The internet is fascinating. It is full of almost unlimited information; recipes, home improvement tips, social media, news, movies, pictures, shopping, and more. We live in a time when technology has a tendency to take over lives – people feel the need to be connected 24/7. We have computers, tablets, and phones. Even our homeschool curriculum is on the internet! The internet can be a very powerful tool when used correctly. But are you using it correctly? Are you an internet safe family?
The internet can also be a very dangerous place, especially for children. Many parents are aware that child predators often use the internet to lure their victims. But there are many more things parents should be aware of when allowing their children to use the internet. The images, videos, and influences kids are exposed to impact how they view and react to their world. It helps shape their character and moral compass. When we give our kids unlimited and unsupervised access to the internet, it's like we are letting them loose in a candy store - they don't have the brain development or maturity to use self-control to decide what's appropriate or best.
I can't stress enough how important it is for kids to have constant adult supervision while on the internet. Our children grow up way too quickly and once they've been exposed to something negative (violence, pornography, poor attitudes, disrespectful "role models") it's too late. The stakes are too high for us not to take our children’s safety seriously. Too much screen time can lead to problems like internet addiction, increased depression and anxiety, ADHD, and behavioral issues. But it’s not just screen time that should be monitored. Where your child is spending his or her time while on the internet should be monitored as well.
"But it’s not just screen time that should be monitored. Where your child is spending his or her time while on the internet should be monitored as well."
Sounds a bit overwhelming and heavy, doesn't it? The good news? There are steps you can take to protect your child.
First and foremost, communicate with your child openly and honestly about the dangers of the internet. Educate your child about what is and is not considered appropriate content in your home. Avoiding difficult conversations isn't helpful to anyone. If we never teach our children what's appropriate, they'll never know what to avoid.
Don’t just teach your child not to share personal information – educate her on what “personal information” means. Real names, passwords, addresses, phone numbers...these are obvious types of personal information. But kids shouldn't give out the name of their school, church, city, names of family members, etc. Be proactive.
Allow use of social media only when your child meets the legal age requirements and only under adult supervision. Know who is on your child’s friends list! Know her logins and passwords and make it clear you will be checking social media on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations about inappropriate posts or pictures.
Be sure to use internet parental controls.
Only allow internet use in a common area of your home – not in bedrooms or private areas. It's more difficult to hide questionable activity when you're being held accountable.
With the help of your child, set your family rules for internet usage. Post the rules in a visible location in your home.
These should include:
Don’t share passwords with anyone but parents
Don’t respond to strangers or people you do not know (even kids)
Never meet up with anyone you have met on the internet
Never send pictures of yourself or your body to anyone, clothed or unclothed
Never post anything that would indicate the house is empty
Only accept friend requests from people you know well
Block people who are unkind or who do not adhere to your family’s internet standards
Encourage your children to tell a parent about any threatening messages received online. This is important! Your child must feel safe in communicating about his or her experiences online.
Kidshealth.org has published a list of warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator. These include:
spending long hours online, especially at night
phone calls from people you don't know
unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail
your child suddenly turning off the computer when you walk into the room
withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities
It definitely takes time and effort to protect our kids from the dangers of the internet. But would you ignore the dangers of a busy highway just because it might take effort to keep your child away from the speeding cars? Never! Parents should not assume that their children"know" the rules and will follow them. Sure, we want to believe the best in our kids but they are KIDS. They are going to push the boundaries and they are going to do things they shouldn't do. The problem with the internet is, once it's too late, it's too late and the dangers of the internet are too serious to underestimate.
Why am I so passionate about internet safety? I've worked with teens in different capacities for many years. I've spoken to countless kids who have accidentally encountered pornography on the internet. In innocence, they dig and explore pornographic content and don't realize they are at the beginning of a journey of an addiction to pornography.
My own kids were targeted in middle school by a trusted adult who was posing as a teen girl on social media. It's a very long story but I believe they were spared the trauma many of their friends endured because they did not have cell phones, I did not give them unlimited or unsupervised access to the internet, and I was like a bulldog on a bone when it came to their activity on social media.
I've seen it and I've experienced the trouble the internet can bring. Protect your children at all costs.
*You can visit fightthenewdrug.org for some great resources and tips to help fight pornography addiction.
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