The online risks for your kids

Willie Robertson, CEO of Duck Commander and star of the hit show, “Duck Dynasty”, once said about parenting, “Parenting is a constant struggle between making your kids’ life better and ruining your own.” Who can’t relate to this statement in some way? One advantage is when we have examples to look at. Our parents are often used as templates in our own parenting. We can look at what they did, and do things similarly… Sometimes we know we want to do the complete opposite.  But how about when we approach an area that our parents didn’t have to deal with – like the Internet. With the introduction of all things “online” our society is encroaching on many unknown territories. Never before have we been so easily connected around the world (and disconnected from the people in our own homes).  Needless to say, parents are facing issues that have never, in the history of humankind, been dealt with. We are seeing problems on a regular basis that stem from Internet usage by teens and pre-teens, and many parents are not even aware of the issues.

It’s important to remember that no matter how trustworthy your children are, there are people online who are not

One problem is “cyberbullying”. Cyberbullying defined is “Any targeted threat of offensive behavior done on the Internet.” This can be exhibited a number of different ways. It can appear in form of manipulation, putdowns or multiple people “ganging up” on another. Whatever the appearance, cyberbullying has the same effect as other bullying:  belittles, shames, and communicates deficiency in the victim when it isn’t needed. Eventually, kids often believe the lies being fed to them, they internalize these lies, making them a part of their identity.

Another problem is “online predators”. Typically, victims of online predation are girls age 13-15. There are adults who pretend to be youth to attract children.  Unfortunately, in most situations, that is not the case. Most of the time, the victim knows they are interacting with an adult who often has even been truthful about their age and their sexual intentions! The victim is often longing for acceptance, willing to  take the path of least resistance – even if that means a sexual encounter with a person twice their age.

It is no secret that pornography is readily available to men, women, teenagers, and children alike. The question is, how as parents, do we handle this availability? According to a study by David Finkelhor, 79% of unwanted online exposure to sexual material happens in the home. Awareness, conversation, filters, are necessary!

While gaming is not an inherently bad thing, there do need to be parameters. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides an amazing resource to parents through their website, www.esrb.org. On their website, you can look up almost any game that has been published, and check the rating as well as game content. Even better, play the games with them!  Watch the games.  If they don’t want you to see the games, or hear the conversations going on, take that as a sign!

And perhaps one of the most frightening, Sexting, has become a problem in our schools… ALL schools. Sexting is the sending and receiving of messages with sexual content via mobile devices.  Teenagers are typically not aware of the potential consequences, and they can be serious. Obviously, there is the embarrassment unintended people seeing the text, but also the very real possibility of being charged with distribution of child pornography.

Steps to protecting your kids on the internet

So with all of these dangerous scenarios that can play out with your child, what can parents do? Obviously, taking the power cord away is an option (and needs to be an option). However, this extreme option can create some unnecessary issues too.  So, setting clear boundaries is by far the best option when it comes to teens and internet access. Here are a few solid guidelines to implement in your home:

  1. Keep ALL computer systems in a public areas of the house. This includes laptops, tablets, and gaming systems.  Keep them out of the bedrooms.  There are many other good reasons for this, but accountability is enough.  Remember, if they have no accountability on the smart phone in their pocket, keeping the laptop or XBox in the living room doesn’t really solve anything.
  2. Know ALL usernames and passwords. Not kidding.  There should be NO social networking site, gaming system, or chat that you, as the parent, do not have total access to.
  3. Set time limits on Internet usage. Sometimes it’s easy for kids (or adults for that matter!) to lose track of time when online or gaming. This is also a good idea for smart phones.
  4. Set up your own accounts. If your child has a Facebook account, so should you. If your child is chatting, so should you. This helps you to understand the lingo, as well as what it is like to interact with people in the same way your child is. This will go a long way in helping with communication about these sites.
  5. KNOW YOUR KIDS! Know who they are interacting with. Ask questions.
  6. Reinforce their identity and speak truth into their life. It’s them against the destructive aspects of the World, and that World does not have their best interest in mind. It is your job as parent to be a source of truth, and battle the lies being fed to them from every direction.
  7. Remind your teens that internet usage is a privilege, not a birth right. It needs to be earned and maintained… and can be easily taken as a consequence.

If you or someone you know has a teenager struggling with one or more of the above situations, there is hope and there is help. There are many qualified and ready counselors in the Tyler area that are eager to help you. Our office is staffed with the highest quality of counselors and we would love to help you navigate through the difficulties of raising your child.

There is more detail and ideas on this topic at http://chrismlegg.com/2013/02/20/the-family-internet-you-cannot-be-ignorant-part-i/