A little girl sits at the family computer in hot pursuit of her passion–Disney princesses. Her daddy opens up YouTube and finds a movie clip for her to watch. The little girl excitedly begins clicking through videos of all her favorite Disney characters. With his daughter occupied, the dad gets to work, and a few minutes later overhears something that gets his attention. He turns to see his little girl face to face with images clearly not Disney approved.
The sad reality is this isn’t just a made-up story for the sake of illustration. The dad from this story shared this incident recently. This problem is far too prevalent, so I decided to speak up.
The Internet is amoral. In and of itself it is not right or wrong, yet it can do serious damage. It’s like a carpenter’s saw or a hunter’s rifle, a tool used to accomplish a purpose, or if in the wrong hands a conduit of much evil.
So what do we do? Should we abandon the Internet completely? Create a monastery away from this digital age? I personally think not. We are called to take the light of Christ to the world and this is a powerful tool to do so. In fact many believe the global adaptation of the Internet birthed a new era of humanity. They equate the Digital Age with the Bronze Age or the Iron Age in history. I think they are right.
So how do we use the World Wide Web?
First, we need to think of it as a tool. The computer isn’t a piece of furniture in the house, like a couch or a table. It is a tool, an extremely powerful one, and people need to be taught to use it properly. I would never give my children a hunting rifle until they were mature enough and properly trained to use it, then they could begin to use it only with the right supervision. In this blog I will pass along what I have gleaned over the last few years of working with families and networking with other counselors and pastors.
These guidelines can be inconvenient and maybe even annoying at times. Inconvenience is a small price to pay for the protection of little eyes and ears, not to mention the preservation of our integrity and values.
- Put the family computer in a common area, like the kitchen or living room. Just find somewhere where privacy is difficult.
- Talk with your kids, keep conversations open. Ask them about their use of the Internet, including social media like Facebook and Twitter. Go ahead and be the annoying, overly loving parent. When something inappropriate pops up, and it inevitably will, don’t shame them or go to the other extreme and blow it off like it’s no big deal. Talk with them about it. Your goal is to keep the topic serious and conversation safe–they need to feel safe when talking about these kinds of things with you. As a 10-year veteran of youth ministry, I cannot stress the importance of this enough.
- Use an Internet filter. It is best to do this at the router level. I know this sounds complicated, but it’s not as bad as you may think. Maybe ask a more technologically savvy friend or family member for help. I recommend using Open DNS. It is what many schools and non-profit organizations use. It blocks websites that try to steal personal information as well as pornographic sites. Click here to get started: https://store.opendns.com/familyshield/setup/
- Consider using accountability software. Over the years of working with students I have tried multiple ones. I like x3watch the best: http://www.x3watch.com/ Again there are many others out there that are also really good. I like this one because it offers mobile versions for android and apple devices. If you need to use a free one try the k9 browser: http://www1.k9webprotection.com/ It also comes on mobile devices.
- Concerning pornography addictions, I want to address the parents. As a pastor, especially one that has worked with students from middle school to college, this is a struggle I have helped many people with. You need to know this is a real thing. I have worked with young men for whom pornography was just as addictive as an illegal drug. If you or one of your children is addicted, get help! Here is what I take people through with any addiction.
- Break the silence. Don’t keep the problem to yourself, share with someone you trust.
- Remove the source, no matter how inconvenient. I had one young man who had to have Internet access for work. He gave his wife the password to the computer and only used it in a public room until the addiction was broken. Highly inconvenient, but not more important than his heart and his marriage! This includes smart phones too! Get one of those old cell phones without Internet for a while. Yes, they still make those.
- Find an accountability partner, someone you can be totally transparent with and will pray for you every day, someone you could call in the middle of the night if you’re struggling. Start by meeting weekly, possibly over a breakfast or coffee, and have them ask you directly, “Did you involve yourself with your addiction this week?” Make sure to spend time in prayer before you leave the meeting.
- Consider going through an addictions program. Here is one we have used: http://www.x3watch.com/x3pure.html Yes, you need a computer to do this! Just be smart. Choose a safe place where you won’t be tempted. Let your accountability partner know when you start a session and when you finish.
- When the addiction begins to break and you and your accountability partner feel its safe to release the digital reigns a bit, use the accountability software mentioned above.
- Keep meeting with your accountability partner! Everyone needs a lifelong friend like this. *
This is just the beginning. We stand on the threshold of a new era of humanity, the Digital Age. The gateway of knowledge has been opened and we must learn to use this power and not be destroyed by it. It is a gift, a powerful gift, and it is our responsibility to bring up a generation that will use it wisely. Allow God to transform your computer into a conduit of His mercy and grace!
*If you are hung up on any of these steps please contact us. Or if you just can’t seem to break free, please consider professional counseling. We can also help you find a counselor.