“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
Media Safety for Children
I don’t want to be alarmist. However, as parents, we need to understand that the world ouchildren are growing up in is a very different place than that in which we were raised.
Mass shootings have become the norm. Over the year has passed since the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, in which 17 people were killed. In that year, there has been a school shooting in the United States on average every 12 days! The risk of being shot at school, whether at a day-care facility or a University, is a reality that most of today’s parents did not have to face during their growing-up years.
Those differences are even more pronounced when we look at the media. Many of today’s parents grew up in the era before cell phones or PCs. Pornography was found in hard-to-obtain magazines, and child pedophiles had to physically go out looking for their victims.
Online Sexual Predators
Today’s typical youth is at a high risk every time he or she opens their media device. They have a one-in-seven chance of being sexually solicited online!
Sexual predators target children in chat rooms and social networking sites because children’s profiles on these sites typically include photos, personal interests, and blogs. The predators go to these sites to meet the kids and become friends with them. They typically assume fake identities and pretend to be interested in the same books, video games, bands or hobbies as the child.
Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. The ministry helps parents raise their children according to morals and values grounded in Biblical principles. They also help couples build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design.
An article by the organization remarks, “Before the days of the Internet, children were typically between the ages of eleven and thirteen when they began viewing soft-core pornography found in magazines like Playboy. Today’s child lives in a culture where hard-core pornography abounds.”
Our children are being seduced daily, and it’s not limited to boys. The article continues, “Pornography and other sexualized media can adversely affect girls as well as boys and often leads to significant damage in their ability to form healthy relationships as an adult.”
Pornography Destroys Families
Tom and I know many people who have lost years of their lives due to an addiction to pornography. Their relationships with their families are often destroyed as well. It often started with viewing just one picture when they were children.
Many internet resources state that the modern average child’s first exposure to porn occurs at or around age eleven. Our experience in counseling and talking with people who have struggled in this way corroborates these findings. Even as an adult, while using internet filters I can hardly research anything without having some alluring photo pop up somewhere.
There are people in the cyber world whose very goal is to trick you or your children. Actually, they prefer your children, who are worth many more years of income for the pornography industry. Their goal is to get your child to glimpse a picture that will hopefully catch their interest. That picture then has the power to seduce them down the long road of addiction. Statistically, an addiction to pornography is stronger and harder to break than an addiction to cocaine. That translates to money in the pockets of those promoting pornography!
If Your Child Stumbles Onto Pornography Online
The sick truth of the matter is that porn website operators increase traffic to their websites by buying popular, child-oriented, brand names in search engine magnets and links. They know that Internet users, including children, will likely end up on their pornographic website instead of the intended destination. Keyword searches related to surprisingly ordinary words can easily lead a child (or an adult) to pornographic websites, images and video.
Another sad fact of the internet is pornographic spam. The goal of this spam is to attract people to their websites and provide samples of what they offer, hoping to entice them to become paid members. Children who are allowed unsupervised access to email or Instagram might accidentally open a message with a misleading subject line, making it unable for them to determine the true contents until the mail is opened. The child then finds a direct link to a pornographic website, and by that time the damage is done.
In summary, we cannot stress this enough: please do not leave your children unattended on the internet! This applies to young children as well as adolescents and teenagers. We know GOOD families with GOOD children who have gotten mixed up in pornography, and it was because of a lack of vigilance on the parent’s part. Even if you trust them completely, don’t trust those you don’t know, who will go to great lengths to get your child to accidentally stumble onto a picture and become addicted.
Internet Safety Tips
The CyberTipline is a nationwide reporting system for the online exploitation of children. They recommend the following internet safety tips:
- Research any social networking sites your child is using. Social networking sites often have age limits, but typically don’t verify children’s ages. If you want to delete a site, do it together with your child or contact the site directly.
- Put your computer in a common area of your home, not a child’s bedroom, so you can keep track of online activities.
