Parenting in a Digital world – part 3

In our first two posts we discussed how technology needs to be redeemed for purposes that glorify God.  This is hard today because the content available to us at all times has never been seen before in the history of the world.  Technology is also a great way to check the hearts of our children.  How they use it and what they do with it shows us if they truly are loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, or if there are other idols that are taking root in their lives.

As a dad, realizing that I live in this crazy, ultra-connected world, I’m left wondering many times,”what do I do?”  I just want some clear-cut answers on these things.  My 10-year-old wants an iPod touch.  Is he too young?  At what age do you get your child a cell phone?  Probably the biggest question I struggle with is “How do I protect him from sin, while preparing him to want to live like Jesus?”  I think that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 10:16, when he was sending out the 70, he said that he was sending them out as “sheep among wolves” and that they were to be “as wise as serpents and innocent as doves”.  That’s the challenge we have today as parents.  We need to be preparing our children to be wise towards the schemes and temptations of the world, while protecting their hearts to not be tainted and scarred by sin.

I used the house with a 1000 windows analogy last time to describe the difficulty in controlling the content our children are exposed to.  Parents who are not actively monitoring their children when it comes to their technology usage are basically leaving windows unlocked and unchecked.  We wouldn’t do that in our real homes, so why don’t we do it when it comes our child’s virtual safety.  Kids that grow up with no restrictions and no accountability over the content they consume through media and the internet are inviting predators of all kinds into their life.  As parents, we have never had to be more vigilant.  To live in a home with no online accountability and standards is akin to giving a 13-year-old a bottle of vodka and .45 magnum.  Someone is going to get hurt and there will be devastating consequences.  I know the statistics are constantly changing on this, but the reality is that the age that children are first being exposed to pornography is younger and younger.  We need to guard the innocence of our children, while at the same time teaching them the value of loving Christ and being aware of the dangers of this world.

So how do we protect while preparing them?  Here’s a few suggestions that I’ve learned from wise parents that I’ve seen.

1. Mom and Dad are in charge.  This may seem a little too basic, but in today’s world you can’t take this for granted.  The reality is that you, mom and dad, are the God-ordained leader of the home.  God gave you the responsibility to lead your home in grace and truth.  Some great passages in Scripture that deal with a parent’s responsibilities in the home are Deuteronomy 6; 1 Samuel 3:13; Psalm 106; The book of Proverbs (especially 23:13-14); Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21; and 1 Timothy 3:4-5.  This is a basic sample, but you should start there.  This essentially means that you make the rules.  You set the guidelines.  If your kid wants a cell phone, but you don’t think that they are ready, then be the leader and learn to say no.  Moms and Dads that care more about being liked than respected will allow their children to set the standards in the home.  Saying no to a 12-17 year old may be a huge battle that you don’t feel like dealing with at the time, but you or your children will never regret that decision later on in life.  I thank God that my parents were okay with being very uncool in some of the standards they had for me and my siblings.  I didn’t make the same stupid decisions that many of my friends made, simply because I couldn’t make them.  If you see your kids getting to addicted to Facebook or the Xbox, or if you see that the content of their media choices are getting a little sketchy, step up, pull them back and set the standard of righteousness in your home.

At the same time, parents must lead through the gospel.  Hard standards without a grace-filled, loving relationship will lead to rebellion.  Do you love your children like Jesus loves us?  Are your words of encouragement only when your children perform correctly, or do they sense and know that you love them, even when they mess up?  Leading your home doesn’t just mean having a strict law in place.  Live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead like Jesus, and when you set the standards for your home, you’ll find that even if there is disagreement, there will be respect and honor.

2. Have content filters and accountability in place.  Every door and window in your house has a lock.  It’s a given.  We have locks in place because there are bad people out there.  We all have to realize that there are bad people out in the virtual world as well.  Put the virtual locks on the windows and doors on your child’s iPod, pc, cell phone, Xbox, Facebook, and 3DS.  There are great filters that you can set for your entire home Wi-Fi network.  One that parents have suggested for me, that has been recommended by the AFA and Focus on the Family is Bsecure (www.bsecure.com).  It puts a block on explicit content, guards against cyber-bullying, and provides the accountability that parents need.  Another great resource is X3watch.com.  You can put that on any iPod, tablet or pc to know exactly what sites that your son or daughter are visiting that may be questionable.  Also, if your son or daughter has a smart phone, you can set the content filter through your cell phone provider on what they can receive and send.  I know that Verizon has these kinds of options which are important for us to know.  The reality is that our kids don’t have to be exposed to things if we are guarding the gate.  If your son or daughter has any kind of technological device, get the content filtering software and accountability software on it now.

Another small way to protect your child from content that may be harmful is keeping personal computers and televisions out of the bedroom and in public areas in your home.  Your child needs way less privacy than they think they deserve.  By keeping these devices in public areas, you are limiting the amount of temptation they have to deal with.  Remember, as their parent, there isn’t a relationship or activity that you shouldn’t be aware of (see point #1).

3. Ask tough questions.  I think this is probably the hardest thing for parents to do.  We all want to think that our kids are more mature than they are, but if we truly want to have the hearts of our children, then we need to ask the heart type of questions.  For example, ask them how they are growing in their relationship with Christ or what has God been teaching them lately.  If they look at you with a blank stare, then their faith is stagnant.  If you find out that your son or daughter has been doing or saying things online that don’t reflect the heart of Christ, confront them in a spirit of love.  Sometimes the biggest issue is not what they are doing, but how much time they are putting into things like Facebook, gaming, or other online activities.  If there is an exorbitant amount of time spent on trivial activities, then there’s another idol that is bringing joy to their hearts besides Christ.  The parent who asks the tough questions is going to have the greater opportunity to speak grace and truth into a child’s heart.

I was going to conclude this discussion with this post, but there’s a few more points I’d like to share with you before I finish.  Let’s start to take control of our homes and ask God for wisdom how we can shepherd the hearts of our children.

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