If your kids are awake, they’re probably on a smartphone, in front of a smart TV, downloading apps, or posting to social networks. And most likely you have no idea what they’re doing. –IParent.tv
While the Internet brings many positive opportunities to learn, laugh, and connect with our family and friends, it also gives easier access to many dangerous temptations, resources, and people. You may not be aware of all the dangers available if it’s used without any accountability or guidelines and how it can ruin your child’s reputation and self-esteem, scarring them in ways that may take years to undo.
Danger 1: I can access pornography.
Pornography can be found for free on any social media platform or Internet browser. Chat rooms include links to some of the most deranged content. Naked photos of non-consenting adolescents can be shared like wildfire among youth (also known as revenge porn) and easily fall into the hands of predators who upload the content to various websites so the pictures or videos cannot be contained from further exposure.
Porn stars usually have their own website or Facebook and Twitter accounts in which they post clips of their latest scenes, nude pictures, and promote other porn stars while including the links to the videos they have made together. Erotica can be found and read for free, while appalling sex scenes, dialogue, and practices can be seen in movies and television shows easily.
Danger 2: I can hide and erase my Internet activities.
Unbeknownst to many parents, certain apps actually hide other apps that a parent or guardian wouldn’t want their kids to download. Incognito mode makes Internet browsing covert since it doesn’t save the history. Deleting the Internet history is all it takes for someone to cover up what they viewed or searched for online.
Since many kids use the Internet from a young age, it’s especially important for parents to protect their kids with Screen Accountability.
Danger 3: I can talk to strangers.
Insecurities and shyness may keep your child from acting precociously or promiscuously in person, but the Internet can bring out a different side of them that you wouldn’t expect. Many feelings or experiences can lead kids to initiate and continue online relationships with strangers, such as:
- Wanting attention or connection
- Feelings of loneliness
- Rejection from their peers
- A desire to be found attractive
- A sense of camaraderie
- Needing to vent or process with someone at 3:00 a.m.
Youth nowadays meet people online through various platforms. There is no shortage of chat rooms, forums, gaming websites, social media networks, or dating opportunities. The people they speak to may live in the same city or another state. Innocent conversation can easily turn into an online relationship that involves sexting or cyber-sex. Or because they initially “hit it off” because of similar hobbies or deep discussions, they may meet in person.
The Internet allows anonymity to thrive, and it’s easy for your kids and the strangers they talk with (who may have ill intent or shady character) to pretend they are someone or something they aren’t.
Unfortunately many parents are clueless as to just how many strangers their kids talk to online and the dishonesty that takes place in their dialogue. Internet strangers may know more about your kids or teens than you do as their parent.
As a young teen unsure of what was appropriate in my discussions with strangers, I got to know at least two men who were seven years or more older than me. Both confessed to being pedophiles.
One sent me child porn on different occasions, and the other frequently asked me very inappropriate questions. I felt obligated to talk to one out of fear. I began to trust the other and shared many personal details with him. I only refrained from meeting them in person because we were several states away. Shy and insecure, I wouldn’t have known how to say no to spending time together in person if they lived nearby.
I didn’t tell my mom until many years later when I didn’t use the Internet as frequently. She was shocked that I didn’t tell her earlier and, more so, that predators could easily draw a younger, unsuspecting person into a close friendship where personal details and photos were shared.
Danger 4: I can be bullied.
Cyberbullying happens online when people are picked on, threatened, or shamed. The cyberbully may isolate an individual or group by making Facebook pages or social media profiles that pinpoint certain flaws about them, whether the flaws are actual, perceived, rumored, or exaggerated.
It can be done anonymously. People can hide behind a fake identity on the Internet and make a person feel like specific people are against them, when those people might not be involved at all. The ease of messaging people and leaving comments allows people to be cruel to others in ways they never would do face to face.
Cyberbullying enables people to show their darkest side. Feelings of envy or insecurity often cause individuals to lash out at others without immediate consequence, if any at all (unlike a playground fight or screaming match where others can easily get involved). It brings a sense of power to the one who practices it. Anything can be said, sent, archived, and shared with large amounts of people in a short time. Immaturity thrives on the Internet.
