The Ultimate Guide to Protecting Your Kids Online

The Ultimate Guide to Protecting Your Kids Online

The world has changed a lot since I was a kid back in the ’80s. My growing up years were spent either outdoors, my head buried in a book, or stretching the phone cord as far away from my parents as possible so I could have a private conversation. I even had to get off the couch to manually change the channel. We only got five channels that came in through our foil covered “bunny ears” and it required a true art form of precision to make the stations come in clearly.

Technology has evolved beyond anything we would have imagined. Accessibility is at an all-time high and screen time for kids has skyrocketed. With accessibility, comes responsibility, and as a parent, setting clear boundaries for kids is already hard enough. But add in technology, social media, and the devices our kids so desperately think they need, and it’s total chaos!

The internet can be an amazing resource but did you know:

  • Internet crime is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., and children are the fastest growing victim pool
  • In the U.S., 95% of schools are now connected to the Internet
  • Over 45 million children ages 10 through 17 use the Internet. Among them:
    • One in five has been sexually solicited
    • One in four has encountered unwanted pornography
  • Close to 60% of teens have received an e-mail or instant message from a stranger and half have communicated back
  • Over 75% of Internet crimes involving sexual solicitations of children and exposure to unwanted pornography is not reported to police or parents

So, how do you navigate this world of technology and social media to set clear limits and reasonable boundaries to protect kids online?

Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It is the parent’s responsibility to teach children and shape them in their character.
I sometimes wonder if my kids are even listening to me, but this verse promises that when they get old they will remember what I’ve taught them, and that brings me hope!

Here are a few things you can do to help kids succeed in this technology-driven world:

Step #1 Be Aware of Your Kid’s Social World

Treat media as you would any other area of your child’s life. Know who their friends are on and offline. Know what apps they are using and check their browsing history. Media use should fit into the parameters of Biblical guidelines and your family values.

A lot of parents require their kids to share their passwords and device access with them. This isn’t to invade privacy, but rather to ensure safety and protection from those who may not have your child’s best interests in mind.

Invite your kids to share with you their experiences online. Wouldn’t you want to know if a random stranger started messaging your child? Start by letting them know that you care and they can come to you knowing that you won’t be mad but that you will help them navigate these hard situations. As the parent, you get to set the standards of how aware you are of their friends and interactions.

Step #2 Prioritize Playtime AWAY From Technology

If you are anything like me, you must be tired of seeing kids walk around with their faces buried in their devices. There is no substitute for imaginative, interactive playtime. Verbal, face-to-face communication and “talk time” is crucial not only for brain and language development but also for social development.
Kids need to know how to carry on a personal conversation, and what better place for them to learn that than in the home?

Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, says that “too much screen time too early is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster in their children.” Science has determined that too much screen time can significantly harm a child’s focus, ability to concentrate, interpersonal skills and vocabulary.

That some serious stuff! And we have to treat it as such.

Step #3 Become a Good Role Model

This next step is all about you, moms and dads.

Being a good role model for your kids when it comes to the use of technology is a vital part of the process of growth. Statistics show that there’s a good chance your use of electronics could be harming your relationship with your child.

A 2015 survey by AV Technologies states that 1/3 of children reported feeling unimportant when their parents looked at their smartphones during dinner or when playing together.

The solution: Do a digital detox. Put the phones away during meals and family time.

The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch is an excellent resource we have turned to as a family. He says, “We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.” We are meant to work, but we are meant to rest. Even God gave us the example of rest when on the seventh day of creation He rested.

Step #4 Protect Kid’s Online

Do you realize how dangerous the internet is? Literally, every kind of evil in the world is a click or search away from your kid’s curiosity. If you aren’t aware of this reality, I seriously hope that changes now.

I have a friend who’s child recently searched an innocent word on Google and was exposed to pornography!

Have you taken the steps to prevent this from becoming your reality? An internet filter for kids on home and personal devices is a great first step to protecting your child.

There are a lot of different parental control software programs on the market. NetNanny, HomeGuard, and Covenant Eyes are just to name a few. These internet filters for kids allow parents to limit or remove access to online content and games, shield children from inappropriate contacts or advances, monitor and record all computer activity, alert dangerous behavior, receive danger alerts by text or email, and place restrictions on sharing personal information.

Step #5 Set Social Media and Device Usage Times/Limits

Being aware of a children’s social safety is critical, but equally important is their physical and emotional safety. In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center used an MRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a social media app. When teens learned that their own pictures had received a lot of “likes”, they showed significantly greater activation in parts of the brain’s reward circuitry.

This, in turn, becomes an addiction. The pleasure sensors in the brain that are meant to fire when we see someone we love, view a beautiful sunrise or enjoy a delicious meal become weakened with the constant sense of “pleasure” that comes with media addiction. The results are devastating and life is so much duller!

Excessive use of devices sometimes leads to behavior and attention difficulties. Obesity is another health concern from leading a sedentary lifestyle. The light emitted from screens interfere with the sleep cycle in the brain and can lead to insomnia. The list goes on and on.

The New Technology Age Is Upon Us: How Will You Respond?

Gone are the days of corded phones and foil covered “bunny ears”. Modern technology is not going away. In fact, it is going to evolve even further. As a parent, you have the privilege to teach your children the proper use of the devices you have allowed them to use. Andy Crouch ends his book with this statement:

we are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life…we are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us.

Take some time this week to spend quality family time together playing, talking, laughing, and interacting. By doing this you are teaching the value of interpersonal, face-to-face relationships, and developing a character model that “when they are old they will not depart from it.

Eric Peterman
Eric Peterman