Summer was the time we often got in trouble outside…Today, there’s plenty of trouble that kids are getting into inside…and online.
I recently heard about a pastor’s wife near St. Louis who discovered that her good-natured son had been contacted by a stranger while playing an online game. The stranger spouted some filthy language and then asked the boy his name, where he lived and where he went to school.
As a father of three girls, I find this story upsetting, but not surprising. Children today have unprecedented access online to both helpful information and downright destructive content. And with school out, kids have even more time on their hands and often, less adult supervision than during the school year.
Though stranger danger certainly gets our attention, there are other many other common hazards online—especially pornography. Research has found that 62 percent of girls and 93 percent of boys will be exposed to it before their 18th birthday. Or as Josh McDowell often says, the question is not if our kids will see pornography, but when.
Dr. Jill Manning found that such exposure can harm kids by creating lasting negative or traumatic emotional responses; can lead to earlier onset of first sexual intercourse, which also increases the risk of STD’s; and it reinforces the commodification of sex and the objectification of others, and it encourages the belief that being marriage or having a family are unattractive prospects; and increases the risk for developing sexual compulsions and addictive behavior.
And access to harmful content has never been easier. Parents, it’s not just laptops. It’s smart-phones, portable game devices, PlayStations, DVD players, smart TVs, and tablets. So what’s a parent to do?
The good news is that many of these dangers can be mitigated with vigilance and a good plan. The most important thing is to know what your kids are doing online, and to have open conversations with them about their online behavior. And parents, we can and we must set clear expectations about what is and what is not allowed on mobile and gaming devices. More than that, parents should have a family Internet use policy that spells out the consequences of misuse ahead of time.
And, parents need to speak plainly to their kids about some of the less savory elements that can be found online. Of course, it requires discernment to know how much detail to share. But every child does need a vision of the good, and the true and the beautiful when it comes to sex, which I believe is an ongoing conversation we must have with our kids throughout life.
For too many kids today, their parents’ silence on this has the effect of making everything they’re exposed to seem normal. It’s not.
And finally, kids need a plan of what to do should they encounter something troubling online. Think this through with them beforehand… let them know it is okay to talk to you if they have encountered something. While it’s true that some kids are looking for sexual content, more often than not, this content comes looking for them. Pornographers intentionally place this filth in online sites that are frequented by children.
It’s not enough to think your children will never go looking for it. At some point, exposure will happen. Assure them that you understand the temptation and are there to help them when it does.
And I cannot emphasize this enough, most if not all Internet-accessible devices have parental controls that can help guide and limit what your children have access to. Use these controls—as one of my friends once said, “geography has a lot to do with purity.”
I encourage parents to visit the manufacturer’s website of every device their children use and learn more about these important safeguards. And no home should be without Internet filters.
Of course, our kids don’t always like the restrictions. But they don’t always like their vegetables either. Their good has to take precedent over their likes.
And above all, remember you’re not alone.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.