How do I protect my kids from dangers on the Internet?
It’s a different world than the one I grew up in. How can we protect our children from the dangers of the Internet?
Dave: Well you’re right, the world has certainly changed in the past 10 years, and the whole element of the Internet has added complexities that parents have never had to deal with before. But our approach to the Internet should grow out of our overall parenting plan – it’s not divorced from other issues that parents face.
Donalyn: That’s right. Your kids’ attitude towards the Internet is very much tied into the purity of their lives: their perspectives on dating and relationships, the qualities they are looking for in a future spouse, their commitment to preserve themselves for marriage, and their approach towards sexual temptation and pornography of all kinds. So rather than dealing with the Internet as a separate issue,
Dave: It’s helpful to start this training before it ever becomes an issue. Prepare your pre-teens for the issues that they are going to face, remembering that kids are becoming technologically savvy at an increasingly early age. Start by setting a godly example as parents – you need to live out what you expect of them. Openly discuss God’s standards of right and wrong, purity and respect, and then specifically talk about the dangers of the Internet: things like not trusting everything that they read, looking for sources and for second opinions, and never giving out their name, phone number and address without parental approval. Take the initiative to instruct them – don’t just let their school do it, or worse, allow them to discover it on their own. This is an opportunity to open up discussion on some critical issues.
Donalyn: On a very practical level, there are things you can do to protect your family as well as to set boundaries around your kids’ Internet use. Invest in Net Nanny or another Internet filter that blocks out objectionable content. Look in the Internet history to see what sites your kids are visiting. And keep your computer in an open, central location where the children can’t be alone with it, so you can monitor what they are viewing online. We didn’t do this when our kids were younger, and we had a number of incidents as a result, particularly when their friends came over and clicked onto sites that they shouldn’t have been looking at. I’d suggest publishing a set of Internet guidelines for your family and posting it near the computer, so their friends can read it too.
Dave: You should also set limits on the amount of time your kids can spend on the Internet, and how late they can be on it. Treat the computer like the telephone, especially with teens. Most of them have gone to online communication like MSN or instant messaging to do half their talking. Speaking of which, it would also be wise to institute a “No MSN” rule while doing homework until they are well into senior high and clearly showing responsible study habits – the night can slip away quickly when they are “chatting” with their friends!
Donalyn: You may need to emphasize different aspects depending on whether you have boys or girls. Talk specifically to your pre-teen boys about online porn. Girls tend to gravitate toward more relational temptations, so warn them about the risks of chat rooms, online predators and dating profile sign-ups.
Dave: That’s right. Our youngest daughter stepped into the danger zone when she was 12 years old. She was at a sleepover at a friends’, they stayed up late, and they got into a dating profile match-making telephone service. Her friend made up a fictional profile in her name – age 17, etc. – and we got a phone call from a 30-year-old man wanting to talk to her. The same kinds of things are happening online all the time. It was a scary experience for us as parents, and it showed us that we needed to do some further educating.
Donalyn: And that leads to another point. A lot of time the trouble comes when your kids are at their friends’ house, out of your sight. Teach them that your computer guidelines apply while they are at their friends’ homes, too. You may need to ask parents of their friends if they supervise Internet use in their home. It’s no different than movies – as a parent, you have the right (and responsibility) to know what your kids are viewing, both inside and outside your home.
Dave: The Internet is a new frontier for many parents, but in reality it’s the same old temptations coming in new forms. As technology continues to evolve, educate yourself and find out what your kids are into. Don’t miss this opportunity to grow deeper in your relationship with your children and to instill godly values in them.