The internet is not safe.
We made this point last month
as we emphasized several sobering realities: you and your family are being searched, children are being exposed to pornography, social media is negatively affecting our mental health, you are easy to find, secrecy and lies are encouraged, and human trafficking is happening. If you missed last month’s article, you might want to go back and read it.
Because the internet is not safe, you need to take steps to protect yourself and your family online. Last month we introduced two steps that you need to take to accomplish this (#1 Strengthen identity in the family and #2 Utilize devices/software designed to protect you online). We focus on #1 this month.
It’s nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of cultivating identity, especially for children, in the family. In fact, it’s actually more important than peer-to-peer relationships. Make sure you process this truth: the family relationship is more important than peer-to-peer relationships.
Psychologist and physician Dr. Leonard Sax, author of The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them like Grown-Ups, makes this point:
You have to assert without apology the primacy of the parent-child relationship over relationships between same-age peers. You have to teach that family comes first… (205).
It’s not that peers aren’t important; it’s that the family identity is more important, exceedingly more important. The reason why has to do with the purpose of parenting. Childrearing has a goal, an end, a telos (to use the old word for it) and it’s not getting children into a good college so as to secure a well-paying job. That’s too small.
Scripture alludes to it in the book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (Prov. 22:6). Consider the phrase the way he should go. Scripture assumes that there’s a way for children to go, a path upon which they should be walking, a trajectory upon which they should be set. And it is the parents’ job, not the peers’, to do this. Peers have their place, but it’s not in training a child in the way he should go. Parents have this sacred responsibility.
Paul echoes this in the book of Ephesians when he instructs fathers (and mothers) to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Parents are called by God to shape, to train, to bring up their children in the way the child should go. And, to be lovingly direct, peers aren’t equipped to do this.
And this is what makes the internet especially dangerous. Again, it’s not that the internet is bad; it’s dangerous, and dangerous things, like fires and farm machinery, must be handled accordingly. The internet has the power and potential to subvert the authority of the parent by inviting children into an unfiltered world of immaturity (and, quite often, immorality), one strongly driven by immature youth on social media and immoral content producers on TikTok, YouTube, and more nefarious sites.
Dr. Sax puts it succinctly:
Your child’s first allegiance must be to you, not to her best friend. The contemporary culture of texting, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and online video games has concealed this fundamental reality, promoting and accelerating the premature transfer of allegiance to same-age peers (113).
Part of the task of the parent is, and always has been, educating desire: teaching your child to desire and enjoy things that are higher and better than cotton candy. Video games, Instagram, and text messages are the cotton candy of American popular culture today (152).
Appreciate his point: It is the parents’ job to educate desire, to bring children into a virtuous adult culture (a world above and more substantial than the cotton candy of social media and online gaming), to inculcate in them a deep appreciation and respect for the good, the right, the true, and the beautiful.
And the internet has the potential to subvert this by covertly connecting children to an ill-equipped peer culture and an often immature (and potentially immoral) online world.
Dr. Sax concurs:
The main mechanisms by which contemporary American culture today asserts its primacy in the hearts of American kids are the Internet and the mobile phone (110).
In short: you need to protect yourself and your children online. Dr. Sax is emphatic:
Fight for time with your child. Cancel or forego after-school activities; if need be, in order to have more evening meals together. Your kids can’t attach to you if they hardly ever see you. And turn the devices off (111).
Last month we listed several immediate action steps to implement:
- 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.
These are critical. Do them. They are how you anchor identity in the family.
This month we dig deeper into internet safety. In our September ALIVE: Equipped to Thrive event, Jen M. shared an excellent resource that detailed several critical considerations for parents as they develop their media plan for their family.
We will introduce some here.
If the family identity is going to be prioritized, screens must be minimized. Fight hard to establish screen-free zones. Start by getting them out of the bedrooms and then work on the kitchen/dining room. Screens in these places do nothing to facilitate familial togetherness and conversation and everything to further fracture family identity.
Make the remaining screens less immediate and more intentional. Unplug your TV or cover it. Do something to make it more difficult to watch so that turning it on and being drawn away from your family isn’t mindlessly automatic. Make the decision to watch TV a conscious, informed choice, not your default. And if you watch, don’t encourage separate watching. Watch together. Work to minimize screens so as to maximize family. This not only forces everyone to consider the appropriateness of what’s being watched, but it also creates a shared experience that can facilitate family conversation.
Screen Free Times
Work to establish screen-free times in your life. Do not allow them at family meals (and work to have family meals!). Instead, prioritize family conversation.
