Kids, especially teens, like their privacy. This is not because they are necessarily “up to something.” It is because they are human beings. This desire for privacy is especially true online. Kids can so easily carve out a private world for themselves online: a world of private connections, conversations, and exploration.
Problems occur when privacy becomes a haven for sin or unwise behavior to thrive. Kids can use the Internet to secretly look at pornography. They can send and receive sexual messages and images. They can say mean or cruel things online to others. They can be contacted by strangers. They can waste valuable time in excessive social networking or gaming.
Parents must not only monitor what their kids do online, they should also teach their children the value of choosing to be accountable. These online temptations will not go away after they turn 18.
Secrecy Has Become the Norm
According to a recent survey by Tru Research it is common for teens to intentionally hide online behavior from their parents . In fact, 71% of teens admit to doing this.
- Teens spend an average of five hours a day online, but on average their parents think their kids only spend two.
- 45% of teens say they have visited a website they know their parents would disapprove of (76% of parents are unaware of this)
- 53% of teens have cleared browser history to hide Internet activity (82% of parents are unaware teens do this).
- 41% of teens say they check their social network accounts “constantly” (only 22% of parents said the same thing about their kids)
- 31% of teens say they have pirated music or movies online (88% of parents are unaware of this).
- 46% of teens have minimized a browser window to hide online activity (83% of parents are unaware teens do this).
When You Are at Your Best, Plan for Your Worst
Tim Challies uses Internet accountability in his home, mostly to keep track of where his 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter go online.
What Tim has learned is that installing the right technology is usually the easy part. What aren’t as easy are the conversations that take place with his kids about accountability. Tim writes,
Recently my son said, “Dad, you’re treating me like I’m addicted to pornography. But I haven’t ever seen it and don’t want to see it!” And he’s right, to some degree. If I’m not treating him like an addict, I am at least treating him like a pre-addict, someone who has the inclination, or who may well have it before long. In this way I think I understand him a little better than he understands himself. Of course our Internet plan is not designed only to protect the children from exposure to pornography, but that is still one of its major purposes.
But his exasperation and hurt feelings gave us opportunity to talk about one of the principles I have found helpful in my own life: When you are at your best, plan for when you are at your worst…
There is a kind of weakness, a kind of vulnerability, that may come when we are convinced of our strength. It is when we are not being tempted, it is when we are standing strong in the Lord’s grace, that we ought to consider the times we will be weak and tempted and eager to sin. We need to assume such times will come and we need to use the moments of strength to put measures in place that will protect us when we are weak. The wise nation builds its defenses in peace time, not once the enemy has invaded its borders; the wise homeowner buys insurance before the big catastrophe, not once the flood has already risen. The wise Christian fights sin even when sin seems distant and dormant.
Tim hits the nail on the head. As parents, we should live this way and teach our children to do the same: When you are at your best, plan for your worst. Our kids or teens may not feel like the Internet poses an immediate threat to their safety or their character. That’s good. But our children need to understand how easily sin breeds in secrecy and to never see themselves as above temptation.
Teaching Children the Value of Internet Accountability
There are several important steps to introducing Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability to your family.
- First, we must lead by example. Use Covenant Eyes for yourself because you believe you need it.
- Second, we must teach our kids about the seduction of privacy. Remind them about how easy it is to venture into activities and habits online that don’t reflect the kind of people we really want to be.
- Third, we must frame accountability in the right light. This is not about “spying” on them or “monitoring” them. This is about an atmosphere in the home where parents and kids can help one another to be their best.
- Fourth, we should be ready to respond to objections. Teens especially might feel that Internet accountability is a “punishment” or an “invasion of privacy” or a sign that you don’t trust them. Be ready to respond to these objections with clear answers.
- Fifth, we should set clear expectations about how the Internet should and shouldn’t be used in the home. Kids should hear from you exactly what is and is not appropriate.
- Last, we should have ongoing conversations about the choices our kids are making online.
We’ve written a guide to walk you through these steps. Download: Accountable Kids: Explaining Covenant Eyes to Your Family.