- Remind your kids never to post their full name, address, phone number, school name or other personal information that can help a stranger find them. Remind them of the importance of not sending photos to people they meet online, as these can give away clues to where the child lives or goes to school.
- Research privacy settings that allow kids to choose who can view their profiles. Explain that strangers who approach them online aren’t always who they say they are. It’s dangerous to meet them in real life. Tell your kids to “instant message” only with family or friends they already know off-line.
- Learn from websites that explain the short-hand kids use in instant messaging, like “POS” (“parent over shoulder“) or “LMIRL” (“let’s meet in real life”), so you know what’s going on. Parental supervision will be your best protection in internet safety.
- Ask your kids to report any online sexual solicitation to you or another trusted adult right away. Shehan asks adults to report the event to the CyberTipline (800-843-5678), where staff will contact law enforcement agencies to investigate. He also advises parents to call their local police and save all offensive emails as evidence.
Media Use Statistics Among Children
The following statistics show how much the world has changed from when we were kids. Babies have joined the growing group of internet users. Of the twenty-five percent of children under the age of five who use the Internet, eighty percent do so at least once a week. Statistics show that by age three, a quarter of those children go online daily.
TV tops the list as the most popular source media use for children. Kids ages two to five spend an average of three and a half hours a day watching TV. Older kids add more screen time on top of that with multimedia, gaming and Internet usage.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit TV time to one to two hours per day for kids over the age of two while avoiding TV completely for kids younger than two.
An estimated seventy-six percent of teens have access to smartphones, which typically allow them unlimited access to the internet. A report published by the Pew Research Center in 2015 found that due to the widely available use of smartphones, 24% of teens (defined as those ages 13-17 in this report) go online ‘almost constantly,’ while 92% report going on ‘constantly’. More than half of teens (56%) go online several times a day.
Snapchat and Instagram are the most popular social media sites among American teens ages thirteen to seventeen. 15% of teens use Instagram regularly, while 35% use Snapchat and 32% use YouTube most often. Only 10% use Facebook regularly.
The bottom line is this: parents need to be involved in the lives of their children! Media is here to stay, and we can’t ignore it. Let’s keep the lines of communication open with our kids. They need to know their parents are a ‘safe place’ where they can come and share the challenges they are facing on a daily basis.
Does Your Young Child Really Need a Cell Phone?
Let’s take an in-depth look at cell phone use among children. Recent surveys show that most children get their first cell phone at just six years of age. A survey of 2,290 such American parents found that thirty-one percent of parents bought their six-year-olds cell phones for ‘security reasons’. Twenty-five percent bought them for ‘keeping in touch with friends and family’. Twenty percent of parents bought their six-year-old a cell phone to help their child ‘keep up with friends at school’.
The majority of these parents report having bought their child a cell phone for ‘security reasons’. However, many parents don’t recognize the highly dangerous fact that even if you’ve enabled the strictest privacy settings on your kids’ social media accounts, it is still virtually impossible for them to remain anonymous.
In addition to these inherent dangers, a child may unwittingly take a selfie with a street sign in the background, or a photo with friends that shows the name of their middle school.
Things to Be Aware Of
Consider these statistics:
- Only 61% of youth use privacy settings on their social media sites
- 52% don’t turn off their location or GPS services, leaving their location visible to strangers
- 14% of children have posted their home addresses online
- Almost 70% of the youth polled admitted to hiding their online activities from their parents
We now pose the question: Does your young child really need a cell phone? If there is an emergency, chances are good that someone around them (teacher, coach, school office, friend, parent, etc.) will have a cell phone on them. In fact, at any given time there are likely multiple phones available for use and within reach.
You may still feel it necessary that your child has a cell phone. If so, we suggest getting a low-tech cell phone that can make calls and possibly send and receive texts. Designate it as the family loaner phone. Then your child can borrow the loaner phone when needed. This is the method we used as a family when our children were younger, and it worked out well.