Although the words hurt and damage, kids who are cyberbullied often keep it to themselves to avoid further embarrassment in front of their parents, teachers, or peers. They don’t want to call attention to themselves or let people know what has been said to or about them out of fear that people will pry into the situation or assume it is the truth.
The damage cyberbullying can do to one’s reputation and self-esteem is untold and unprecedented.
Danger 5: I can find an answer to any question imaginable on Google.
Building your child’s trust takes a lot of time and requires consistency in character. Kids (or teens) will simply not open up to a parent who shames them, gossips, puts them down in front of others, or flips out over anything and everything.
When kids have questions that they may be too embarrassed to ask their parents (whether about their bodies, sex, relationships, finding answers to a test, etc.), they often turn to the Internet for answers. This affords them the ability to ask anonymously and get answers full of depth from different sources, even if the sources are illegitimate, false, or dangerous.
Parents must be aware that anything can be searched for online–from how to masturbate and give oral sex, to symptoms of an STD, to what supposedly makes people attractive and desirable. Entire communities exist online that glorify self-harm and eating disorders–showing photos before and after, detailing how to cut and purge, and opening the floodgates to new dangerous practices, ideas, and fetishes.
Certain web pages list hundreds of sexual terms and their meanings. Google Images can afford the ability to see countless photos of anything imaginable. Because anyone can upload anything to YouTube, it hosts an endless amount of videos–some educational, some humorous, and some very inappropriate and just plain weird.
I highly recommend that you at least install an accountability report service like Covenant Eyes, which will show you the search terms used in your household.
Parents, you can protect your kids from Internet dangers!
By no means is this a comprehensive list; rather, it is a portion of the realities your kids may be regularly exposed to. Even if your children are not yet directly searching for this type of content, they can still be exposed to such things by their friends.
Without accountability and your involvement in your child’s life, the Internet becomes the go-to source for finding answers. Being a God-honoring, present parent is a full-time job. It takes sacrifice and effort to raise children who seek to please God and who share honestly with their parents.
Show interest in your children’s lives. Be available for your child and try your best to handle any troubling news or seemingly outlandish questions in a winsome, patient, and understanding way. If your kids struggle to be transparent with you and think you don’t listen to them, they will search for an accepting listening ear and advice elsewhere–including from Internet strangers who might pay more attention to their lives than you do.
Initiate conversations on the tough topics. Parents need to have the important discussions with their kids about sexuality, consequences, peer pressure, integrity and how to avoid the intake of perverse entertainment, what sort of friendships are worth your time and which type of people should be avoided, etc. Many parents have failed their children in this regard because they did not start the conversation early during their childhood.
Model how you would like your kids to act. Many kids and teens grow up in an environment without proper role models or a set standard for morality. Many parents are not taking their kids to church or teaching them the Bible at home. They may view pornography or other unwholesome types of entertainment themselves.
Answer the dreaded question, “why?”. Parents might say no without giving the why behind the no. This can encourage kids to rebel because they think their parents are old-fashioned or uninformed. If people don’t see the logic in avoiding an action, the natural inclination is to do the opposite of what they may have been instructed to avoid. Or worse yet, many parents aren’t aware of all the Internet can be used for, so they haven’t even cautioned their kids, put up safeguards, or taught them how to navigate its dangerous waters.
Provide structure and discipline. Even though kids or teens don’t necessarily like structure or rules, when parents enforce standards and discipline them when they have done wrong (in the right manner), it makes them feel protected and cared for. No one was meant to just take life on a whim and do whatever they want. Ultimately, it will catch up with them and sadly, leave painful consequences in its wake.
Remember what it’s like to be their age. Being an adolescent is a perplexing time in a person’s life–no longer a child, but not yet an adult. Changing hormones. Fear of standing out from the crowd. Wanting to gain independence from their parents. And today’s kids walk through this already difficult stage with easy access to anything available online.
I hope this post both challenged and equipped you with awareness of what is available online. By staying involved in your children’s lives and setting appropriate boundaries for them, you can help them avoid the dangers of the Internet and use it in a safe and healthy way.