No parent wants to give his or her child unfettered access to the Internet. But neither is it realistic or wise to forbid any access whatsoever. How then do we plot a course that avoids these two extremes and yet maximizes their moral and spiritual safety?
First, educate yourself. Hiding your head in the sand, ostrich-style, is not an option for the serious Christian. You must get on the Internet and start learning. Begin with websites that cover technology at a popular level. One of the best is www.getnetwise.org . They have articles highlighting good sites with advice on how to avoid dangerous sites. They will cover things like phishing, scams, viruses, firewalls, filter and site-blocking software.
Second, educate your children. Explain that the Internet is like a jungle. It has many hidden dangers that we must learn how to avoid, or how to escape if we stumble upon them. We want to explore this exciting new world, but we want to return unscathed. If your children understand some of the dangers and consequences then they will be more willing to accept boundaries and controls.
The first fence we must erect is anti-virus software. I am astonished at how many people still risk their computers by not installing this software. Most of the paid services cost $50-100 per year. If you were told that you were certain to get a damaging virus in your body unless you took a free medicine, or one that cost $1 a week, what would you do?
Second, you should also install a firewall, mainly for security. Anti-virus software stops evil people getting evil things into your machine. A firewall stops evil people getting your personal information out of your machine. And with both anti-virus and firewall, you must keep them updated.
Third, set some time boundaries. The Internet and other technology can become highly addictive, and devour hours and hours of our time. Limit the frequency and length of use of technology. Again, you can get software to measure this and cut off devices after certain periods of time. Or you can use an Administrator password to make sure that no one can access the Internet or use the computer without you signing them in.
Fourth, set some site limits. When beginning with your children, you should probably start with one safe children’s site and only allow them to click and surf within that site. If they prove trustworthy and reliable, then you can add another. You can check their browsing activity using the browser history record.
Fifth, limit the amount of personal information that your children are permitted to divulge. I would suggest that you set a strict rule that they never use their real name, and certainly not their real address or phone number. Their email address should only be given to those you agree to.
Sixth, set bounds on what can be downloaded. Do not allow them to download anything without prior permission.
Having educated both yourself and your children, and having set up some boundaries and fences, the next stage is to mentor them as they use the Internet. It’s not enough to teach them some rules, and then walk away. You have to sit with them and surf with them. Guide them as they work within the boundaries. Ask them why they clicked on this and not that. Highlight and praise good use, while steering them away from what is harmful.
You cannot mentor them forever. So when you feel they are ready, you can begin to supervise from a bit of a distance. This is not the time for handing everything over and trusting them. Many parents do just that. 84% of parents rely on verbal agreements to ensure their children surf safely. I do not think that is at all wise or responsible. We need step back a bit but still supervise.
The first level of supervision is physical. Simply put, all screens (TV, computer, laptop, ipad, phones, etc) should be visible to others in the home. You could put your computers all in one fairly public place.