The public service announcement of yesteryear was, ‘It’s 10 PM, Do You Know Where Your Children Are?’ Our concerns are a little different today. Maybe something like, ‘It’s Another Day, Do You Know What Your Children Are Doing Online?’ As a family we had our heels firmly in the ground as the pull of the digital toys began to reach towards us. Our oldest daughter was beginning Junior High and we had managed to duck and dodge the issue for a long time. Although the majority of her peers were already fully equipped with a plethora of digital devices, we felt like we were nestled deeply in our storm shelter fully protected from the outside world.
The first hint of some required change came with the Junior High orientation we attended. There we began to hear how deeply the digital change had taken root in our suburban culture. They told us their textbooks were digital, their assignments would be digital, and even a significant amount of the in-class work would be digital. The first day of school confirmed all of this to be true. We had to make a change in our approach. She acquired an iPod Touch.
As the school year has now come to a close, we have found all of the initial ideas were true. She needed to get online to access her textbooks, she regularly had classroom assignments that required internet searching, and she was also required to watch YouTube videos necessary to complete assignments. The entrance of that device into our home has probably changed our parenting more than any other reality we have experienced.
Although not as savvy as some, as parents we knew the power of that device. I strongly believe this is one of the greatest delusions amidst our culture. As parents we believe our kids are good kids and they make good choices. We think they are safe under our supervision within our home or they are safely enjoying time at a friend’s house who has very nice parents with whom you have spoken on multiple occasions. We have bought into a lie that these ideas equate to protection and safety for our children because many of us grew up in a day where that was, in fact, the case.
What if it was possible for more bullying, more sexually inappropriate activity, more abusive behavior and relationships to happen in the quiet confines of your home? If you think that I am trying to scare you here then you might be catching on a bit. Honestly, I would prefer to call it a reality check for us as parents. Literally everything our WORLD has to offer is at the fingertips of those with the internet in their hands. It is not only the reality of what they may find, but the delusion of digital anonymity facilitates some really heart-breaking realities.
I know you have the best and most trustworthy children our world has ever known. Still, PLEASE love them well through just a few very practical actions.
- Deconstruct your personal delusions. Understand that this has nothing to do with how good or bad your child might be, but rather about availability and influence which is flooding into their hands.
- Debunk the myth of anonymity. Teach your children through regular conversations that their actions online are just as important as their face-to-face actions and language everyday.
- Daily desire to love your child through digital teachable moments. Create a regular and daily routine of looking over social media activity, messaging, and internet activity.
- Make your participation in their digital activity normal and expected. As a parent, interact with them and their social media. Let their friends know that you are involved in your child’s life through these digital mediums.
These four ideas have become practical routines in our home. Our daughter’s only social media participation is Instagram and we follow and monitor her participation daily. We review her messaging and her email (something else required by the school) is always auto-copied to us. Does this make us over-protective or untrusting of our daughter? Absolutely not. We love and celebrate her 12 year-old naivety and know how vigorously our world is battling to strip that away from her. The conversations that have happened with her through us loving her in this intentional manner have been a great source of spiritual growth and discipleship. They provide a flood of teachable moments in which we are able to walk through as she, even at the age of 12, journeys through the great joys of gospel transformation.
We are only at the tip of the iceberg as our daughter is quickly approaching 7th grade. I should also affirm that strategies do have to be different between a 7th grader and a 12th grader. Maybe some of you have walked further down this path and have found some things that would be helpful for others to hear. I would love to hear your thoughts, stories, and questions!
Matt Powell serves as teaching pastor at Crossings Community Church, a body of believers whose mission is to engage, equip, and empower homes for gospel transformation in Katy, TX.