Insist that children turn screens off in advance of bedtime. Children do not need to be accessible to their peers 24/7. Further, not only are tablets, TVs, and phones major sleep interrupters (and studies continue to show how sleep deprivation negatively impacts all of us!), but they are significant sources of temptation, and with “incognito mode” it can all be hidden from you, further facilitating secrecy and an alternative online life apart from the family. Youth simply lack the maturity to be discerning. Help them.
Further, their consciences are being formed and their desires are being shaped. Burdening them with constant accessibility is mentally exhausting (the mind needs space to process life, and without that space, it fractures!) and giving them unfettered access to the morally un-zippered universe of the internet is potentially devastating for youth. Remember, they cannot un-see what they see and a child’s natural curiosity and lack of maturity are a dangerous combo online (especially when you understand that online influencers are specifically targeting children with LGBTQ propaganda), so insist on screen free times.
Building on the previous two points, establish curfews for devices. Phones, tablets, etc. should be turned off and turned in at night. Put them in a tech dock to charge. Your kids might protest, but they need you to do this for them. Protect them from the burden of constant accessibility and from the temptation of unsupervised internet surfing.
If you need more reason to take these steps, remember that excessive screen time has been linked to obesity, depression, anxiety, behavior problems, mental health struggles, addiction, unhealthy expectations for relationships, and sleep problems. Protect your kids.
Establish Family Guidelines for Tech Usage
If you allow your children to play online games, insist that they play them in the commons area of the house and that they only play with people they (and you!) know in person. Be firm on this. Online gaming is a favorite avenue of accessibility for human traffickers. Don’t endanger your children because you don’t think it will happen to them. Establish rules to ensure it doesn’t.
Require your children to get approval of new app downloads. You require them to tell you where they’re going when they leave the house; require them to tell you where they’re going online.
Teach your children good media manners. Insist that they leave phones down when they’re interacting with a live person. Constantly looking at one’s phone is disrespectful to the person who is trying to talk to them.
And help them be good digital citizens. Bullying is a major problem online and telling yourself, “My child would never…” is naïve. You may think, “My child would never lie to me,” but Dr. Sax says otherwise, (to say nothing of Scripture!), “Your daughter (or son) is more likely to lie to you than anyone else, because she doesn’t want to disappoint you” (154). This is why building the family identity is so important; it opens communication and fosters trust.
Teach responsible behavior and language online and encourage your children to tell you when they see inappropriate behavior, whether it be inappropriate images or words.
Teach tech safety. We must be firm on this: do not text and drive. Period. This is right up there with running with a knife or with a toothbrush in your mouth. Don’t do it. Teach them: don’t cross the street while looking down at your phone. And don’t befriend an unknown person. Just because he is a friend of a friend doesn’t make him trustworthy. Teach them: people lie.
We must have these conversations because the internet is not safe. It lives in the same category as firearms, farm machinery, fire, automobiles, and knives. We wouldn’t set our children free with firearms or farm machinery or fires without careful teaching, firm direction, and clear expectations. The internet can be no different.
To return to our opening point, it is and remains the parents’ job to train up a child in the way he should go, to educate his desires, to teach him to treasure the good, right, true, and beautiful. That is accomplished by intentionally grounding his identity in the family even as the family has its desires shaped by the family of God gathering regularly around the Word of God. Internet safety is an outgrowth of this. The action steps shared in this article grow out of this deeper concern for the family and the primacy of the parent-child relationship.
Next month we will discuss specific devices and software designed to help you protect yourself and your children online. If you have questions or would like to visit more before then, I welcome the conversation. – Pastor Conner
 We are not saying that the internet is bad, any more than we than we would say that a pick-up is bad, but neither is safe. Both bring certain dangers that we must counteract through intentional efforts to protect ourselves and our children.
 As emphasized last month, these sites often lead to the more nefarious sites, whether directly recommending them (as with TikTok) or by awakening sinful desires through suggestive content that draw users into immorality.
 This may be a growth area for you. If your passions are not rightly ordered (i.e. aligned with what God has called good), it will be exceedingly difficult for you to educate your children’s desires. For an excellent resource on shaping your desires, see You are What You Love by James Smith. In brief, you shape desires by choosing mature and Godly habits. So, you habit your way into new desires, not the other way around. In order to desire the good, right, true, and beautiful, you must make them habits.
 Copies are available in the church office.
 Consider subscribing to World News Group’s daily 10 minute news broadcast especially designed for families. It’s a great way to watch the news, told from a Christian perspective, with your kids. Go to https://worldwatch.news to subscribe.
 If you would like conversation starter cards, we have some in the church offices.