Wow! What a strange year this has been! Because of Covid-19, our world has been turned upside down in many ways. As I’ve written to you before, however, one blessing in disguise for us parents has been the opportunity to spend more time with our kids and get to know them and love them better.
One of the ways a lot of our children have been spending more time in recent months is online and in social media, and that’s a part of our world that comes with a multitude of caution flags. That’s the reality I want to address here, because so much is at stake.
For sure there are many good things available online for our kids—teaching and books and games and child-friendly movies and great Christian music and connections with friends whom they’re not allowed to see face-to-face these days. But at the same time, an effective mom or dad is not blind to the dangers that proliferate the online world. Parents and grandparents have to be more diligent than ever to protect our kids’ hearts and minds.
I devoted several new chapters to this subject in the revised and updated edition of my book Pure Excitement for ages 13 and up. It is down to earth and realistic to the world teenagers are in. You and your teens can order it on Amazon or with a giant discount on our Kanakuk website by clicking here.
The book is to forewarn teens and inform parents of some of the pitfalls that loom in the headlights. But let me offer some guidelines here.
Begin by reminding your children that our goal in all things is to honor God: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). A corresponding verse is this: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” (Psalm 101:3).
Also, a continual conversation with our kids about the dangers as well as the benefits of electronic usage is a never-ending requirement. Let them know why you’re concerned. Explain the dangers of porn and predators and social media that tend to tear down self-esteem, facilitate bullying, create addiction, and even kidnapping. This should be an ongoing dialogue!
The basic principle for effective parenting is the familiar truth that rules without relationship equal rebellion. So, keep the relationship strong—remind your children every day that you love them unconditionally. Quantity time finds quality time! Kids spell love T-I-M-E. Remind them that you love them too much to just stand by and see them be hurt unnecessarily. Explain, listen, make the rules together as often as possible. But you are in charge! Make your rules and create your boundaries. Children build security under the guidance of parents who make the guidelines and discipline crystal clear and stick by them!
Speaking of rules, the first of those should be a limit on daily screen time, and no screens in the bedroom ever or for sure after bedtime. Extended screen time affects the way kids think and learn and creates emotional instability. Studies show that kids who have unbridled use of their phones are deprived of sleep, stressed, anxious, pornographically addicted, and much more likely to be suicidal. Children of all ages need to talk face-to-face, read actual books, go outside and play, do puzzles and games, do their household chores, and spend quality time with their parents.
It almost goes without saying that your family should use filtering software and parental controls to help protect your children from harmful websites, including all porn sites. “Covenant Eyes,” “Safe Eyes,” “Life360” and parental controlled passwords are great filter options. I prefer Covenant Eyes. It is a carefully filtered browser that provides regular accountability with a parent. A very wise man was asked, “What’s the best age to give your child a smartphone?” The man responded, “Whenever you want them to start using porn.”
If you don’t install Covenant Eyes, you better check your child’s browser history regularly, and follow what they do in social media. You’re the parent; it’s your right and your duty to protect an immature child from him or herself. And if you’re paying for the device and/or the WiFi and Internet connection, which I assume you are, then as the owner you have even more right to monitor what’s done on the computer, smartphone, or pad device.
Over time, as your children mature and demonstrate – through your monitoring – that they are indeed trustworthy and wise in their screen usage, you can give more freedom.
The time will come, of course, when your children are on their own and making their own decisions about screen and media usage without you. Start now to prepare them to handle those decisions wisely. Teach them the dangers, introduce them to the good stuff, make smart rules together, and loosen the controls gradually as your kids mature and earn your trust. And always, talk, talk, talk with them about the what, why, and how of God-honoring media usage. It troubles me that almost all male college students are addicted to porn.
Building stable kids is hard work. Over 50 years of working closely with parents and kids tells me that steadfastness and integrity and biblically thinking children is still possible and enjoyable but it requires steady, consistent parenting. It’s never too late to start. It’s never too early to quit.
Together for the kids,
P.S. My mentor, Jack Herschend says, “Everyone needs more clapping and less criticism.”