Parenting: Q & A with Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie—Protecting Kids Online
Q & A with Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie
It’s a different world than the one I grew up in. I can barely figure out emails let alone everything else online. I am afraid of all that I don’t know. You hear of kids being exploited by predators. How can we protect our kids from the dangers of the Internet?
Dave: Well you’re right, the world has certainly changed in the past ten years, and the whole element of the Internet has added complexities that parents have never had to deal with before. It’s a digital generation. Your kids are growing up with the Internet as norm just like you would think of the telephone from your childhood. But our approach to the Internet should grow out of our overall parenting plan – it’s not divorced from other issues that parents face.
Donalyn: That’s right. Your kids’ attitude toward the Internet is very much tied to the truth they have in their lives and the coaching they have received from you. They get a lot of instruction from you; their level of trust in others, their standards of right and wrong, their perspectives on dating and relationships, the qualities they are looking for in a future spouse, their commitment to preserve themselves for marriage, and their approach towards sexual temptation and pornography of all kinds. So rather than dealing with the Internet as a separate issue, you can discuss it in the context of training your children in these and other areas.
Dave: It’s helpful to start this training before it ever becomes an issue. Prepare your pre-teens for the issues that they are going to face, remembering that kids are becoming technologically savvy at an increasingly early age. Start by setting a good example as parents – you need to live out what you expect of them. Openly discuss your beliefs and standards of right and wrong, purity and respect, and then specifically talk about the dangers of the internet: things like not trusting everything that they read, looking for sources and for second opinions, and never giving out their name, phone number and address without parental approval. Take the initiative to instruct them – don’t just let their school do it, or worse, allow them to discover it on their own. This is an opportunity to open up discussion on some critical life issues.
Donalyn: On a very practical level, there are things you can do to protect your family as well as to set boundaries around your kids’ Internet use. Invest in Net Nanny or another Internet filter that blocks out objectionable content.
Dave: Another good suggestion is to look in the website history of your computer to see what sites your kids are visiting. Be sure you know how to use this feature. We found that one of our young teen’s friends was using our computer to visit porn sites. Nice…
Donalyn: It is wise to keep your computer in an open, central location where the children can’t be alone with it so you can monitor what they are viewing online. Your presence brings accountability even if you are in the next room. We didn’t do this when our kids were younger, and we had a number of incidents as a result like the one Dave referred to.
Dave: I’d suggest you publish your family rules on Internet use. These guidelines should be posted where all can see and all those old enough to use the computer should have an understanding about their meaning.
Donalyn: This does two good things: one, you and your spouse will have to agree on the guidelines as to what you think is wise and acceptable about computer use. Further, once published, even your kids’ friends can see and understand the rules of the house. Make sure your kids know that rules for them are the same when they are at their friend’s house too.
Dave: You should also set limits on the amount of time your kids can spend on the Internet, and how late they can be on it. Treat the computer like the telephone, especially with teens. Most of them have gone to online communication like MSN or instant messaging to do half their talking. Speaking of which, it would also be wise to institute a “No MSN” rule while doing homework until they are well into Senior High and clearly showing responsible study habits – the night can slip away quickly when they are “chatting” with their friends! This is likely the same for texting if you have older kids.
Donalyn: You may need to emphasize different aspects depending on whether you have boys or girls. Talk specifically to your pre-teen boys about online porn. Girls tend to gravitate toward more relational temptations, so warn them about the risks of chat rooms, online predators and dating profile sign-ups. We think it’s important to have access to your preteens online social network so you can monitor their interaction. Be their friend on Facebook or whatever they are into.
Dave: That’s right. Our youngest daughter stepped into the danger zone when she was 12 years old. She was at a sleepover at a friends’, they stayed up late, and they got into a dating profile matchmaking online service. Her friend made up a fictional profile in her name – age 17, etc. – and decided later to leave her contact info as a joke on our daughter. We got a phone call from a 30-year-old man wanting to talk to our preteen. The same kinds of things are happening online all the time. It was a scary experience for us as parents, and it showed us that we needed to do some further educating.
Donalyn: And that leads to another point. A lot of time the trouble comes when your kids are at their friends’ house, out of your sight. As said, you need to confirm with them that your computer guidelines apply while they are at their friends’. You may want to ask parents of their friends if they supervise Internet use in their home. It’s no different than movies – as a parent, you have the right (and responsibility) to know what your kids are viewing, both inside and outside your home.
Dave: The Internet is a new frontier for many parents, but in reality, it’s the same old temptations coming in new forms. As technology continues to evolve, educate yourself and find out what your kids are into. Don’t miss this opportunity to grow deeper in your relationship with your children and to instill godly values in them.
© Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie – September 2010