By Kendra Fletcher, Crosswalk.com
Before the advent of the Internet, parenting was hard. But since the Internet has woven its way into our lives, we parents have some added complicated layers that contribute to the myriad decisions we make when it comes to our kids.
If you’re the parent of a kid who’s learning to navigate life online and perhaps taking on a social media account or two, I don’t need to point this out, do I? We all seem to be living it.
I’m a parent, too, but my parenting journey began just as the World Wide Web was getting its footing (specifically, 1993). In fact, I can remember the confusing nature of going online for the first time because it was all just so weird. And what did I search for the very first time I logged on? Parenting advice.
Now, with five adult “kids”, two teens, and one tween, I can safely say that we’ve parented squarely in the age of the Internet. And oh, the lessons we’ve learned.
With kids in our home who regularly log on to YouTube for fun, search using the engine giants like Google, and sign into various social media platforms du jour, we’ve had to have many conversations about what’s appropriate to post and what is absolutely not. Our kids have made mistakes, but by and large, we haven’t had to pull the plug entirely.
Here’s what we discuss with our in-home internet users:
1. As with most things in life, the internet can be a force for both good and evil.
Keeping up with the people you love who aren’t nearby is one of the greatest things about social media. It’s the best thing in the world to talk to someone in real time across the globe, see your cousin’s new baby the day she’s born, and to reconnect with friends from summer camp, circa 2007.
It’s also amazing to have access to education and information at the click of a keyboard or home button. Currently my 12-year-old Californian son studies French with a teacher in Quebec in a live weekly class. One of his classmates lives in and participates from England. It’s the coolest thing online!
If you’re a student, you don’t have to be told how helpful it is to research everything from your laptop at a kitchen table. Personally, I don’t know how I’d write anything without my beloved online thesaurus.
And yet, the Internet can be host to all kinds of not-so-positive activity, and that’s the rub. We can’t be users of such a behemoth resource without understanding its sometimes sinister underbelly. Our kids can’t afford to post stuff about their lives without using a whole lot of discretion and caution.
They need to know this.
We need to tell our kids that while there is a lot to be gained by being online, we can also make a choice to log off when we encounter the negative flipside: cybercrime, bullying, and inappropriate sexual content. Similarly, we need to equip our kids to virtually walk away from anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or less about themselves.
We all need to be reminded from time to time that the images we see online don’t always tell the entire truth. If the things that other people post make us feel as if we don’t measure up, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves of the truth: We are made in the image of God and he gives us value and worth because he created us to be exactly who we are. We’re not missing out when we’re doing and being what God wants us to do and be!
Whose are you? What has He done for you? How deeply loved by the Creator are you, according to Him? These are some of the best things to remind ourselves when we’re starting to fear missing out, feeling bad about how we look, or assuming that based on what we see online, everyone else is surely living their best life now and we are the lamest of losers.
When we teach our kids to remind themselves that their worth and value come from the God of the universe who made them perfectly in His image, we are training them to reach out and grab hold of the gospel. I can’t think of a better thing for them to learn!
2. People are paying attention.
You’re an adult. You know that when you post something on social media, the world has access to your words. Even when we set our security boundaries to a small net of personal friends and family, we can’t use the Internet as a place where we vent thoughtlessly.
People are paying attention, and there are always ripple effects to what we write.
You may have heard how some colleges revoked the acceptances of certain students after viewing their activities on social media, but have your kids? It’s important that they understand that what they write is fair game for both school admissions and employers reviewing job applications.
As believers, we love that God has commanded us to love him and our neighbors, but it’s easy to forget that the flippant comment we might make in response to a post on Facebook is read by an actual person—the kind we are meant to love by way of dishing out dignity and respect rather than snark and vitriol. This, too, is something our kids need to be told. “Love your neighbor as yourself” extends to the words we write hastily in response to a political rant on Twitter.
We’ve all seen it: two church members battling it out on social media for all the world to watch. Maybe we’ve even all done it. But as we look to Christ as our redeemer and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we must ask for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, even when we’re trying to communicate our beliefs online. Maybe even especially then.
When the world sees Christians taking up arms against each other without the fruit of the Spirt to temper our conversation, they don’t see the Savior whose beauty changes our ugly sin. They just see our ugly sin. While we aren’t saved by our behavior and we certainly will make mistakes, we have to ask ourselves if we are looking to Jesus in these moments, or trying to prove a point, regardless of the potential fallout.
Discretion really is the better part of valor, and our humble response to someone with whom we disagree can speak volumes more than our well-crafted argument. It’s a good idea to ask ourselves when in the midst of an online debate, “Am I trying to exalt Christ, or myself?” And we need to be teaching our kids this habit, too.
3. Some things last forever.
Some things, as in all the stuff on the Internet. If you aren’t aware, there are sites that track it all, and we can’t really be sure that the things we wrote ten years ago won’t be dredged up and used against us. Kids might not be the most forward-thinking people on the planet, but we as parents can fill them in on the myriad examples of people who have had their past comments and Internet activity come back to bite them, from professional athletes to politicians to the regular mom next door.
As we move forward in a hyper-connected world, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to inform our kids of the risks they take online. At the very least, we can rest assured that they are equipped to make the best decisions as they navigate the ins and outs of life on the Web.
Kendra Fletcher is a mother of eight, speaker, author, and podcaster. Kendra and husband Fletch produce the popular HomeschoolingIRL podcast (HomeschoolingIRL.com). She also blogs at PreschoolersandPeace.com and KendraFletcher.com. The Fletchers reside in Central California, where they've homeschooled for 19 years, make pizzas in a brick oven, and play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Annie Spratt