What would our lives be like without the internet? There are some amazing benefits to being able to communicate in real-time, stay connected with people all over the world and be informed about current events. The negatives can seem amplified at times because of how awful things on the internet can become, but the truth is that our lives are better because of it.
At the same time, the internet does create a different landscape for us to raise children in. When I was a kid we didn’t have a computer and didn’t know the difference. In elementary school we had an Apple IIe in certain classes where we could play educational games. It wasn’t until middle school that I learned how to type in the computer lab at school. Contrast that to today where my son is in 3rd grade and already knows his way around the computer quite well. This is not a terrifying event, it is just an event that needs to be recognized.
Having said that, there is something about the internet that appeals to the deceitful side of humanity. There are hackers, phishing, pornography and viruses that people create and engage in without ever having to leave their homes. In that way, they are able to say and do things without having to actually be exposed. This leads to secrets, sin and a huge scandal when it is uncovered. This is why we need to be the ones to decide to use the internet with integrity and not let the it decide what we are going to do.
Social media is another one of those areas that is fascinating to watch. There are a plethora of ideas about how or why to use it, but it all amounts to about the same concept. We post things that we like, think, or do, with hopes of getting some sort of feedback about them. This could lead to people showing off their expensive vacations or jewelry or it could be just as simple as posting cute pictures of kids. This is also not a horrible thing, unless your easily annoyed with pictures of people’s dinners, or your entire existence is wrapped up in that online persona.
What I am concerned about is how much of an impact this is having on the younger generations. With people getting online at younger ages, it is vital that parents know what their kids are doing and are teaching their kids how to navigate the internet safely. Yet, according to a recent survey, 70% of teens say they are hiding things from their parents online . I should point out that having teens hide things from their parents is not the most shocking news of the century. It is what they are doing that has me concerned.
The article says that among the usual things teens might hide from their parents, like going to inappropriate sites online, they are also engaged in other things. The survey found that 15% of the teens surveyed said they had hacked into a social networking site at some point, 9 % have hacked into e-mail accounts, 12% have met with someone they met online face-to-face and 16% said they used their phones to cheat on tests at schools. There is also a trend to create multiple profiles in order to “get away with” things online without the parents finding out. I have noticed some students create two different online profiles, one that they let their mom see and another that they don’t. All of this secrecy does not lead to positive results.
As people who have influence on the lives of those younger than us, we have a responsibility. I think that the idea of policing everything that they do online is too short-sighted. They need more than just someone whacking their hand, they need a reason why and a method to get there.
Here are a few ideas on how we all might do a better job of this:
Model it — I think that one of the most impactful things you can do as an adult with influence on a young life is to model proper internet use. That means turn off the phone at dinner and be with the family. It also means being completely open about what you are doing online. Are you an honest person? Is who you show yourself to be who you really are?
Teach it — I am starting to teach my kids at a young age how to use the computer safely. Yes, filters and settings are important, but at the end of the day the decision is in each person’s hands. I want my kids to make a wise choice with or without a filter. Isn’t that the job of parents anyway?
Ask about it — I think this is a topic that parents need to talk about often with their kids. With more and more teens with smartphones, there is no limit to the amount of time they spend online. It scares me to think that young people are meeting strangers they have met online. Where has the sense of caution gone?
What do you think about all of this? What do you think is the best way to handle something like this? What do you do for yourself or for your kids, grandkids, youth group, in order to maintain a level of integrity online?