“In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.” ~ Marc Andreesen, Co-founder of Netscape
Just how addicted are we to the Internet? Recent data tells us that every sixty seconds:
- 98,000 new tweets are posted
- 12,000 new ads on placed on Craigslist
- 600 new videos are uploaded to YouTube
- 370,000 people are Skyping
- 695,000 Facebook posts are posted
- 168,000,000 e-mails sent
Researchers also tell us that the average teen spends ten hours a day looking at a television, phone, tablet, or computer screen. Time Magazine conducted a fascinating poll of 5,000 people from around the world. Of that group, 84% stated they could not go a single day without their smart phones. And 80% of 18-24 year-olds sleep beside their phones like it’s a teddy bear!
It’s apparent that most of us have an addiction to the Internet and our instruments of technology. As parents, we know there are many benefits to the web, but we’re also aware of its not-so-hidden dangers. The Internet is an ocean of information, but not all the waters are safe to swim in. So with constant access and growing compulsions to be online, it’s more important than ever to establish boundaries for our kid’s Internet usage. Not only should we to prevent our children from developing an unhealthy addiction to screen time, but we also need to protect and guide them through the dangerous tides of the web.
Build the Fence
The first step toward protecting your kids and helping them develop healthy habits is to establish family rules for Internet usage. Write down the guidelines, and clearly communicate the boundaries and the consequences for breaking them. To give you a running start, some of the guidelines might be:
- No more than two hours on Facebook a day, and no inappropriate language
- Never give anyone information about yourself online
- No more than sixty texts a day. And absolutely no sexting!
- No more than two hours a day on the Internet, unless it’s for a school project
- No posting mean comments, harassing other people, or writing insulting remarks
- No Internet use after midnight
- Parents are allowed to check phones, Facebook pages, and Internet histories. We’ll try not to be snoops, but we do want make sure you’re okay.
In addition to these boundaries, keep the home computer in a public area, like the family room or kitchen. Also, put filters on your computers and smart phones. They are a great way to protect your family from getting lost in a sea of unwelcome information available on the web.
In talking with many parents, sometimes their first reaction to the problems of technology is just to turn everything off. Or they attempt to monitor their child’s every move on their computers and phones. It’s tempting to close in the boundaries so tight, that there is no wiggle room for our teens. But the reality is, we cannot control the Internet. It’s out of our hands. While we have a responsibility to protect our children, it’s in the teen years that we have the opportunity to move from teaching and policing to coaching and training. While they’re young, children need greater adult supervision on the computer. But teens require guidance on how to deal with the constant stream of information they have access to every day. It’s not enough to put filters on our teen’s computer and phones. There’s always a way to get around them. Instead, let’s have honest conversations with our teens about setting proper boundaries. Talk with your son or daughter about cyber-bullying, and ways they can avoid it and help others. Talk with your child about the problems of pornography and why they should keep their eyes pure. Discuss with your teen about over-sharing on Facebook, or MySpace, and the dangers associated with revealing too much to strangers. These conversations go a lot further in putting up solid boundaries than merely enforcing rules. Teaching our teens how to have discernment for themselves is vitally important when it comes to the Internet. It’s about giving them the tools they need to battle the forces of our culture that wish to draw them into a dependence upon screens and technology.
Will teaching self-control and discernment mean your teen won’t make a mistake? I wish it did. Kids will make mistakes and inevitably break some of the Internet rules. But even in those mistakes we’ll find more teaching opportunities. Let your teen experience the consequences of their mistakes—whether it’s a loss of privileges for a while, grounding, or restitution—and continue to slowly delegate more responsibility for self-government. Use their mistakes to coach your child in biblical principles for navigating their culture.
In addition to setting up family boundaries and teaching discernment, we can also help our kids avoid the dangers of Internet addiction by modeling moderation. One of the best ways to do this is to have an “unplugged” night in your home once a week, or at least once a month. On that night, each member of the family has to turn off all electronics for the whole night. You’re sure to hear groans the first time around, but by making the night fun, you can dodge that bullet. Play active games like charades or Pictionary. Or make a campfire in the backyard, and roast marshmallows. Or have everyone cook something for dinner, and then have a tasting buffet. Most importantly on “unplugged” nights, engage in conversation. Talk face-to-face with your kids and spouse, and model how to have conversations apart from screens.
One thing I’ve learned is that teens love to talk about themselves. So ask them questions that get them to talk about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, goals, and dreams. Here’s a list of questions to get you going:
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done?
- Do you think we’re the only people out of all the solar systems known to man?
- If you won the lottery and had to spend it all, what would you spend it on?
- What talent would you like to have that you don’t have right now?
- Who’s the greatest athlete of all time?
- Do you think Facebook is true to life, or is it a little fake?
- Would you ever jump out of an airplane with a parachute or hop off a bridge on a bungee rope?
- Who is the most talented musician you’ve ever heard?
These types of questions make for great conversations and display for your teen the value of communication sans smart phones, Facebook, text messages, or the Internet. Use “unplugged” nights not only to teach moderation and balance to your kids, but also use it as time to reconnect to your family in ways that are life changing and positive.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” The Bible is not against using the Internet, and we shouldn’t be either. But God’s Word does tell us to make the most of our time and to be self-controlled. It’s something we should be reminding our teens as we seek to teach and instruct them on putting up fences in their own lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.