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The Thrill of Hope Day 22 - Online Safety

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

I do volunteer work at a local elementary school. I went in the other day and saw a little girl sitting in the lobby; it looked as though she was waiting for someone to pick her up. I was surprised when she pulled out an iPhone and started to check something. She wasn’t playing on it and she only had it out for a minute; she was in 3rdor 4thgrade and there she was with a smart phone. This is not something I expected to see.

A few months ago I was talking with a 4thgrader I’m mentoring about life. I asked him about his patterns and his home life. He told me that he was getting beat up by neighborhood kids for not being good at Fortnite. He also talked about spending a lot of time on his tablet. I asked if his parents knew what he was watching and he said, “They never ask.” He would regularly stay up until 2 or 3am watching videos on YouTube, again with no supervision.

On a smart phone or tablet you can have all sorts of apps: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, and whatever else the cool kids are using these days. A phone or table also has access to the internet or camera with video chats. Online gaming connects friends and other players around the world. All of these things are amazing technology. We are blessed to live in a world where we can have access to all these things. The ability to capture, record, keep, and share our lives is something that has made the world a little smaller and our worldviews larger. But then great technology is mixed with those who are not mature enough to use it properly, there can be a disaster.

Children are being introduced to pornographic material a lot earlier than before mobile devices and internet. These technological advancements mean that pornography can enter into every home that has the internet. This is the reality of the world in which we live and we have to adapt to keep our kids safe. Viewing pornography at a young age can warp the minds of the next generation and give them false teachings about sex. If we are going to allow our children to be on a device that has the internet, we need to be aware enough to keep them safe.

You can find anything from borderline to blatant pornographic material just about anywhere. Unfortunately, there are many sites or images that can be found even if there are parental controls in place. Early exposure to porn creates confusion and distortions around sexuality. This is what the American College of Pediatricians has to say about the impact of pornography on children:

“Children also report feelings of disgust, shock, embarrassment, anger, fear, and sadness after viewing pornography.These children can suffer all of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. They may become obsessed with acting out adult sexual acts that they have seen, and this can be very disruptive and disturbing to the child’s peers who witness or are victimized by this behavior. Children under twelve years old who have viewed pornography are statistically more likely to sexually assault their peers. In sum, children exposed to pornographic material are at risk for a broad range of maladaptive behaviors and psychopathology.”[1]

Once exposed to pornographic material, the higher risk of mimicry and risk exposing others to what they’ve already seen. Kids can also message each other with that technology. It scares me to think about what occurs on Snapchat or FaceTime or any other video chat system. The potential for early exposure and the harm it does goes through the roof with this type of technology.

If online images and videos are not enough, online predators are using the internet to lure and exploit youth online. Online predators are not new, but their online savvy seems to outweigh intelligence of most parents. They know how to lure and expose their victims to do and see new and harmful things. Oftentimes predators will pose as kids on platforms that kids use. They usually know about the online games that kids like before the parents do. They are paying attention to seek out and exploit unsuspecting youth. Predators are good at getting information out of children and leading them into conversations that are inappropriate. Even some of the “safe” online options can be used to harm.

I am not anti-internet. I am not anti-technology either. I think it is good for our children to understand much of the technology that is here. However, I don’t think it is good to let our children “check out” with these devices unsupervised. Even into their teens we need to be checking into what they are doing online. We need to be aware and wise with our children’s online uses.

We can teach our children to never give out personal information. We can teach them not to send pictures of themselves to strangers. We can limit the time spent on the internet and have them only use it in a common room and not in private. We can also spend time surfing the internet with our children. We need to display safe and fun behavior on the internet as well as keeping them safe. Spending time with our kids doing things they enjoy will also let them know how loved they are; there are huge benefits in time spent.

If we want to be serious about helping kids stay out of the life, then we can be serious about online safety. We cannot afford to be naïve. We need to teach safety rather than assume it or put a filter on the internet. We also need to practice it and stay aware of the potential harm that can occur in a moment’s notice and without intention. This is not to scare us or cause us to live in fear, but freedom from harmful images.

We need to get good filters. We need to be in constant conversation with our children about the internet. You can even check the internet out on how to do this. Stay diligent and mindful about all the new ways that can harm our children and affect their future.

[1] Accessed 12/23/2018 at 6:55am

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