At any given moment, millions of youths are online … whether at home, at school, at a friend’s house, or, if they have Internet access on a handheld device or cell phone, almost anywhere. Parents are faced with a sobering reality: Our children are probably more comfortable in this new cyberworld than we are, and they may even know how to keep us in the dark about their online activities.
What Parents Can Do
As a parent, which situation would make you more nervous … knowing that your son or daughter had the keys to the family car or knowing that he or she had unrestricted access to the Internet? Both activities involve a measure of danger. And both require a level of responsibility. Parents cannot forever restrict their children from operating a vehicle, but they can make sure that their children are taught to drive safely. Many parents take a similar approach to use of the Internet. The following Bible principles will help.
“Everyone shrewd will act with knowledge.” (Proverbs 13:16) Parents whose children have Internet access need to have a basic understanding of how the Internet works and what their children are doing when instant messaging, browsing Web pages, or engaging in other online activities. “Don’t conclude that you are too old or uneducated to learn,” says Marshay, a mother of two. “Keep up with the technology.”
“You shall put a railing around your [flat] roof, so that no one may fall from there.” (Deuteronomy 22:8, The Amplified Bible) Internet service providers and software programs may offer parental controls that act as “railings” to block inappropriate pop-ups and access to harmful sites. Some programs can even help prevent children from revealing personal information, such as their name or address. It should be realized, however, that such parental controls are not foolproof. Also, many older children who are computer literate learn how to bypass them.
“One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) A study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly 1 in 5 youths between the ages of 9 and 19 had Internet access in their bedroom. Having the computer in a busy area helps parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing online and may encourage the children to avoid undesirable sites.
“Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” (Ephesians 5:15, 16) Decide when children can use the Internet, the length of time they can be online, and the type of sites they can and cannot visit. Discuss your guidelines with your children, and make sure that they understand them.
Of course, you cannot monitor your children when they are outside the home. It is important, therefore, to instill proper values in your children so that they will make wise decisions when they are not in your presence. Spell out clearly what the consequences will be if your rules regarding the Internet are broken. Then enforce those rules.
“[A good mother] is watching over the goings-on of her household.” (Proverbs 31:27) Monitor your children’s use of the Internet, and let them know that you will be doing so. This is not an invasion of privacy. Remember, the Internet is a public forum. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States recommends that parents maintain access to their children’s online accounts and randomly check their e-mail and the Web sites that they have visited.
“Thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things.” (Proverbs 2:11, 12) Monitoring and tracking will go only so far. The values you teach—and the example you set—will go much further in protecting your children. So take time to discuss with your children what can happen on the Internet. An open line of communication with your children is your best defense against online dangers.
You Can Protect Your Children
Protecting your children from online dangers takes effort, and electronic access to media is constantly changing. New technologies may bring unique advantages and unprecedented risks to children. How can parents prepare their children for future dangers? “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection,” says the Bible.—Ecclesiastes 7:12.
Help your children to become wise. Also help them to understand how to avoid online dangers and use the Internet responsibly. Thus, the Internet can be a tool that will not threaten the safety of your children.