I love working with youth, I have done it for many years, I have worked with over 200 kids by name, seventeen weeks of summer camps, four years of club programs for boys, four weeks of Vacation Bible School, three years of weekly Sunday School, and five years of mentoring in Big Brothers, Big Sisters, plus a few other scattered programs here and there. I know the hearts of kids, and I seem to have an incredible gift of interacting with kids. I am afraid for the children of the world. I would like to explain a little bit about why and how I came to write this article.
I have collections of hundreds of sermons, and due to donations to many different ministries, I am given free sermons all the time. Over the last year, I have accumulated a few sermons that have spoken to the issue of raising kids in our modern world. This article actually comes from just listening to the most recent sermon on this topic entitled “Is Technology Helping or Hurting our Kids?” by Chip and Ryan Ingram. So that I do not keep you wondering, there are many great aspects of technology, so I am not going to deliver a message that says to avoid it, that is foolish, but I would like to give some guidelines on how to keep your kids safe with the technology that they do have.
Scared for Myself
I was raised as one of the first generations to commonly not have a father in the home. That had a lot of impact of my life, and not for the positive. Some of the long-lasting effects that it had on me was a low self-image and lots of anger. My home was very turbulent, but even still, there was still a level of control in the home, even though my mother worked many hours and left us unsupervised. Even still, I had very little supervision growing up, no real boundaries, and lots of negative influences. In fact, my mother did ignorantly move us away from a city where I lived as a child so that the influences would not reach us through adolescence. The first summer we moved to the small, but affluent town, we had learned how to shoplift. Problem: A change in scenery rarely changes the view!
I grew up hating God and people, running from one sin to the next, and the rest of my story can be found elsewhere. My main point here is that I ended up in a very bad place both emotionally and spiritually. We had very few influences in our lives that were bad in those times. We had MTV, and any cassette tape we could sneak into the house that my mother did not approve of. If we wanted pornography, it was a hard search to find it. The world feeds the sin nature that is within us, but understand that we are sinners by nature and that means that the outside influences will impact our personal lives. As parents, you need to understand that the world is not the same as it was when you were the age of the youth today. We must be careful.
Scared for the Youth
The main reason that I am scared for youth in this world is that the sin nature is still within them, but we are now in a post-Christian, post-modern world where kids are encouraged to think down dangerous paths devoid of morality, while simultaneously, having uncontrolled access to the entire world at any time. The worst part is that in our youthful days, it took a lot for us to ruin our lives, now, it can be done very quickly, and in the 'safe' privacy of our own homes. Let me scare you silly with what I mean.
Today, everyone in America has access to the internet. I almost wrote the world ‘almost’ but that would not be accurate because everyone can use a public library and public libraries in our country have internet access. Most free speech interpretations prevent the libraries from filtering content (though fortunately, many of them do). Further, the internet can be reached from most video game consoles (wii, xbox360, PS3), many IPods and mp3 players, cell phones. Even televisions are coming with wireless receivers and are internet ready. From the internet, it does not take much creativity to find inappropriate things. The internet is easy access to anything and everything, good or bad, and it does not have a conscience of it's own. Do not assume that your kids are being good and not looking at inappropriate things. They have both a sin nature, and far more technosavy than most adults. I am not trying to paint them as totally evil, but understand that the average age that a child starts to view pornography in this country is now as low as age 8! The internet can be a great tool, but it can also be very dangerous.
Devices that can access the internet are not the only problem. Ted Bundy, the serial sex killer, gave an interview with Jim Dobson before his execution. This was many years ago, but in that interview he says that the programming on cable television now [in the year 1989] is programming that would not be shown in an adult theater only a few years earlier. Since that interview, television has gotten so bad that many of the 'cartoons' are full of open sexuality, the programming that is designed specifically children is either mind-numbing or still inappropriate (From Disney, ICarly, Suite Life on Deck, Wizards of Waverly Place to name a few all have young teens pursuing dating and making a status symbol of a first kiss; which is of course performed on the camera). In short, the programs that most kids are watching are full of sexual references, inappropriate garbage, and things that assist in depleting any fiber of morality left within them. I am scared for the youth of today, but we can indeed fight back.
How to Fight Back
First and foremost, the best protection for your kids is love. If you love them and trust them, grace will slowly win over their heart and they will likely become open to communication with you. That is the ultimate key. If kids know that they are loved, have boundaries, and can talk to you without your judging their thoughts or culture, you will open the doors to communication and earn the right to speak into their life (many parents think that they can speak into their child's life because they gave birth. Do not fall into this error, if you want to be respected you must earn it). In my experience, many kids do what they want because parents see the kids as autonomous adults. They look like adults, they are as tall as you if not taller, so you let them go, and then freak out when they mess us. You need to model the love, you need to model the care, and you need to model the regulation of media influences yourself. Overall, the best protection for your young person is that you spend time, and a lot of time, with them, and make sure that they know how loved they are. Make the connection that you are acting as a guardrail when they are a teenager. You are letting them make decisions that are age-appropraite, but you are keeping them on the right path and not letting them go over the cliff.
Next, you need to enter their world. They may not like that, but you should certainly lovingly know where they are going and go where they are going. Have you first talked to your kids about negative influences in the world and what long-term impact they will have? That is key, but it is not the end-all. Kids are not usually forward-thinkers, they are now-thinkers which means they will be caught up in the emotions of their friends. So you need to do some checking up on them. Not snoopishly, but respectfully. Make sure that you know all of the passwords to all of the accounts that your kids have. Go onto their Facebook from time to time and see what is going on. Be sure to reward and compliment good behavior, and discuss bad behavior. If your kids do not respond to discussion, restrict access for a while. This applies to all accounts and devices. If they have an mp3 player, borrow it, place it on random and listen. If they have a phone, be sure to pick it up from time to time and check over the contents. Enter your child's world and let them know you are their for them.
Youth usually are very social (even the introverted ones). Make sure that they have their friends over often, learn who they are and have meaningful conversations with your child's friends. As a general rule, your kids will mold into the behaviors of their friends and vice-versa. If two kids spend lots of time together, they will end up must like each other, and usually conforming more to the worst behavioral standard of the two kids. This is because of that sin nature within us, and also the fact that two kids are trying to show who is cooler, mostly by demonstrating who is worse (have you ever seen kids brag about the good things they have done?) If you know your kids friends, you will invariably learn more about your child, too.
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting some articles on protecting your kids in our world. I have included some resources below that have helped me to understand a lot of the problems, and how to interact with kids.