Kids are growing up in a digital world. Young people born since the mid-90s have never known a world without computers or the Internet. A recent study by AVG found nearly 70% kids, age 2 to 5, can operate a computer mouse, while only 11% can tie their shoes.
Today young people spend over 7 hours every day with media (and nearly 11 hours if you include multi-tasking). Teens spend an average of 31 hours a week online, and nearly a third of teens say being “unplugged” from technology actually makes them feel more stressed.
The question parents need to ask is this: How does all this time online play a role in shaping the character of my kids?
A Culture of Anonymity
Only a third of parents set parental controls and monitor what their children do online, and 41% of American teens agree that their parents have no idea what they are looking at online.
The time we and our children spend online impacts our expectations of anonymity and privacy. The time we spend using the Internet is largely solitary time. We believe what we do online, what we see, how much time we spend, and those to whom we speak is nobody’s business but our own. In this culture of anonymity, many Internet users experience what is called the online disinhibition effect. Dr. John Suler, a psychologist from Rider University, explains: “Everyday users of the Internet have noted how people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel less restrained, and express themselves more openly.”
The anonymous world of digital media and interactions often trains us to put pixels before people. We begin to prefer the bite-size Instant Message over the conversations around a family meal. We feel freer to insult and bully someone else because we don’t have the benefit of looking them in the eye. We forget how difficult it is to erase our digital tracks. We begin to prefer the quick buzz of sexualized media over fostering a intimacy with a real live human being. Consider the following statistics.
- While many people believe new technologies have made their lives easier, almost 30% of people under 45 say using devices like smartphones, cell phones, and personal computers makes it harder for them to focus.
- In 2008, 28% of people surveyed said they spent less time with people in their household because of too much time on the Internet.
- Nearly one out of 10 youth report being bullied or harassed online.
- One out of five teens today have sent or posted nude or semi-nude images or videos of themselves through their cell phone or computer.
- 82% of college men and 52% of women say they were exposed to pornography by age 14. On at least one occasion, 70% of boys and 23% of girls say they have spent over half an hour browsing for pornography online.
And all of this is fostered by the atmosphere of anonymity online.
A Culture of Accountability
For parents the answer is to create a new culture in the home—a culture of accountability.
Sometimes the church implies—or even directly says—accountability is really only something useful for those ensnared in overt and habitual sins. Accountability is for those who want to break their nasty habits. As Christian parents we often approach accountability the same way with our children: we will give you a long leash until you screw up, then we’re going to watch you like a hawk until your behavior improves.
But accountability isn’t only a good idea for those who are struggling with a particular sin. It is something we should hope to foster in our children early in life—not as a way to defeat bad habits but as a way to encourage good ones. This is especially true in how we train our kids to use the Internet.
For many parents, the Covenant Eyes Accountability service is not just the way they guard themselves, it is also one way they create a culture of accountability in their homes.
Emily Malone not only loves the filtering service Covenant Eyes provides for her young kids, she also loves knowing she is starting early in the process of training her kids to make wise choices.
Our children, Rebekah (age 4) and Luke (age 2), are simply too precious for us to assume that all will go well if they attend church and say their prayers. Instead, we believe that by talking about online issues and the consequences of poor choices, no matter how innocent they begin, we can foster good habits and therefore honor Christ in our homes…
The habits we make at home will help shape the people they will become. That meant several things to us: (1) We had to make sure we were above reproach in our own online pursuits; (2) we had to be proactive in setting up a Christ-honoring atmosphere for our children.
Instead of just monitoring my husband’s or children’s online activity, we decided to have ongoing, open conversations about how we spend our time. This was most easily facilitated by installing Covenant Eyes on both our laptops.
Technology that merely blocks where your kids go on the Internet (like a filter) can be very helpful, but when we rely merely on blocking mechanisms, we only shape behavior, not the heart.
Popular Christian author and speaker Douglas Wilson agrees. Training a child to use the Internet is not simply about placing good filtering software on our home computers. “Building a fence does not prevent someone from wanting to be on the other side of it,” Doug writes. “In fact, building a fence often has the effect of increasing someone’s desire to be on the other side of it (Romans 3:20; 5:20). It is the sweetness of forbidden fruit.”
Internet Accountability, he says, helps to establish a moral understanding in the home. “Accountability teaches young men how to say yes, and when to say yes.”
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on why Internet Accountability is important over the long haul.