We started these articles with the comment that ‘protecting your family online’ has four components, or steps. In the first three articles we mentioned the importance of taking inventory of your electronic devices that can access the internet, and installing and configuring three essential tools. In this article we want to discuss the remaining two steps. These two are the most difficult and most important.
Step 3: Staying Informed
Staying informed involves more than knowing what our children are doing; it includes knowing what is available to them—what is ‘out there’. Both of these are parental responsibilities we cannot excuse ourselves from, and which are no different now than in generations past. Society has changed dramatically over the last decades, however, and with it have our family lives. More disposable income and time have given increased access to entertainment and opportunity to associate with people who hold other views and values. Ironically we seem busier than ever. And also ironically, the more ‘connected’ some people have become via social media and mobile devices, the less in touch they are with their children or know what they are doing.
Staying informed of developments in media and technology can be looked at from two angles, and both are necessary. First, we can look at individual developments or devices and ask on a per case basis if these are acceptable to buy or use. Questions guiding such an evaluation might include:
- How could the new gadget or tool be used wrongly?
- What was it principally designed for?
- What sort of influence could it have on those that use it?
Sources for learning about new developments are technology sections of news sites and newspapers, specific websites such as wired.com, gizmodo.com, engadget.com, ted.com (which tend to promote acceptance of new and often useless gadgetry), or (more realistic) browsing your local computer store.
Evaluating new technologies to see if their use is permissible or will present unacceptable influences is not easy. Virtually all tools can be used for good and bad purposes. Inventions themselves are not evil, but often they increase our ability to express the evil that is within us, and access that which is around us. This led many to view bicycles in the 1890’s and automobiles in the 1920’s with much suspicion, expecting them to facilitate all manner of sexual immorality. It is also nearly impossible to predict what a device will be used for, as one development rapidly leads to another. A. G. Bell probably did not envision the smart phone, or the designers of ARPANET in the 1960’s the Silk Road and bitcoin. The engineers at Remington-Rand who made the first computer printer in the 1950’s did not anticipate today’s 3D printing of human organs, guns, and drones.
Second, developments in media and technology should also be viewed thematically. Individual inventions are part of larger processes and trends. From a materials point of view, most new technologies serve to automate and complicate machines, and increase our connectivity to and dependence on the internet. Both of these make us increasingly helpless when our machines fail, or the internet breaks down. The latter has led to sufficient concern from governments to research the implications of large scale outages of the internet resulting from cyber-warfare or natural calamities such as major solar flares (i.e. “Carrington events”), as such outages could cripple military operations, hospitals, electrical grids and other utilities, our food supply, communications and navigation, etc. From a moral point of view, many new technologies increase the ability of the evil that resides in each human heart to be expressed. What people share on their social media sites and blogs, on forums, and in their comments to newspaper articles is often shocking. The opinions and personal information shared indicate a rapidly decreasing tolerance of Christian values, and that we live in a ‘post-shame age’. This is true regarding sexual mores, disrespect for authority, worship of self, and desire for instant gratification. With this in mind, to stay informed means recognizing the ‘big picture’ of what our society as a whole is like and how it is becoming increasingly hostile to those who hold our beliefs and values, and to evaluate how individual technologies and developments will likely be used to further this moral decline.
Step 4: Family Discussions
This is the most important step, and it requires all three of the previous parts: taking inventory; installing tools; and being aware of what your children are doing, what new technologies are available to them, and how society is influencing them. What is discussed will depend on your family’s situation, and must be age-appropriate. It is important that our children know the world is a hostile place, particularly so towards Christians, and that evil often comes looking for us, also on the internet. Our children should be aware there is no privacy on the internet, and that what is posted today can haunt us later when we apply for a job or try to establish relationships. With this in mind, there is in no reason our children should assume they have the right to keep what they do online or with their mobile devices private or hidden from their parents. Parents should feel free to monitor their children’s online activities whenever they want to. The same is true for spouses.
The nature of the conversations should be open and reasonable. Our children should feel comfortable asking questions as to why certain things are not allowed, and the answers should be based on our values. If something is wrong, it is wrong because it is sin against God and ruins our soul. But the baser things presented on the internet can also permanently damage us in this life: they can ruin our ability to have good relations by twisting our views of sexuality and women. Images “burned on the retina” remain with us for the rest of our lives. Habitual viewing of violent or immoral materials causes many to progress from one evil to another, as viewing eventually no longer satisfies, and it lowers the threshold towards acting. In this context may, must we not tell our children from Proverbs 9:18 that the guests of “Mrs. Wanton” are in the depths of hell?
It is often said that our children grow up in a complicated time, complicated in part by today’s unprecedented technological developments. There is no escaping this; it is the world in which we must live and for which we have to equip our children. People from many different denominations are struggling with this, and the consensus appears to be that it is far more important to inculcate a sense of right and wrong in our children than to forbid them an endless list of specific activities. Examples of literature developed to help parents with this are A Guide for those who Guide and (in Dutch) Eigenwijs and Gewetensvorming; these and others are on this website. Teaching them values will help them determine for themselves what to do when they face situations parents could not have prepared them for, or understand. This is of huge importance.
Without negating the above, we may not overlook the unspeakable evil that dwells in each human heart and the power and variety of Satan’s temptations. These remain unchanged, no matter how society and technology evolve. We are fully inclined to the evils encountered in our everyday lives, regardless of the medium through which these evils present themselves to us, but we still act as free and voluntary agents and are therefore responsible (and accountable) for everything we do, for every decision we make. Only the true love to God will make us hate sin, and only His restraining grace can prevent us from falling into sin. How necessary, then, always to ask the Lord for wisdom and grace to recognize and resist temptation, and to enable us to deal with the unprecedented challenges we and our children face (Psalm 127).