to discern right from wrong. Good parenting requires moms and dads to not only work to shield their children from the media they are not ready to see; parents must also be aware of the media content their kids have already seen (accidentally or purposefully) and help them process those messages.
Inappropriate communications include various harmful interactions: the sending and receiving of damaging messages. Sadly, one out of five teens today have sent or posted nude or semi-nude images or videos of themselves (a phenomenon known as “sexting”). Nearly one out of 10 youth report being bullied or harassed online. In extreme cases youth are being targeted by online by sexual predators. Parents should be aware of these trends and talk to their kids about the messages their kids send and receive. Moreover, parents need to reason with their kids to help them and their peers make wise decisions.
Inappropriate customs include a variety of unhealthy Internet-related habits. In the last 10 years there has been a major drift in youth culture. Involvement in team sports has declined 32%. Going out to movies has declined by nearly 80%. However, the amount of time young people spend on computers has increased 162%. More time is spent on social networks (like Facebook) than any other online application. On Facebook alone, 35 million people update their profiles on a daily basis. More and more kids are using the Internet as their primary source of engagement and entertainment. Unchecked, computers and cell phones eat up more and more of our time. Today, up to 10% of Internet users in the U.S. have developed addictive habits related to pornography, gambling, gaming, or social networking.
These statistics only scratch the surface. If you want to know more, there are some excellent resources available for today’s parents:
- Internet Safety 101 – This state-of-the-art, multi-media program is specifically designed to educate, equip, and empower parents, educators and other caring adults with the knowledge and resources they need to protect children online. Their workbook and DVD teaching series is available for a very reasonable cost.
- Parenting the Internet Generation – This is a free e-book provided by Covenant Eyes.
Parents should seek to know the trends, and equip their child to not become a statistic. This means we must become proactive parents, overcoming any fears we might have about communicating with our children and teens about our concerns.
Proactive parenting means being upfront with your children about your expectations. Do you hesitate talking to your adolescent children about sexual content online (whether it be pornography or other mature media)? If you don’t start the discussion with your kids, someone else will. Do you neglect talking to your kids about how your family’s values apply to an online world? Remember, they need to see that what they do online will impact their lives offline. Do you drag your feet when enforcing time limits for your kids on the computer and their game systems? Remember, your children will pay a high price for bad habits they start now.
The more we learn about the long-range benefits of our children receiving good training, the more we will overcome our fears about communicating with and setting boundaries for our kids. We want the best for our kids, but first we must give them the best of ourselves. We must equip our kids to navigate through the Internet’s dangers.
Set time limits. Use a good Internet filter. Establish a habit of Internet accountability in your home. Know who your kids are talking to and what they see online. Be upfront with your kids about what you expect and why. Use technology to your advantage.
Remember: teaching Internet responsibility is only part of the parenting task. The big question parents must ask themselves is not “How do I keep my family safe online?” but rather, “How do I parent my kids well in a cyber-culture?” Even the best of parents need help in this monumental task.
To equip parents to face these challenges, Covenant Eyes commissioned a study through an independent research company to uncover strategies that keep individuals and families safe online. If you would like to hear the results of this study, Covenant Eyes would be happy to arrange a live or webinar presentation for your organization, church, synagogue, community group, or business. Contact our Internet Safety Consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org.