Last week we talked about the dangers of the digital age on our podcast. As soon as we ended the week's episode we all knew we weren't done on this topic, not by a long shot! And while, we're planning on getting back into it this next week (look for that on Thursday!). I was reminded of some things I shared about a year ago regarding kids and the internet, that bears repeating.
If there was ever something that needs to be talked about a lot among followers of Jesus, its how to bring up a generation that knows how to handle the evils the world is throwing at us via the internet!
Here are some things I think can help us as we educate and help our children as we navigate the murky waters of this digital age.
Don't Hide Under a Rock
Part of my gut response to the grizzly facts regarding social media and the internet makes me want to throw away my iPhone, get rid of the internet and go live on a mountain somewhere. But I’m then reminded of my freshmen 35. Most people gain a “freshmen 15 pounds” but I grew up in a house where there were no snack foods and no sugar, and what food was there was very healthy. We all counted calories and dieting was constant, so once I was out of the house I didn’t know what to do with the “wealth” of food options I had at my disposal. I was literally a kid in a candy store.
35 pounds later I realized that I had never really learned how to handle a world with food in it! Sounds silly, but I think it fits well with my philosophy regarding social media and the internet. This is the world we live in, and it’s our job as parents to not just protect our children but also prepare and teach our children to live in it safely and most importantly with Christian integrity. Here’s when I stand on this promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and even when he is old we will not depart from it.” 1
Here are 3 big things we’ve done to help our children grow up safely in this modern age of technology.
1. Tell the Truth Early
One way that we’ve tried to prepare our children is by teaching them the truth early. I remember hearing about sex on the playground in kindergarten and going home to discuss it with my 8 year old sister. She told me it was “a bad thing” and not to mention it again. This set me into a terrible spiral. For one, sex is NOT bad, but this was the first of many misconceptions I was to gain from kid’s talking to one another without any adult interjection of wisdom.
So just like we’ve tried to prepare our children with age-appropriate information regarding sexuality (We love these books if you’re interested.), we want to be part of the conversation with our children regarding all the content coming their way these days. We don’t just want to invite ourselves in and add our two-cents to what they’re probably already hearing at the park and at soccer practice but also what they might see on the internet.
We’ve found these books on pornography, “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” and “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, Jr.” are a great way to explain the idea to a child without totally destroying their innocence. For many kids, their first introduction to pornography is met with confusion. They don’t know what they are dealing with, often to the child’s detriment. These books educate on the premise that there are good and bad pictures in the world and we can identify them by how they make us feel and react. It also tells about the dangers of looking at such emotionally charged images. I was so thankful for these books before sending my son off to church camp for the first time (oh the irony!). For the first time, I had to face the fact that just because my child doesn’t have a cellphone, it doesn’t mean that other children don’t either! I knew we had to do more than just keep the internet away.
2. Teach Good Habits in a Safe Space.
Because we don’t want our kids to be blindsided when they head out into the technology saturated world we need to teach them good habits in a safe space.
One way to help is to set up hard and fast rules NOW. Whether your child is a newborn or 15, its never too early. Here are some of the rules in our own family, regarding computers and cellphones.
1. All devices with access to the internet must be used in communal areas of the house. And connected to some form of oversite (more on this later).
2. All search history and internet activity is up to parental search at any and all moments of the day. (Also, this should actually be DONE. I have a habit of having such rules and then forgetting to do regular checks.)
3. Limitations are set on screen usage that help create healthy habits.
Having rules that everyone in the family follows helps your children see that even adults treat technology with a healthy amount of respect.
3. Create a Safer Place to Practice.
Before we even had children, we had our computers connected to Covenant Eyes a software that can be downloaded to your computer or smart phone that monitors your screen activity and sends a report to a trusted ally who can then hold you accountable for your online choices. This is a great choice for anyone, young or old who wants to keep the temptation of pornography in check. Now, that we have children in our family, it continues to be a great option in helping to have good accountability regarding our online activity. We want our children to be able to enjoy the internet and explore what good internet habits look like, but with protection in place so they won’t get into trouble.
While Covenant Eyes does have a large selection of uses, including blocking certain sites and searches and limiting activity on more adult sites like Youtube, we’ve also learned about The Circle. It is a device you can easily set up in your home and it can monitor things like screen time and device usage as well as block dangerous sites and monitor web searches. I’ve even heard, that if you let visitors use your wi-fi you can also monitor their usage as well! (Perfect for visiting teenagers with phones!) Full disclosure, we haven’t added a Circle to our family just yet, our oldest is just now 9 and we don’t have that much technology to manage. But, I am thankful there are these kinds of resources available in our back pocket as our kids get older!
Our greatest desire is to teach our kids how to be healthy and make healthy choices regarding the internet. I would so much rather them mess up under my roof, and it quickly be addressed than for them to be out on their own with little ways to rebound.
While we at Into the Harvest know there are some limitations when it comes to our ministry (I can’t just sit down over coffee with each of you). I do think we can still swap stories and resources to help each other protect our children from this growing concern. We would love for you to let us know what is helping your family stay safe in the Technology age.