Have you seen groups of kids with cell phones lately? At least half of their time together, and often much more, is spent looking at texts or on the internet. They are often not even interacting with the very people they’re sitting with! My motto is, “If what you’re doing is not edifying to God or serving some very necessary purpose, don’t do it!” Resting, having fun and enjoying time together DO serve a purpose. A group of bored kids sitting together without interacting, fully absorbed in their texting, typically does not.
So what exactly are the kids doing online with their smartphones? Many of them are spending hours texting their friends. Studies show that ninety percent of American teens send and receive an average of thirty texts per day. Thirty-three percent of teens with phones have messaging apps such as Kik or WhatsApp. One in four teens uses their phones as their primary computer for online access.
Texting is Forever
One often-overlooked problem with texting and posting pictures online is that once online, it can be there forever. This can occur even if the sender has deleted the picture. Studies report that nearly half of all children have posted something online that they later regretted. In addition, an estimated eight percent of US people aged sixteen to thirty-four have been turned down for a job because of their social media profile.
Even more damaging is the regret of Sexting. This is where kids take suggestive poses of themselves either partially or fully naked, and send them to friends. The problem is that others can take an instant screenshot of the picture. Then they can share it with anyone they please.
Texting While Driving
An insurance poll found that sixty-seven percent of teens admitted to texting while driving at high speed. Thirty-seven percent admitted to having been ‘extremely distracted’ by texting. In some cases, this led to significant accidents. Health hazards such as ‘text thumb’ and circulation issues due to texting posture are also increasing.
There are several unexpected results of children’s over usage of social media. One is that many children today are so used to texting multiple people at the same time that they experience difficulty when they need to focus on just one thing at a time. It is also common for children to become overly engrossed in electronic media. This causes irritability when they are pulled away for any reason.
As parents, our task should be to protect our children from inappropriate adult information and situations. Consider all of the dangers that are available to our children online. Is it really responsible for us to provide them with a device that can access all of this information anytime, anywhere with just one click? How can we possibly assume they won’t be harmed in the process?
Recent cases have hit the media of children committing suicide over Sexting that was shared with those other than the intended viewer. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 4,400 deaths every year. This doesn’t including the 440,000 suicide attempts that were unsuccessful!
A recent issue of the Pediatrics magazine anonymously sampled 1,300 middle school students, ranging from ten to fifteen years old. Survey results showed that those who sent more than one hundred texts daily were also more likely to report being sexually active.
If that’s not enough, over half of the kids aged ten to seventeen admitted to posting risky comments or photos online. Twenty-five percent of them said they use their mobile device to hide this type of online behavior from their parents. The connection is clear!
Bullies have always been around. However, until the digital age, it was at least all within plain view. When one examines social media, the possibilities of what’s happening behind the screens are simply terrifying.
Wikipedia defines Cyberbullying as the use of information technology to repeatedly harm or harass other people in a deliberate manner. Netsmartz411.org is an online resource that educates parents about internet safety. The website explains that Cyberbullying includes sending hateful messages or even death threats to children. It also includes spreading lies about them online, making nasty comments on their social networking profiles, or creating a website to bash their looks or reputation.
It may start with posting rumors or gossip, but can elevate to personally identifying victims and publishing material that defames and humiliates them. Often the police need to be involved in order to stop the bullying.
Cyberbullying differs from schoolyard bullying. One reason is that online there are no teachers around to intervene. Another is that since cyberbullies don’t witness their victims’ anguish, it may be easier for them to continue. This has resulted in many cyber-bullying-related suicides in recent years.
Cyber Hate Clubs
A friend of ours in Medellin has been struggling recently with the cyber-bullying of her eleven-year-old son in his public school. A group of boys started an “I Hate Juan-Jose” social media page. A talented actor, he was being viciously harassed both online and at school, and accused of being a homosexual.
One day a group of older children chased him on the way home from school. They caught him and held him down, punching and beating him. When he finally managed to get away from them, they again caught up with him. Several of them pinned him down to resume the abuse. He was understandably traumatized by the feeling of helplessness. It all started with a bunch of bullies using social media to pick on a creative, intelligent kid.
