On Guard! Protecting Yourself and Your Family Online (Part 1)

On Guard! Protecting Yourself and Your Family Online (Part 1)

Let’s start with something we know to be true, but do our best to forget: the internet is not safe. It’s not that the internet is bad, any more than a rock or a baseball bat is bad; it’s that, like rocks and bats, it has inherent danger. And we must guard ourselves and our families against that danger. So let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the real and present danger.
  • You and your family are being searched.
You may think that you are searching the internet, but Google is really searching you. Google knows what you’ve searched for, what websites you’ve visited, what videos you’ve watched, what ads you’ve clicked on, your location, your device information, and you IP address and cookie data. Don’t believe me? Go to It’s there. You are being searched.
  • Children are being exposed to pornography.
Research shows that the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is between nine and eleven! Most stumble upon it accidently, but let’s be honest about the accident. The child may not have seen it coming, but the porn provider saw the child coming.
Due to the proliferation of internet-enabled devices, kids have ready access to the internet and they are turning to it, rather than to parents, pastors, or trusted adults, to learn about relationships and sex, and their searches are pulling them into porn.
The wildly popular and nearly universally used kid-attracting app TikTok was recently exposed for its “endless stream” of sex and drug related content targeted at children. The Wall Street Journal broke the story after creating several automated TikTok accounts (called “bots”). The bots were registered as young teenagers and directed by the app to its “For You Feed” that promises a never-ending stream of highly personalized video content. The Journal reported that these personalized selections directed its young users to hundreds of drug-related videos (ranging from videos on addiction to videos on acquiring drug products and more) and hundreds of videos recommending paid porn sites and sex shops.
  • Social media is affecting our mental health.
The Wall Street Journal also recently released a series of reports on Facebook (which also owns Instagram) that revealed the social media giant’s knowledge of its deleterious effects on users, especially teenage users. Facebook and Instagram know that their platform exacerbates body image issues, anxiety and depression, and negatively impacts the overall mental health of its users.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, was recently interviewed on this issue on The World and Everything in It, and he deserves to be quoted at length:
“We know that technology like this rewires the brain. We know that a generation that is raised even on internet technology, like Google, fail to develop the kind of thinking that connects causes and effects or you know, things and their consequences.
“We know the body image stuff is just the latest thing. There's all kinds of ways that experiencing life in this way distracts us from the people that are around us, you know, stunts our growth, perpetuates bad stereotypes.
“It also delivers a group of influencers.[1] I mean, the very fact, by the way, that we have a group of people that are called influencers, and that’s a thing, tells you everything you need to know. But then it delivers them into an intimacy—or false intimacy, a one-way intimacy—with our sons and daughters like nothing else could…
“It’s significant because the influence here is truly outsized… Embedded in all this, too, is a false definition of what it means to be successful. A culture that worships celebrity is a culture that chooses style over substance. It's a culture that chooses posturing over loving and caring…
“That's the message coming out of all these mediums, you're not good enough, you're not smart enough, you're always being left out. And to have a life of significance, you have to be noticed, and you have to be liked. And not liked in any sort of real sense. Not liked despite who you are, but you actually have to have a little thumbs up clicked on some image or something that you have, otherwise, the devastating potential is that you don't matter. What a terrible, terrible message.”
  • You are easy to find.
The pictures you take and post online not only often have easily identifiable landmarks, school names, house address numbers, etc. in the background, but they have GPS coordinates built in. Anyone with a little bit of internet savvy (or the ability to type in a simple Google search for how to do it!) can pinpoint your photo’s location.
Snapchat’s Snap Map makes it possible for users to share their location with “friends,” but that’s the problem. Young users aren’t always clear on what constitutes a friend and even on the identity of the people with whom they may be sharing their location. Further, if a user posts to the “Our Story” page on Snapchat, that story and location information becomes visible to the world.
And even though users’ snaps vanish after 10 seconds, they don’t really disappear. Web savvy individuals have uncovered them buried in the phone’s photo app. And anyone viewing a snap can easily take a screenshot and keep whatever image he or she wishes.
  • Secrecy and lies are encouraged.
Vault apps allow users to hide secret content. What looks like a calculator app may, in fact, be a vault concealing sexualized pictures. Instagram allows users to have secret accounts and the content discussed in these threads heavily feature drugs and suicide.  
  • Human trafficking is happening.
The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as follows: “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” And it’s happening. Even in Iowa. And the primary way people are lured into being trafficked is through social media and online gaming. Traffickers spend months, sometimes years, grooming potential victims, gaining information, building relationships, showering with affection, offering attention, and then exercising control in a trafficking relationship. 
Returning to our opening point: the internet is not safe. You need to take steps to protect yourself and your family. But what steps should you take? We’ll discuss that question below and continue the conversation next month.
Step One: Strengthen Identity in the Family
Strengthening identity in the family cannot be a slogan; it has to be a mission. Cultivating identity, worth, purpose, and belonging in the family must be our mission. Adding to that, we must ground that familial identity in God’s family, the Church. 
Returning to Mr. Stonestreet’s interview on The World and Everything in It, he spoke about social media and identity and starkly explained, 
We get sold a multitude of identities. And if we're left out, we're irrelevant in a social media defined world. And if we are shared, then we're relevant. And that just kind of feeds into our understanding of who we are as human beings… It’s actually a way of selling identity itself.
To guard against this, we need to cultivate identity in the family. We’ll expand upon this next month, but let’s offer a few practical starting points here:
  • Put your phone down and talk as a family.
  • Turn off the TV and play games as a family.
  • Eat supper as a family.
  • Read books and talk about them as a family.
  • Worship as a family.
  • Discuss the sermon as a family.
  • Pray as a family. 
Do these things. Make them your mission.

Step Two: Protect Your Family
We’ll expand upon this next month, but here are a few places to start:
Blocks porn and prevents sexting on multiple devices.

  • Gabb and Pinwheel
Smartphones that enable parents to establish what’s accessible and what isn’t.

  • Firewalla
A device that plugs into your router that provides cybersecurity, parental controls, ad blocking, and more.

Helps families make wise choices regarding their usage of tech as a family.
Have questions? Know of other great resources? Have something that’s working in your family? I’d love to hear from you! This is a conversation we must have because, as we’ve emphasized, the internet is not safe and the family, specifically the Christ-centered, church-connected family, is our mission. – Pastor Conner

[1] As Abigail Shrier extensively details the prevalence of these influencers in her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. She points out how they are intentionally luring children into deviant and unhealthy sexualized identities.

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