As if parents don’t have enough fears for their children . . . Have you seen the most recent viral video where Coby Persin, a 21-year-old who is famous for his YouTube stunts, gets serious? He created a Facebook account where he posed as a 15-year-old boy and “with the parents’ permission I friend requested three girls, ages 14, 13, and 12 years old,” he explains in the video.
The comments on his Facebook page are full of people encouraging him, saying this is a great awareness campaign. He’s been interviewed on over 30 TV stations, bringing attention to a deserving topic: kids and Internet safety.
After watching, my initial reaction was one of “I HAVE TO SHOW THIS TO MY KIDS RIGHT NOW. THEN WE WILL MOVE TO AN ISLAND AND HAVE NO TECHNOLOGY EVER AGAIN!”
After thinking about it more, I did an emotional 180. Great awareness campaign? Really? Parents hiding in vans, donning masks, and terrifying their children (even though they make a really stupid choice)? That doesn’t seem like it would help cement a parent-child bond. Plus, the pragmatic part of me remembered that while statistics show these incidents do happen, they are not nearly as common as this video will make you think. Statistics show that our children are actually more at risk from their parents.
Then a bigger reality hit me. My heavenly Father has never once parented me like this. If I’m supposed to bring his love to my children and model his grace and love to them, I cannot make decisions because I’m terrified and I cannot control my children by terror. Our kids won’t be motivated to obey us because we scare and berate them. (Well, we might get obedience, but we won’t get their hearts.)
So while we can’t bury our heads in the sand about the real dangers of the Internet, we need to be careful of how we present them.
Here are five things parents can do to present and monitor the potential dangers while not hiding behind a spirit of fear that leaves them unprepared for adulthood:
- Encourage your kids to ask questions and really open up a dialogue with them about the Internet.
- Computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. should always be used in a public space in your home. You can monitor them much better than when they are in their rooms with their doors closed.
- Show them these videos, if you’d like. Sometimes seeing and hearing other people say the same thing you do is more effective than having the message come from you. (Feel free, however, to let your kids know if you aren’t completely in favor of the tactics used.)
- Use safeguards like parental control apps. You can even set up parental controls on your router that will affect every device in your house, but don’t think they are foolproof. Almost all kids are far more technologically savvy than their parents. Know their passwords and review your children’s friends and followers to make sure your kids actually know them.
- Don’t be afraid to take the device away. Having a tablet, phone, or any kind of device is a privilege, not a right—no matter what your child believes. Their trustworthiness determines the extent of their freedom. Act quickly and swiftly with minor infractions to let them know you are serious. If they watch porn, agree to meet up with strangers, or cyberbully, their device gets donated to a women’s shelter.
Then, while being realistic about our parenting fears, we trust that the peace of God that transcends all human understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
What are some ways you’ve found that help you monitor your children’s Internet usage?
Linda is a writer, Bible study leader, and women’s retreat speaker. She is married to Greg, whose career in the Coast Guard took them from Alaska to Washington D.C. to California. He retired in September 2013 and they moved to Wisconsin, where they settled on 11.7 acres. As she was writing this bio, her oldest daughter piped up, “Don’t forget to tell them about your awesome daughter.” So . . . Linda has an awesome 13-year-old—and her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are pretty cool too. These formerly-city kids quickly became rural kids who tend to chickens each day and are comfortable on a tractor. Linda’s first book, Dig In! Family Devotions to Feed Your Faith (Straight Talk Books, 2014) released in Summer 2014.