How is time spent on social media affecting our children’s abilities to socialize in real live one-on-one interactions? A recent study published in the Computers in Human Behavior magazine found some interesting results.
The study found that sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to technology. This included phones, televisions, and computers. How comfortable are kids who text exclusively going to feel on an eventual job interview? There really is no substitute for face-to-face contact.
Ironically, twenty percent of parents who buy their children cell phones say they do so because they want their children to be able to keep up socially. However, the child who doesn’t have a cell phone just may have to talk to their peers the old fashioned way. They can talk face-to-face, or call friends from the family telephone. When children have to communicate through these more public means, there will also be less temptation to allow their conversation or behavior to stray off course. This is opposed to their own personally dedicated cell phone line.
Other Negative Effects
Other negative effects of too much time spent online range from childhood obesity to irregular sleep patterns. Additionally, several studies have linked frequent cell phone use to lower grades and unhappiness. Researchers from the College of Education Health and Human Services at Kent State University in Ohio surveyed undergraduate students. They found that high cell phone usage was also directly linked to lower GPA scores and higher anxiety levels.
Research indicates that being constantly wired into technology also affects the human brain. Even for adults, superficial friendships online abound. However, more meaningful relationships are harder to develop and more difficult to maintain. The effect can be devastating on children. Their brains are still developing. Also, they are just beginning to learn what friendship is all about.
Texting can be physically dangerous as well. Research shows that over half of elementary and high school students in the United States use text messaging as their primary form of communication with friends.
Radiation Exposure From Cell Phones
Finally, giving a child a cell phone exposes them to adult levels of radiation. According to Dr. Robert Block, President of the American Association of Pediatrics, children are not simply ‘little adults.’ When cell phones are used by children, “the average RF energy deposition is two times higher in the brain and ten times higher in the bone marrow of the skull, compared with mobile phone use by adults.”
Researchers looking at peer-reviewed cell phone exposure studies found that children and unborn babies face a greater risk for bodily damage resulting from microwave radiation given off by wireless devices. More radiation is absorbed with more hours of use. Thus, children should be encouraged to use their wireless phone as little as possible.
Do You Still Believe Your Child Needs a Phone?
If you still believe your child needs to have a cell phone, then we would recommend the following:
- Discuss your child’s motivations for having a cell phone. Discuss its use for safety rather than as a status symbol or way to fit in. This may not only cut down on your teen’s airtime minutes. It could also initiate a discussion about how your child is feeling, what is happening in his life, etc.
- Establish rules for cell phone use at night. Require your children to turn cell phones off at night. Keep them in a common area rather than in their rooms, where they can talk or exchange messages late into the night.
- Purchase a child-friendly model. One example is the LG Migo VX1000 Mobile Child Phone.
- Help your kids save money. Purchase a pre-paid plan with a limited number of minutes. Turn off text messaging and internet capabilities on your child’s phone to help keep bills low.
- Allow it to be a privilege based on your child’s maturity and responsibility.
- Have your child purchase the phone with their own money. Have them pay the monthly subscription service as well.
- Have them sign a contract with you: They will use the phone appropriately and not go over in minutes or texts. They will always answer calls from parents immediately. They will notify you of who they are with and where they are. If they break the contract, they lose the cell phone.
- Include a parental app. Tell them you will be monitoring all incoming messages, calls, texts, photos, and social media posts. Make sure you have access to all passwords and codes.
Parents Are Ultimately in Charge
As parents, we are ultimately in charge of our children and our home. We must respond to God for what happens in our family. Parents often complain that their kids don’t seem interested in spending time together as a family. Giving your child a cell phone is in effect arming the enemy with the very weapons that can be used against you and your family.
Managing your children’s texts on their mobile devices may feel to some parents as if they are violating their child’s privacy. However, there is an alarming number of child predators who are adults posing as children. Parents really do have an obligation to do everything possible to keep their children safe. Our children don’t always have to be happy or agree with the decisions we make. However, if we do our job right, someday they may even thank us for it!