It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc. Before I explain the reasons why I believe this, I want to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not a Luddite. I'm not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. Indeed, I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I'm profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of iPhones, iPads, and computers. It's wonderful to be able to stay in touch with family and friends around the world through FaceTime and Skype, as well as through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and, we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:
Internet Pornography. Internet porn is a pandemic of massive proportions. The statistics related to this wicked industry are staggering (see http://www.covenanteyes.com). The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. One in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with a porn addiction.
These statistics do not bode well for our youth. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 year olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention.
Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Having served in youth ministry for over ten years, there was always a steady stream of students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been regularly looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems.
For most the problem begins in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and immature. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and their attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are natural and good. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert these desires. Satan has come to "steal, kill, and destroy" (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing so through the porn industry.
To allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online-- and the consequences will be long-term. Therefore, any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting profoundly foolish.
Ungodly Relationships. The world of social media and mobile connectivity is also causing significant issues among our youth. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. One friend shared with me that their seventh grade granddaughter had sent and received over 10,000 texts in a couple of weeks-- partly because she was texting half the night with her friends. Her parents weren't too happy with the over-usage fees that appeared on their monthly bill!
Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media sites would be off-limits if parents actually knew what was being seen and said. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children if we are ignorant of the substance of their relationships? God's Word teaches us that "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability and oversight, then we are being unwise at best.
There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody's doing it and we shouldn't make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn't be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the word of God and the spiritual health of our children.
Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:
Password Protect/Block Internet Access. Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected! This includes devices that a friend or neighbor may bring into your home. Make sure that you change your device passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers, and the search engine for Instagram contains a cesspool of filth). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.
Strict Oversight/Social Media. How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child's room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of personal pictures? How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? That's essentially what's happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child's time on social media, especially in the early tween and teen years. Apps like Facebook and Instagram can be fun, but you need to set down clear rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. Also, please be aware that apps like Snapchat are almost impossible for parents to monitor, since images that are sent disappear almost immediately. It is easy to see how Snapchat has become a primary means of sexting among teens. I would recommend that it be deleted from our children's phones.
Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they go. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent, firm, and loving oversight.
I realize that I have only scratched the surface of this important subject. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play soccer next to the freeway during rush hour. It's absolutely foolish, plain and simple. If ever we needed to be wise and courageous in our parenting, it is now.